Ralph Breaks The Internet
US (2018) Dirs. Phil Johnston & Rich Moore
No, he doesn’t post a picture of his bare bottom although this is probably the only thing Ralph doesn’t do as he ventures from the safe-haven of his old school arcade game into the vast, busy and heavily populated digital world of the internet. Plus, this is a Disney film, so chances of seeing any nudity are slimmer than Boris Johnson telling the truth.
Set six years after the events of Wreck-It Ralph (because believe it or not, that is how long ago it came out), the titular arcade game villain turned hero Ralph (John C. Reilly) and his new best friend Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) discuss how fun if predictable their lives are. Vanellope wishes her racing game Sugar Rush had some new tracks to freshen it up so Ralph builds her an impromptu one mid game.
This change causes the player to break the steering wheel on the arcade machine which the owner says costs too much to replace and shuts the game down. Leaving all of the Sugar Rush characters without a home, Ralph and Vanellope decide to use the arcade’s new wi-fi connection to visit the internet and get a new steering wheel from eBay, but their ignorance towards this sprawling, unfettered home of everything is about to land them in a lot of trouble.
Part of what made the first film such a hoot was its nostalgia for 8-bit video and arcade games for those of us of a certain vintage that enjoyed them during our childhoods – the modern CGI animation making Wreck-It Ralph accessible for all ages. With this film set in today’s high speed “everything at your fingertips” version of the web, there is no nostalgic hook, relying largely on the charm of the characters to invest the audience.
Initially it works, the unlikely duo of the heavy handed but good-hearted giant and the high spirited, capricious, tiny girl heading off into uncharted territory with nothing but earnest determination is a solid foundation for adventure. The satire aimed at the Internet, portrayed as a futuristic metropolis, with little people zooming about to various destinations, goes for the obvious targets early on (suited to a Disney audience, natch).
One relatable gag involves the information desk (search engine) run by Mr. Knowsmore (Alan Tudyk), a bookish little chap with an uncontrollable habit of finishing queries with the wrong answer, driving people nuts! Pop-up ads appear in the form of shifty folk randomly preying on users as they arrive at a site but are usually squashed by burly ad blockers.
Whilst not exactly sophisticated it works well enough within the remit of a family film and should be enough to afford even the most jaded web surfer a wry smile now and then. Because Ralph and Vanellope are internet neophytes, everything is taken at face value, even eBay, which in this instance sticks to its original model as an auction site and not a marketplace that now accepts direct sales.
Thinking they only have to shout out a higher number than their fellow bidders to win an auction, Ralph gets carried away and wins the steering wheel unaware that the $27,001 bid is for real money, and now he and Vanellope have just 24 hours to raise the cash. Fortunately, they meet J.P Spamley (Bill Hader), whose pop-up ad offers cash for playing video games – something right up their alley
Discovering that they could raise the cash in a racing game called Slaughter Race by winning the famed car owned by a driver named Shank (Gal Gadot), Vanellope instead decide it would be quicker to steal the car. Their attempt fails but Shank is so impressed by Vanellope’s driving skills she offers her a job in the game whilst in the meantime sets up Ralph to make viral videos for Buzztube converting the likes into cash, with help from head algorithm Yesss (Taraji P. Henson).
Generally, there is a lot of fun, albeit safe and caustic free to be had in the various twists and subversions of the internet and its most noted sites, as well as its foibles, such as the fickleness of trends, scathing user comments, and the presence of the Dark Web to inflict viruses and the such. Pretty much most of the characters inside the web are anthropomorphised bugs, animals, or distorted versions of humans, while users avatars are tiny square headed folk.
Most likely to stand out as a bone of contention however, is Disney’s flag waving of all the properties under its umbrella, from its own impressive catalogue of characters to the recently acquired Marvel and Star Wars franchises. This results in the latter part of the film being a not-so subtle commercial for its products, including gathering every Disney “princess” from Snow White to Moana.
The joke here is they enjoy privileged lives but are waiting for a big strong man to make them complete, which Vanellope balks at, encouraging them to ditch the dresses for jeans and t-shirts and stop relying on men. The pay-off is amusing enough but it is hard to say if this is self-aware satire that youngsters might not get or lip service reaction to their damsel in distress model being outdated in a modern climate.
You can read the messages as you want but a by-product of its placement in this film is the pivotal mid-film crisis point actually occurs late in the second act and is resolved with unsatisfying haste. The nods to Ralph’s arcade game origins are cute but this requires viewers to recall what they are, a reminder of which isn’t forthcoming.
Visually, there are no complaints, and taken at face value, Ralph Breaks The Internet is serviceable enough family entertainment. If it was designed to be a satire, it only partly works due to the simplified depiction of its targets, whilst the confused story direction in the second half only clouds its intent. The post credits scene is great though!