Six years ago, Wreck-It Ralph, a villain from the fictional, Donkey Kongesque, Fix-It Felix arcade game, became a hero. It was a charming story, coated in tons of new and classic video game references, all the while creating new characters that fit into that universe wonderfully. Disney even went so far as to have a Fix-It Felix arcade cabinet produced (I tried it, it’s hard). But where could Ralph and Venellope go next? Their friendship was new with a lot left to explore, and keeping them confined to the old arcade they lived in would’ve gotten old quick. While home consoles may have replaced the arcades of old, Disney sets its sights much higher than that for the sequel. What other logical place could the pair go than to the ever changing, vast expanses of the internet?
Venellope has grown bored of her game, Sugar Rush. Knowing all the tracks like the back of her hand and yearning for a new challenge, Ralph decides to help her out by going into her game and adding a new route to one of the tracks. Unfortunately, this happens while the game is being played, and in a futile effort to control the newly exhilarated racer, the player breaks the game’s steering wheel. The only replacement that can be found is on EBay (the first of many internet name drops), too expensive for it to be replaced (costing more than the game makes in a year) . As a result, there is no chiuce but to unplug the game. Feeling terrible for what he did, Ralph enlists Venellope to go to this mysterious internet, find the wheel, and save her game.
One of my big concerns going into this was that Ralph 2 was going to feel like a big advertisement, not only for Disney, but for some of the bigger internet conglomerates. For the most part, it does avoid that feeling, though it is still weird seeing Google, Twitter, and the like pop up so prominently all over the movie. The internet is a fickle, ever changing place, and who knows if some of these companies will be around in another five years. It will make viewing this movie down the line a bit weird. Nostalgia for video game characters I get, they are part of pop culture and some are timeless. But nostalgia for companies? It doesn’t quite work.
To Disney’s credit, they seem to know this. Most companies are left having just a logo or quick visual joke and then they are forgotten. Not to mention that a decent portion of the film takes place inside an online video game, Slaughter Race, which Venellope falls in love with. This game serves a few purposes other than being a driving force of the story: it does keep the connection to video games an integral part of this universe, but it also allows for the creation of some actual new, fleshed out characters (the rest of the cast of the original largely sits this one out). Unfortunately, the ones they made based off the internet (the search bar guy, the shady pop up sign holder) feel like Inside Out rejects. Since the new characters are largely a disappointment (save for maybe Gal Godot’s gang leader Shank), so the Mouse wastes no opportunity to show you how many properties it owns by filling some scenes with other Disney owned characters. The princesses worked better than I thought they would, but enough still felt forced.
Thematically, Ralph Breaks the Internet works as intended, giving us a rather heartfelt tale about friendship. It’s just the internet coated shell that causes me to pause. The new characters are lackluster and there are a bit too many forced internet jokes to where I didn’t feel like enough of the humor was a result of the story. Not to say the movie is unfunny, it’s not. I just could have done with a few less nods to flash in the pan memes. The best internet based joke actually comes at the end of the credits, as both a nice nod to a classic meme and a great takedown of post credit scenes. If only there was a bit more of that cleverness during the actual film.
It’s hard to fathom where Ralph will go next. Virtual reality? Running through other Disney properties? It is hard to separate this brand from feeling a bit corporate, that’s the nature of the beast here. But wherever Ralph and Venellope end up, I hope it’s more along the lines of the first. A world that lampoons geek culture by creating a living world adjacent to the reality, not in it. I like these characters and I’d hate to see these two just become a punchline for whatever the digital trend of the moment is.