‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ Review

When Wreck-It Ralph was released in 2012, it was a definite high point in the non-Pixar Disney animation canon. Fun humour, lush imagery and loads of non-obnoxious references to classic and modern video game culture that had adult audiences as amused at the film as the physical comedy had the kids. We loved it so, naturally we had to wonder: can the sequel live up to the original?

After years of living in the arcade, Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) are still best friends and while life has settled into a routine that pleases Ralph, Vanellope is starting to chafe. Ralph’s plan to liven up her race tracks backfires and damages the Sugar Rush machine. When the owner of the arcade adds a Wi-Fi router to the power strip, the pair decide to prevent Sugar Rush’s retirement by heading out into the Internet to procure a replacement part. Vanellope discovers a new game that she enjoys even more than Sugar Rush and Ralph is distraught at the possibility of losing her.

There’s a lot going on in this frantically-paced (and long!) movie. There’s commentary on insecurity and the nature of friendship, and there’s plenty of observational comedy about Internet culture. Everyday Internet usage pleasures and vexations are brought to metaphorical life in a way that’s sure to make any mouse-potato smile.

This film’s Internet is absolutely loaded with famous sites in a way that really treads close to the line of product placement, but manages to avoid it through wit. The Internet is cleverly represented as a massive city, with sites depicted as huge buildings and users appearing as cartoon avatars of themselves, a little like Nintendo Miis. Bots, algorithms and other automata are given characters that are amusing in their own right. It’s hard to imagine any movie making you feel a twinge of sympathy for pop-up ads, but this movie manages it. A visit to the Disney site pokes gentle fun at the inanity of personality quizzes, but makes truly tremendous sport of Disney princesses and all the clichés surrounding them. There were real guffaws as the film tried to incorporate the traditional Disney musical numbers to the most inappropriate imagery and contexts.

The animation is also genuinely stunning at times, with a Cyriak-inspired fractal Ralph-made-of-Ralphs appearing later in the film that is utterly mind-bending to see on a big screen. Just the way certain characters move is funny.

If the film has a weak point it’s mainly down to its length and a nagging feeling that too much of its humour will sail over its target audience’s heads. Some of the references are a little too advanced for the youngest viewers, but they’re all integrated into the story in a way that means obliviousness is no hindrance to enjoyment. It’s easy to make a Seth McFarlane-like reference comedy that smarmily congratulates its viewers for recognising things. This film doesn’t do that. If you knew very little about the Internet, you’d still be able to follow the story because everything is of narrative relevance.

Does it live up to the original? Almost. It’s a decent followup, but its running time is heading towards the 2-hour mark and there’s a degree of overload that sets in from the sheer number of things that happen. Perhaps that’s entirely apt for a movie about the Internet, but audience punishment (even funny audience punishment) doesn’t really belong in a kids’ film. This is a slight criticism though, and this remains a highly enjoyable piece of cinema. I was so wary of what it could have been (a lazy reference comedy) that I look forward to seeing it again without a constant feeling of apprehension about how it might go off the rails.

So, in short, not as perfect as the original, but pretty close and a spirited try that deserves recommendation.

A note about the end-credits: there are two post-credits gags. The first (featuring a bunny eating pancakes) has already been shown on the Internet and the second is a very hoary Internet gag that may irritate some viewers. I laughed, but immediately felt mildly ashamed of myself.