Director: Rich Moore, Phil Johnston | Screenwriter: Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon | Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Alfred Molina, Alan Tudyk, Ed O'Neill | Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures | Running Time: 112 min. | MPAA Rating: PG
While the video game character Ralph expands his personality for breaking and wrecking into the vast landscape of the internet, his new journey comes off as more of a spiffy new coat of adventure than a major bug fix. It still has the same lingering issues of getting a little lost in its references and kicking subplots aside but the heart has been increased two sizes this sequel. It’s also really fun to watch this Disney Animation Studio film once more take jabs at their old tropes.
The arcade worlds seem far too simple for Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). A mere three race tracks are not enough for this rebellious glitch and her pal Ralph (John C. Reilly) tries to make the monotony a little more fun. That fun, however, results in Sugar Rush being put into danger yet again, though more serious this time as a broken steering wheel has forced the arcade manager (Ed O’Neill) to unplug the game. And it’ll stay unplugged unless an expensive replacement part can be ordered. But Ralph, more eager to build than smash at this point in his comfy life, won’t take disconnected for an answer and finds that a newly connected wifi router can help him and Penelope find that part on the internet.
Portraying the world of the internet in animation isn’t an easy task. And I’ve heard all the fears about the film being little more than a Disney take on The Emoji Movie, where a landscape of mobile applications was treated with all the grace of a stumbling marketing executive penning a script. Rest easy; Disney wouldn’t put such little effort into their worlds. Zootopia and Big Hero 6 are proof enough of that. And the studio doesn’t disappoint here either by crafting a thoughtful and boundless universe that has raised the bar for the animated adaptation of the world wide web.
The internet is filled with many fun characters Ralph and Penelope will run across on their quest to save Sugar Rush. There’s a search engine coordinator voiced by Alan Tudyk with an incredibly fitting voice for what seems likes the perfect Hanna-Barbara portrayal of a scholar. Taraji P. Henson voices the hip and trendy manager of a viral video website who wants to make Ralph the star of her service. Penelope is also favored by the video game character of Shank (voiced by Gal Gadot), who would really like to have the little racer in her online game of street racing.
There’s a detailed level of intricacies to Ralph and Penelope’s adventure that the greater character aspect of the duo learning to apart take a backseat. Another distracting avenue is the use of the many references, astute as they may be. There are blatant bits as when Ralph goes through the motions of viral fame, as well as more subtle ones with a girder of GeoCities in the background. And, yes, Disney can’t help themselves from referencing all their properties but still has a biting spirit to satirize the common tropes. Penelope meets with the many Disney Princesses who talk about how strange it is for them having family issues, strong men solving their problems, and uncomfortable dresses. A Marvel movie fan demands answers to his comic book questions from Groot. Stormtroopers try to stop Penelope from entering secured areas for Disney characters. The various names for the Disney website are also rather clever, my favorite being the Air Bud pavilion.
While the story does come around with a tearjerker of an ending, it all seems to hit at once when so little of the chemistry and character arcs receive proper attention. This results in a lot of the messages being hammered in so hard you can almost hear the screenwriters shouting “I’m going to wreck it!” for being so unsubtle. Penelope’s desire to game hop can be seen coming from her first few scenes and Ralph’s insecurities don’t feel as strongly that he’ll literally have to fight himself when the climax approaches. I won’t even mention the lost potential of Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) as it feels there’s a whole other movie in their bookend bits. A short in the future, perhaps?
Ralph Breaks the Internet never really succeeds past its predecessor but it still has more of the same wit and intelligence that keeps Ralph’s adventures clever and funny. I had a lot of great laughs and smirks at Rich Moore once more showcasing that intelligent edge to comedy he perfected so well on The Simpsons. The film will probably never be a true Disney classic but maybe it doesn’t have to be. It seems content enough to be the Disney trope satirist that has plenty of fun mocking convention and staging a brilliant musical sequence for a Grand Theft Auto-style game. You don’t see that in every Disney animated movie.