Going BIGGER, DEEPER, and BETTER with “RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET”

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When Disney first announced in the early 2010s that they were going to make an animated film about a videogame villain and the secret lives of game characters in a video arcade when there are no humans about, potential viewers were wary until it was revealed that some heavy licensing ensured that the original main characters would be supported by plenty of actual established videogame franchise regulars in the story. Starring John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, “Wreck-It Ralph” became a surprise smash hit in 2012, leaving moviegoers with a wistful desire for a sequel. Surprisingly, Disney has come though.

In order to expand the storyline of the world of videogame characters in a single game center, “Wreck-It Ralph” filmmaker Rich Moore with input from his co-director Phil Johnston decided to give the sequel see videogame baddie Ralph (Reilly) and go-kart racer Vanellope (Silverman) a means to explore a larger world. They did by introducing the plot point of the arcade’s owner Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill) install a Wi-Fi router to his establishment. Conflict is generated when the steering wheel of Vanellope’s game is broken, and the only replacement part was listed on EBay. So begins “Ralph Breaks the Internet”.

Where sequels are concerned this definitely fits the expected element of escalation. To get the game part RalpH and Vanellope must travel through the expansive online environment of the internet. This is where Disney outdoes itself. Whereas the original had licensed games, now the licensing is for internet and online brands to appear in the film. Seeing Google, Amazon, Twitter, EBay and every other internet household word on “Ralph Breaks the Internet” makes for a fun game of spotting the shout-outs, and will facilitate the Pause button overuse for when the movie makes home media.

During their internet quest however, some issues arise between Ralph and Vanellope, who became close buddies since the first film six years ago (in and out of universe). They have followed the routine of playing their arcade roles during the day and hanging out at night, but while Ralph is fine with it, Vanellope is feeling constrained by the monotony, especially with her game. To Ralph, this is a disaster, especially when Vanellope finds a kindred spirit in Shank (Gal Gadot), an antagonist driver in online racing game “Slaughter Race”, where the two have gone to earn online money to pay for the needed part.

On Shank’s advice, Ralph decides to make cash by making viral videos and uploading them to sharing site BuzzTube, overseen by trend algorithm Yesss (Taraji P. Henson). Part of this moneymaking scheme involves Vanellope taking a popup ad to the Oh My Disney! Fansite, where the most promoted sequence in the whole film takes place: Vanellope meeting the Disney Princesses.

I feel this part really needs its own section, with how significant this encounter turns out not just to be a one-off gag, but a Eureka moment that spurs Vanellope’s character in the sequel. Disney also takes this opportunity to gleefully skewer public perception about its Princess characters, as illustrated by Rapunzel’s question to Vanellope if, like them, people assumed her problems were solved with help from a big strong man. The experience gets better due to most of the Princesses being reprised by their original voice talent where possible. They even get to save the day in one way.

Performance-wise, both John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman manage to nail the voices of their characters down pat as if six years ago were only yesterday. Furthermore, they also get to delve deeper into what makes their alter egos tick, which is more the driving force of the storyline than the adventure through the internet to buy a game spare part before it gets junked.

If there are any flaws perhaps to the overall presentation of “Ralph Wrecks the Internet”, it is that the spotlight is firmly planted on the two leads of Ralph and Vanellope. This is sad considering Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) and Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch), both of whom carried a good part of the plot before, were merely shifted into the background with a secondary plotline involving raising videogame character children that gets resolved off-screen.

But if this was the only part that managed to drag the experience, then the rest can be considered to have done their parts well. If “Wreck-It Ralph” was Disney’s love letter to the gaming community, then “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is their subtle dig, plus light commentary, plus heartwarming affirmation for the internet, its memes, and Disney’s own nigh over-bloated media umbrella. One can appreciate the CG-animated cameos of internet celebrities here and there, as well as the first posthumous appearance of the late Marvel Entertainment legend Stan Lee. I cannot say if the film did break the internet, but ultimately it matters not.

Image courtesy of Roger Ebert.com

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