A heartfelt story about connectivity and the trials of friendship struggles against a familiar-ish plot and questionable advertising. It’s sweet nonetheless. Buy the ticket and go see it with your best friend.
You probably didn’t see The Emoji Movie. That was a good choice; it’s a 90-minute advertisement for internet companies that has the veneer of a story about being something more than you’ve been ascribed in life.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is essentially the same movie, but with the proportions (correctly) flipped. It has two stories to tell and does both admirably. It just gets a little lost along the way.
Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) has her life upended. But she discovers she’s tired of the same old game. She wants something else, something more.
Ralph (John C. Reilly) finally has the life he’s always wanted. But his best friend is upset, and he’s going to fix it so everything can go back to normal.
Given that dynamic, you’d think that Vanellope would be the main character. She has essentially the same arc that Ralph does in the first film. Meanwhile, he plays the supporting role, reacting and effecting her story.
Except that because it’s called Ralph Breaks the Internet, he is still the primary character. And that means there are just a few too many “look at the funny things we have him do on the internet that kids will recognize!” gags to fill the runtime.
When it does work, it works beautifully. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the animation and design are top notch. The internet is conveyed as a megalopolis, with towering hubs like Google rising over skyways of traveling users. These real-life users are represented as avatars (reminiscent of Nintendo’s Mii), and they mix among Inside Out-esque embodiments of popup ads and search engines.
Beyond the aesthetics and return of fun video game nods, without a doubt, the heart of the movie lies with Vanellope, the Disney princesses, and Slaughter Race, an online racing game populated by characters like Shank (Gal Gadot).
Vanellope’s time with the princesses is particularly great, with Disney poking fun at themselves for what they’ve put their characters through. She even gets her own song, lamenting about the life she wants with Shank, and it’s the highlight of both films.
The third brings these two stories crashing together in a far darker way than expected, and though jarring, it works.
The final product is hard to get a grasp on. The presence of the real-world companies feels cheap at times but doesn’t get in the way of the depth that is explored in the characters. Their stories feel like a retread of the original, yet they have a lot to say about gender norms, ownership, sense of self-worth, and what it means to be a friend.
It wasn’t enough to break new ground, but it may break your heart. Make sure to take your best friend if you’re looking for a good cry.
BEYOND THE SCREEN
Disney’s self-advertising, paired with the presence of real-life companies in Ralph Breaks the Internet brings up interesting ethical questions in regards to children.
Because anyone, including the kids in the audience, will be intimately aware of one simple fact: that is definitely not the internet.
The movie talks ever so briefly, in a particularly touching scene, about internet trolls, but then leaves it be. That is the only recognition it ever gives to the hard fact that the internet is made out to be a connected utopia, and wildly isn’t.
It does nothing to recognize that the avatars who walk next to Ralph and Vanellope, many of whom are non-white, coded as female, etc., are going to have vastly different experiences than Ralph.
The young woman who is playing in Shank’s online game is far more likely to experience abuse than the guy she is playing with.
Again – as a Disney movie, it isn’t surprising that this isn’t talked about. That’s not what the screenplay is there to cover, nor do they have the minutes to spare. And that’s fine.
But the presence of companies like Twitter, whose policies around censorship and protection have allowed violent individuals and groups to target other vulnerable users, in a children’s movie where the internet is mostly A-OK? That seems less than fine.
“In “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” video-game bad guy Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) and best friend Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman) leave the comforts of Litwak’s arcade in an attempt to save her game, Sugar Rush. Their quest takes them to the vast, uncharted world of the internet where they rely on the citizens of the internet–the Netizens–to help navigate their way. Lending a virtual hand are Yesss (voice of Taraji P. Henson), the head algorithm and the heart and soul of the trend-making site “BuzzzTube,” and Shank (voice of Gal Gadot), a tough-as-nails driver from a gritty online auto-racing game called Slaughter Race, a place Vanellope wholeheartedly embraces–so much so that Ralph worries he may lose the only friend he’s ever had.” -Rotten Tomatoes