Intentionally and indirectly, Ralph Breaks the Internet does a pretty good job, G-rated limitations considered, to represent the perils and possibilities of the online world. There exist silly videos, get-rich-quick schemes, beautiful distractions, feelings of being left out, and a lot of corporations.
This sequel to the enjoyable Wreck-It Ralph, that brought video game characters to life and ventured to define heroism and villainy, goes to a bigger, modern world, bringing with it all the excitement and dangers that go with it. Google, Amazon, Instagram, and eBay all make appearances, which makes sense, in a sort of depressing way, as they tap into virtually every corner of the virtual world. To deny them from a film that gorgeously, at times ridiculously portrays the internet (kid-friendly, mind you, again), would be to deny the online realm we’ve created.
And so our loveable oaf of a video game character Ralph (John C. Reilly), alongside his best friend, the savvier and more curious Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), venture from their quaint, familiar arcade to the unpredictable internet. The plot is framed perfectly, and it doesn’t matter that the theme is simple because it’s universal. There is a big, new world that Ralph and Vanellope have uncovered – one is not only afraid of things new and dynamic but threatened. And the other is brimming with confidence and has a thirst for a chance of pace.
That it’s Ralph who feels insecure when his female friend wants to break away from routine and simplicity makes sense for who these characters developed as six years ago in Wreck-It Ralph. But it also works on another, potentially more sinister level, that is handled delicately in what is again, a G-rated movie. Ralph becomes the possessive male in the friendship, and while their initial adventure has the pair raising money to buy a steering wheel for Vanellope’s broken racing game, lest the game be shut down, the latter of the film deals with Ralph’s response to the realization Vanellope doesn’t want to go home.
It makes for a most commonplace and problematic dynamic, one that plays out online with frequency, where harassment, gaslighting, and abuse run wild. Ralph never gets so dark, at least not overtly, but there are certainly more ominous undertones and conversations that the film starts and wants families and viewers to continue.
In between it all is a gorgeously rendered world, including the that of Slaughter Race, the adult, Grand Theft Auto style open world game that Vanellope is drawn too. The lead character, Shank, (Gal Gadot) is brave, cunning, and well, cool. It’s a new friend and a new world that Vanellope wants to explore because anything can happen – it’s not the same three tracks. She also has a welcome and mighty funny encounter with the Disney princesses, a sequence that has a surprisingly sharp criticism of the sexism in that canon of Disney films.
A finale that offers some great animated spectacle, as well as a clever and enjoyable cinematic allusion, appeals to the more hopeful and optimistic among us. And perhaps that what we all need right now when we go online. Or out into the world.