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An Online Hit

Sarah Silverman & John C. Reilly
Sarah Silverman & John C. Reilly
Walt Disney Studios
 112 Minutes
Directed by: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman   
Ralph Breaks the Internet

Most sequels follow a very simple-to-execute game plan: figure out what worked the first time, and do more of it on a geometric scale. So instead of fighting a 30-foot-tall monster, the hero is now faced with three 70-foot-tall monsters, one of which is invulnerable. The romantic comedy heroine doesn’t have to figure out which of two beaus is Mr. Right; instead, she has to choose between four guys and save her business as well. So, it’s not surprising that Disney’s popular 2012 animated film, Wreck-It Ralph produced a sequel, although, truth be told, not a lot of people were clamoring for one. It’s also not surprising that Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and his friend Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) have moved on from their home in an aging video arcade to the World Wide Web itself, thanks to a newfangled device called Wi-Fi. But what is somewhat surprising is that the sequel actually feels like a natural progression and offers lots more comic food for thought, while, at the same time, preserves the inherent sweetness at the core of the original movie.


In the first film, Ralph, the villain in an 80s-style arcade game, eventually wins the respect of his fellow game characters and the friendship of Vanellope. As Ralph Breaks the Internet begins, six years have passed, and Ralph is still happy with his daily routine and spending time nightly palling around with Vanellope. However, she is getting restless and bored with her old life and starts to wonder just what’s on the other side of that newfangled Wi-Fi router. Vanellope finds out the answer soon enough when her Sugar Rush game breaks. Because the game is so old, its replacement parts are hard to find, and a new steering wheel will cost $200. When Vanellope learns that one is available on an internet site called “eBay,” she and Ralph go in quest of the steering wheel.


The Disney version of the Internet proves to be a rather wild place, albeit somewhat restrained in keeping with Ralph’s PG rating. The information superhighway is indeed a superhighway as Ralph and Vanellope zip along from one website (represented by tall buildings replete with names of real sites in some shameless brand placement) to another. Ralph finds the item he needs on eBay and wins the auction for it, but he then learns the concept of money and having to pay for what he buys. Ralph and Vanellope have one day to raise the purchase price, or the steering wheel goes back into the auction pool.


Ralph learns one method of raising money fairly quickly, stealing things, thanks to a helpful albeit sleazy black marketer named Spamley (Bill Hader). At Spamley’s suggestion, with Vanellope behind the wheel, Ralph tries to steal the street racing car belonging to Shank (Gal Gadot), a character in Slaughter Race, a popular video game. Ralph and Vanellope fail, but they make friends with Shank, and Vanellope begins thinking she would rather spend her time in the world of Slaughter Race rather than back in the video arcade with Ralph.


Fortunately, Ralph discovers another way to make money, by making viral videos of himself acting as dorky as possible. In the cyber world of Ralph Breaks the Internet, people make money when viewers like their videos, and Ralph proves to be such a big hit that the cash flows in overnight. But when Ralph suggests to Vanellope that they return home, his friend resists, torn by the allure of Shank’s somewhat harder core neighborhood. A dismayed Ralph soon gets some more unhelpful advice from Spamley who steers Ralph toward a virus developer who gives Ralph a virus that is “guaranteed” to only cause a mild disruption in Slaughter Race, just enough so Vanellope will become disillusioned. Unfortunately, Ralph learns a painful lesson about how viruses actually operate when they are out in the open.


Disney animated films, whether released under their own banner or from Pixar, have succeeded by bridging the gap between the children who form the natural audience for animated movies and the adults who bankroll the excursions to the theater and act as chauffeurs and occasionally reluctant chaperones. Ralph Breaks the Internet is no exception. It’s bright, colorful, and boasts excellent CGI animation. And, in one of the most inspired Disney marketing ploys of all times, it features the scene shown below, in which Vanellope meets a couple of dozen Disney princesses dating all the way back to Snow White. To add to the scene’s promotional value, Disney also used the voices of many of the actresses who played the roles in the films originally. The scene works very well for young and old alike.


What doesn’t work well is the overlong action sequence that takes up much of the last half hour of Ralph Breaks the Internet, a sequence that is sure to have adults checking their watches a time or two. Once Ralph unleashes his virus on the unsuspecting Internet, it has a deleterious effect on the movie’s creativity as well. A sequence in which hundreds of ordinary-sized Ralphs merge together to form a couple of giant, rampaging Ralphs plays even worse than it sounds. Youngsters will probably tolerate this sort of silliness far more than I did, but with a movie pushing two hours, even their patience may be tested.


Fortunately, and I doubt it will come as much of a spoiler, by the time Ralph Breaks the Internet ends, Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship comes to the fore again, reinforcing the movie’s core strength. True, the film has a lot of clever satirical jabs at various aspects of our social media culture, but, as in the first Wreck-It Ralph movie, at heart, it’s a story of two friends, the big, misunderstood ogre and the sweet little girl. Aided by a pair of perfectly cast vocal talents, Ralph and Vanellope come to life and have great chemistry together, even as the film tests their friendship by contrasting their differences.


I wasn’t a big fan of Wreck-It Ralph, and I certainly didn’t think it warranted a sequel, but Ralph Breaks the Internet is about the best I could have expected. It’s sweet, clever in spots, and features some great vocal work from the two leads. And, while it might have been less of a threat to break the Internet at only 90 minutes or so long, it\s still worthwhile family entertainment with one scene that’s destined to become a Disney classic (and even an animated Stan Lee cameo to boot). Moviegoers can give themselves a break by seeing Ralph Breaks the Internet.

In this clip, Sarah Silverman meets the Disney princesses.

Read other reviews of Ralph Breaks the Internet: 

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) on IMDb