EXPECTATIONS: A sequel that is both inferior and superior to the original.
REVIEW: Set six years after the first film, video game bad guy Ralph and fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz are best friends and have been living the life, hanging out every night after work in their respective arcade games. But time takes its toll and Vanellope starts to buckle under the ennui of life. In order to cheer her up, Ralph devises a plan to get her out of her slump. But unfortunately, he inadvertently ruins the arcade game, which could mean Vanellope and the rest of the people in the arcade game could end up homeless.
Therefore, Ralph and Vanellope must risk it all by traveling to the World Wide Web in search of a replacement part to save Vanellope’s video game, Sugar Rush. Throughout their journey, their friendship is put to the test that would impact their lives forever.
The first film, Wreck-It-Ralph, was a film that exceeded this reviewer’s expectations when it first came out. Thinking that the film would be a lot of in-jokes about gaming culture and nothing more, the film surprised me with its strong character work, which made more entertaining and substantial than expected. With the same creative crew, it was expected that the sequel would be an improvement to the original.
And for the most part, Ralph Breaks the Internet succeeds on its own two feet, but it does prove to be inferior to the original for a few reasons. On the positive front, the animation is pristine, colourful and very energetic, particularly during action scenes set in the videogame Slaughter Race. Plus, all the cast members provide top-notch voicework for their characters and fit them to a T. Gal Gadot in particular manages to convey the nurturing side as well as the rebellious side of the character, Shank, perfectly.
Other noteworthy elements that are deserving of praise is how the film subverts the tropes and traditions of the Walt Disney storytelling template. First off, Ralph himself is not a heroic cipher in comparison to the leads in the older Walt Disney animated films, since he is developed as a needy and impulsive, yet devoted person. Secondly, although there is an antagonist in the film, the biggest obstacle Ralph has to face is himself (hence the title of the film) and it is a nice change of pace that works emotionally, as opposed to contrived villains that would be hard to fit in a story such as this as well as the filmmakers not resorting to coming up with villains that are essentially evil doppelgangers of the protagonist.
Thirdly, it provides a hilariously razor-sharp indictment/homage to how female characters are portrayed in Walt Disney animated films via the characters portrayed as princesses (with almost all the actresses returning to reprise their roles), all topped off with a musical number that perfectly suits the character of Vanellope. And lastly, the film never forgets the heart of the story, which is the bond between Ralph and Vanellope, which is still solid and is given much-needed depth and nuance to make the film more substantial and poignant to make the storytelling work.
As for its flaws, the portrayal of the Internet itself is an issue. For the first film, the portrayal of the world (which is based on gaming culture) is vast and explores many time periods, which makes the film more timeless. In the case of Ralph Breaks the Internet, the portrayal of the Internet a bit to squeaky-clean for our current times (particularly in the case of antagonistic attitudes of Internet users) and unfortunately sticks to easy targets like memes, viral video-gags and name-checking Internet organizations that will sadly date the film.
Another example is how the film shamelessly advertises its own brand and its subsidiaries, which can distract and throw many out of the story. The film works best when it sticks to the bond of the lead characters and especially when it sends up the story template of Walt Disney animated stories, but when it sticks to the world building of the Internet, it sinks.
Overall, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a solid continuation to the story between Ralph and Vanellope, thanks to the vibrant animation, the poignant relationships and the hilariously incisive and clever subversion of the storytelling of Walt Disney animated films. But it’s a shame that the film couldn’t break the sequel formula due to its wan portrayal of the Internet and its shameless product placement.
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Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill, Sean Giambrone, Flula Borg
Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Screenwriters: Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon, Rich Moore, Jim Reardon, Josie Trinidad