Ralph Breaks the Internet is the sequel to the video game cameo-filled Wreck It Ralph that tries to do one better (and also dunk on The Emoji Movie) by taking things to the Internet.
Now, I haven’t seen The Emoji Movie to compare how effective or different or similar situations are with the interpretation of things like social media and the internet, but Wreck It Ralph does well to smartly translate a cartoonish interpretation of the workings of the internet.
Both Ralph movies do get by a lot through clever twisting of cultural reference, whether that’s a smart implementation of a character from a video game or a fun way to portray the way we interact with different media online or otherwise, but they are also helped by the heart that runs through its storylines.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is full of heart. It carries the friendships established in the previous movie and runs with it. By that I mean mostly just Ralph and Vanelope. From an emotional standpoint, Ralph is great but also alienating to its younger audience with its musings on friendships and psychological explorations into insecurity of losing friends to their different paths in life.
That alienation stands out a bit with Ralph Breaks the Internet. It’s a bit like how the ideas behind The Incredibles - or any Brad Bird Disney/Pixar project - are definitely not for younger audiences when you strip away the bells and whistles. In Ralph Breaks the Internet, you get musings on whether a character should go to therapy, or references to the dark web, or the repercussions of buying without thinking on eBay. Hell, the best characters - the Disney princesses - are only at their true peak of humour when you’ve grabbed the concept of self-referential parody. The entire Oh My Disney sequence is brilliant...to the older audiences. Kids in my screening reacted strongest to Fortnite references and slapstick, but when things begin to feel like the ending of the video game The Matrix: Path of Neo, you could feel the room being lost.
There is a feeling that with more modern, more aware Disney projects, you’re catering to the older audiences. The Wreck It Ralph movies seem to be the prime target. And maybe it’s good that we’re playing with convention. Hell, one of the best sequences is a Disney musical number turned on its head perfectly.
There are themes that truly resonate. Growing up, going in different directions from your friends, still being friends in spite of change and trajectory. Self consciousness, greed, jealousy, selfishness.
So much humanity is seen in the digital avatars of Wreck It Ralph. So many funny turns of the mirror onto us and our use of technology.
Maybe I’m thinking of the wrong audience. The audience I’m thinking of really is more Emoji Movie than Ralph Breaks the Internet. There’s just something about so much brilliance going over kids’ heads. Which admittedly is true of all good family movies. I feel a bit muddled, much like how muddled the motivations actually are in this movie. Both Ralph and Vanelope’s journeys seem a bit lost, and a bit off. Where things must be contrived to make things work. Where the narrative feels like it hits the rock bottom moment, but then breaks through and goes further down before the climb to the top.
The jokes are truly inspired, the new characters are quirky and fun, and the spirit of the film isn’t lost from the change from video games to the internet. There are some truly thrilling animated sequences that make good use of the medium. Where Ralph breaks is in the storytelling. It, like Ralph in this film, is unsure of what it is. It overcompensates. It misdirects. It’s saved by the Disney Princess All-Stars.
And it has a brilliant mid-credits scene that works so darn well in context. So at least wait for that.
Even if your little sister doesn’t quite get why it’s so funny.