Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) are best friends. They also happen to be video game characters at an arcade, and when their consoles are not being played, they like to hang out together, amusing each other with jokes and observations... shooting the breeze, basically. However, one day, they are enjoying some quality time when there's an alert in the foyer because a new plug is being put into the arcade's power supply - and according to the sign, it's WiFi. What's that? They've never heard of it, but according to their administrator, it's a gateway into something called The Internet. And that is a place they must never, ever go...
Wreck-It Ralph was a big hit for Disney, thanks to its genuine good humour mixed with a bunch of nostalgia references for the grown-ups to appreciate. The question of how far this appeal would last into the future in the same way a more timeless, less time-specific, cartoon like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Pinocchio was left unanswered, and that went double for the inevitable sequel which may have included references to relative dinosaurs of the internet era, but also packed in spots for the big net companies and services that everyone in late 2018 would have recognised. Did this mean Ralph Breaks the Internet was going to be a dinosaur itself, only in movie terms?
One thing that made you hope would become obsolete was the horrified reaction on that internet the film was happy to send up: suddenly a Ralph sequel was "woke" and sexist - against men! Perish the thought! Somehow by making the hero vulnerable he now represented every man alive at the moment of its release, and that was judged an attack. And where was this opinion most voiced? You got it: there was a scene here where Ralph ventures down into the comments section of one of the videos he has put online to raise money for a new steering wheel for Vanellope's game, and it brings it home to him that there's nothing the twenty-tens breeds more than harsh criticism.
But if you were more secure in yourself, as Ralph learns to be, if anything this follow-up was just as good as the original had been. Yes, the complaints about product placement were valid - if you had never been on the net before, where advertising is what makes all those sites you visit exist, but as you would have heard of pretty much every brand (aside from those made up for the plot), was it really telling you anything you did not know? It was either that or directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore inventing parody brands from scratch, and that went against the authenticity they were seeking, where you would laugh because you were well aware of the target of the humour, and that was something most of the population of the planet were participating in.
The question was, was this a good thing or not? The film ended up taking an ambivalent stance, acknowledging the internet brings people together and gives a voice to everyone no matter their status in life, yet also was pointing out this gives you a false sense of your own importance, that you were not being invited for your thoughts, you were demanding other users listen to you, and that spells entitlement. This affects Ralph and Vanellope (wonderfully performed, as before) as they make their way into the online world and we are in a privileged position since we can identify their charming innocence in what can be a harsh environment. And when exposure to the wider world makes Vanellope grow up more, to the extent that she needs to be her own person and not need Ralph so much, it doesn't mean she doesn't still love and value his friendship.
This could be pretty heavy stuff, but fortunately the team behind it packed so many ideas into a small space that there was a cornucopia of gags and in-jokes which brimmed with life and enjoyment for being alive, with all the pitfalls and blessing that brought. You were there to laugh at such business as the Disney Princesses, who have been assembled in their own personality test (which are you?!, you know the sort of thing) but maybe you'd take away a sense of maturity and perspective didn't go amiss when dealing with others, not to mention culture. Even the Princesses enjoyed more agency than they might have done in their source material, a welcome instance of Disney taking the Mickey out of itself, and technically they saved the day, or helped at the point our heroes are able to deal with their crisis. Moore had started his career on the semi-legendary Ralph Bakshi Mighty Mouse toon of the eighties, and that same irreverence was present in this, it was simply that it had developed into a wiser, more self-aware model, guided by co-writer Pamela Ribon. Would this age like a fine wine, or generate internet whines? You would hope the former. Music by Henry Jackman.
[Ralph Breaks The Internet is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download.]