Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

I’m probably not the first person to think that Ralph Wrecks the Internet would have been a better title for this sequel to the Disney hit Wreck-It Ralph, since it would have taken better advantage of familiarity with the original. However, these days people know more about a Disney-related film before it’s released than after, and having enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph without necessarily being invested in it—the digital video games it referenced had no traction on my life back in the day—the possibility that the main characters—the lamebrained, sentimental, muscle-bound title character (John C. Reilly) and the sweet-voiced, diminutive, super competitive race car driver Vanellope (Sarah Silverman)—would be moving out of the circumscribed universe of arcade games into the infinite possibilities of the Internet—a world, for better or worse, that I am invested it—was immediately intriguing.

As with the Toy Story franchise and other contemporary fictional animated milieus, Ralph Breaks the Internet uses our proximity to actual pop culture in its favor. It’s not just the real games in the arcade, many of which are known to me only in passing, but the huge tech companies represented in the Internet world that Ralph and Vanellope pass into in their decidedly analog quest for a discontinued steering column for the game that is Vanellope’s whole reason for being. Both characters have no real concept of what the Internet entails, thus allowing the filmmakers to make of it what they want, and the analogies go beyond the clever and convenient into the realm of the sublime. Though at first the Internet’s landscape resembles a vintage version of a World’s Fair Futureworld on steroids, the way the various apps interact is brilliantly realized, and though people with little practical experience with Internet protocols might be lost, do such people still exist? (Or, more precisely, are people unfamiliar with Internet protocols going to see this movie?) Unschooled in the ways of capitalism, Ralph and Vanellope innocently bid up the price of the coveted steering wheel at an eBay auction, thus pricing themselves way out of their league and necessitating a visit to a YouTube high priestess (Taraji P. Henson) who will help them raise the needed credits to buy the part through meme-generating videos starring the clumsy Ralph. Meanwhile, Vanellope has become enamored of another racer (Gal Gadot) who exists in a Grand Theft Auto type game where the stakes are higher and more dangerous, thus opening her up to greater possibilities for honing—and showing off—her native skills.

There’s more, including a hilarious takeoff on Disney’s own princess legacy brand where Vanellope, a kind of princess herself, turns Snow White, Cinderella, and other royal denizens of a Disney website on to the joys of loose clothes and not having to pin your hopes on Princes. But as with the Toy Story movies, Ralph Breaks the Internet uses its clevel cultural references to make a larger point about connections that transcend the everyday needs of commerce. It’s a story about friendship and what friendship entails. Though cartoonishly simple at the outset, Ralph and Vanellope develop into complex beings whose emotional needs veer off in different directions, the result being the catastrophe indicated in the title. In that regard, Ralph Breaks the Internet comes the closest that a purely Disney animated film has to a Pixar movie, and joins Toy Story and Wall-E (but not Cars) as an effective vehicle for using non-sentient entities to reveal in a moving way the limits of our hold on humanity in an attempt to make us more human. It succeeds.

Opens in Tokyo on Dec. 21 in subtitled and dubbed versions at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024), Toho Cinemas Ueno (050-6868-5066), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Picadilly (03-5367-1144), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002).

Ralph Breaks the Internet home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2018 Disney

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