The first “Wreck-It Ralph” film is an average story propped up by likeable characters. Its sequel, “Ralph Breaks the Internet”, is a subaverage story propped up by somewhat likable characters. So, in general, a stepdown.
Written by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon and directed by Johnston and Rich Moore, the story picks up six years after the events of the first film. Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) are best friends growing distant. Vanellope wants to branch out and is bored by the repetitiveness of her game. Ralph tries to help her, but is stuck in his routine. When circumstances force them to venture into the internet, Vanellope wanders into Shank’s (Gal Gadot) game, finding a potential new home, while Ralph and Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) try to win money by getting likes online. Eventually, Ralph’s insecurities spiral and bring down the whole internet.
The first real test of a sequel is determining whether or not it’s necessary. Great sequels build on the original’s themes and characters and feel urgent and important. “The Empire Strikes Back” deepens the emotional involvement of Luke, Leia and Han. “The Godfather Part II” further illuminates the theme of power and the fall of Michael. Heck, even “22 Jump Street” deepens the connection of Schmidt and Jenko. “Ralph Breaks the Internet” doesn’t quite reach that standard of importance. Ralph and Vanellope go through some turbulent times together, but it doesn’t feel as weighty as the original’s quest for Ralph to find comfort in his identity. The original’s plot is not a master story to be sure, but it was charming and heartfelt and much of that heart is missing in this sequel. Learning to let go of Vanellope is an interesting side plot more than a main plot. Indeed, the film ends at a more interesting point than it begins; if Vanellope leaves Ralph, how does he cope? “Ralph Breaks the Internet” just doesn’t feel as relevant as it needs to be.
The new aspect of Ralph’s world is the venture into the internet. There are some interesting winks and nods towards certain services like eBay and a rather shameless Disney website promo. All in all, it feels rather pedestrian without much commentary. Is the Internet good? Is it bad? What does the film have to say about it? Not much. Some definitive moral themes about the net and its effect on us would have given greater depth to the story. And one can’t help but wonder with all the pop culture references if the film will have a short shelf life.
But in a way, it’s the strangeness of the film that leads to its entertainment. Ralph puts his face on a screaming goat. All the Disney princesses appear in their pjs complaining about men. Vanellope breaks into song about a game called “Slaughter Race” (penned by longtime Disney musicman Alan Menken). And the ending is so bizarre in its harkening to King Kong that it’s worth the price of admission itself. In a way, the Ralph franchise is Disney’s Deadpool: off the collar, parodical and distinctly unique in its irreverence. It’s entertaining to be sure, but far from a classic Disney outing.