I loved Wreck-It Ralph. It was original, funny, and most importantly very sweet and genuine. It held up on repeat viewings back then, and I watched it again after watching Ralph Breaks The Internet to check that my memories weren’t wrong. They weren’t.
But the fact I had to check at all isn’t a great indicator of Ralph Breaks The Internet‘s quality. And before we go any further, I have to get out ahead of myself and say this is not going to be a negative review.
But I was hoping it would be a glowing review, and it’s not going to be that, either.
When I first saw the reveal trailer for Ralph Breaks the Internet, I was worried.
Without any context for why it’s happening, we see Ralph and Vanellope thrust into the internet, and we are quickly bombarded with real-world brands and imagery. After a joke about autofill that works better in the film, there is a dub-over trailer fake-out that connects the scene to a metatextual Disney site where we spend the latter half of the trailer on one overexposed gag about Vanellope meeting her fellow Disney princesses. The scene is too on-the-nose in its critique of Disney’s own properties, and feels like the company trying to afford itself a get-out-of-jail-free card for its decades of (arguably excusable?) sexism, as if a quick riff will undo any future responsibility they have for the men-save-women image they’ve cultivated and made their billions on.
I was worried. Then, eventually, the second trailer. Which was better, but…not really.
The bad Sour Bill joke that’s good for kids and few others. The badly spliced trailer-dub vocals that sounded insincere and cheap. The tonally try-hard family-friendly rap. The lack of any mystique about the plot as they come right out and hit you over the head with many of the movie’s internet-themed jokes (like, “click here to get rid of belly fat!”). The fact that immediately after feeling like the trailer is showing too much, it dives, without explanation, into Slaughter Race and a quick shark-gobbling-a-dog gag that gives the impression that now we’re not being shown enough to understand what’s going on. The further unexplained focus on the trailer-unnamed racer character Shank (played by Gal Gadot) leads into a flossing gag, a darknet reference, and not much else.
I was still worried.
And a week ago, I finally saw it. Would’ve written sooner, but since zero people read this, I didn’t think it was a huge priority.
I spent the first hour of Ralph Breaks the Internet feeling terribly disappointed. For the most part, none of the gags were landing. Because the film didn’t have to introduce the audience to its main characters beyond some exceptionally blunt exposition, it didn’t bother to endear us to them, or even remind us why we might have been endeared from the last film.
The setup is simple enough: Vanellope’s machine might be removed because a child has broken the steering wheel due, somehow, to Ralph’s meddling. Coincidentally, the arcade owner has just installed a WiFi router, and Ralph has picked up that a new wheel can be acquired on eBay. Mediocre comedy ensues.
Without giving too much away, the film’s plot eventually comes to move around the issue of Vanellope wanting to expand her horizons, and Ralph, having found his happiness in her company as a friend over the last six years, wanting things to stay the same. This is a beautiful, true-to-life, well-observed emotional conflict to drive the plot, and it’s the sort of thing for which I often praise children’s entertainment these days. Children’s productions have gone up and up in quality as generations have been spurred to creative heights by their predecessors. No longer content to sell toys, ’90s animators sought to tell stories and create proper characters. In the aughts and now teens of the 21st century, the animators who grew up watching ’90s shows have sought to use well-developed characters and funny, creative storytelling to teach children better life lessons than “don’t litter” and “don’t talk to strangers”. Children are now being taught more complex matters by media geared toward them, and Disney has often been at the front of that with endeavors like Inside Out and Zootopia. And kudos to them for those, and for the message behind Ralph 1 and 2.
The problem for me with Ralph Breaks the Internet is that I couldn’t tell until sometime in the second half (of this long, 2-hour film) that the film had any heart at all. Until the point where they came out and said what the conflict was, it may as well have been any modern cartoon, just trying to pack in lots of gags (almost none of which worked for me).
Once it found its heart though, things got better. And by the end, I choked up a few times. By the end, the characters I loved were still in tact, and due in no small part to Sarah Silverman’s fantastic voice acting, its emotion resonated with me in a meaningful way. When the credits rolled I was more than ready to leave the theater, but by that time I had also decided that when the film eventually releases on Blu-Ray, I will probably be willing to watch it with a less judgmental attitude.
The popular consensus among critics was that it was as good as, but not better than, its predecessor. And having watched the both of them within 72 hours of one another, I have to say I don’t agree. But that’s because the things that matter to me in animation–sincerity, creativity, emotion, laughter–aren’t here the way I want them to be. However, for someone who just sees these as dumb, fun, colorful cartoons to gawk at four two hours and be rewarded for their casual understanding of things like the Twitter bird and “one weird trick” banner ads, I could see this being as enjoyable an affair as Wreck-It Ralph was, rewarding their casual knowledge of Pac-Man and Zangief from Street-Fighter II.
It’s also worth pointing out that while I was worried the Disney Princess scene from the first trailer was foreboding something terrible, that running gag turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the film, and I rather wish they’d have just made a movie about Ralph, Vanellope, and the Disney Princesses. Incidentally, today I was watching I Hate Everything’s “I HATE ‘LIVE ACTION’ DISNEY REMAKES” video, and he pointed out, rightly, that rather than all these so-called live-action remakes Disney has been farting out, they’d do much better by their brand and by the audience to just bring these classic cartoons into the modern CG cartoon style of films like Ralph. The princesses in this film prove it can be done, and well.
Ralph Breaks The Internet wasn’t the movie I wanted it to be, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared either. It will please children. It may please many adults. It probably won’t make you cry.
The best kid’s films should make a grown man cry. Fight me.
I’ll call it Good and give it ★★★☆☆