In 2012, Disney’s renaissance amidst such lackluster Pixar offerings as 2011’s Cars 2 & 2012’s Brave continued with Wreck-It Ralph, an affectionate, humorous, nostalgic look at arcade gaming and the characters that inhabit this world, with John C. Reilly voicing the titular character who’s grown weary of his role as the villain within a Donkey Kong-esque game known as Fix-It Felix Jr. In an attempt to change the negative perception his colleagues share of him, Ralph escapes his 8-bit home and travels amongst first-person shooters and kart racers, all the while learning to accept who he is and developing relationships with such characters as Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) a glitchy, wannabe racer from the Mario Kart styled Sugar Rush, Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), a hard-nosed soldier from the first person-ness of Hero’s Duty and even the hero from his own game, Felix (Jack McBrayer). The entire cast does a phenomenal job breathing life into their digital counterparts, even if the time spent within Sugar Rush tends to last a bit too long and characters such as two-faced Sugar Rush proprietor King Candy (Alan Tudyk) teeter between mildly funny and head scratchingly annoying.
That said, Wreck-It Ralph is a surprisingly emotional film, with an exceptional score/soundtrack by Henry Jackman and Owl City, a satisfying ending and a wealth of loving throwback gaming references/cameos from the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Q*bert, Street Fighter, Pac-Man, Paperboy, Dig Dug, BurgerTime, Tapper, RoadBlasters, the Konami Code, legendary Twin Galaxies gaming referee Walter Day and even the Disney production logos showcasing a decidedly old school vibe. Though I enjoyed the film when I first saw it in theaters, the second viewing cemented it for me as a Disney masterpiece, a movie that still takes me back to that time and one I can’t watch without a surge of the feels upon every viewing. It’s become one of my all-time favorites, and I remained confident as the years went by that, despite what felt like an eternity of delays, a sequel would eventually materialize.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is that follow-up, one that welcomes back returning director Rich Moore who once again teams up with writer Phil Johnston as well as Pamela Ribon (taking over for Jennifer Lee, who serves as an executive producer this time around). The sequel finds Ralph and Vanellope still bouncing around the digital playground of Litwak’s Arcade six years following the events of the original, however in contrast to Ralph’s desire for a new image in the predecessor, the follow-up now sees Vanellope becoming bored by the day in/day out monotony of her role within Sugar Rush and the quest she & Ralph undertake into the unknown world of the internet so as to find a replacement part for Vanellope’s recently broken game. Much of the cast from the original returns for Ralph Breaks the Internet, Henry Jackman’s back to craft the soundtrack and arcade games that may have been neglected in favor of Sugar Rush are fortunately explored a bit more as well. It’s safe to say that this is a successor at the very least as good as the first, but it is better?
For starters, aside from Ralph & Vanellope, all remaining returning cast members receive very little screentime-Felix and Calhoun, for example, have been given a minuscule sideplot that manifests at the beginning only to appear once again at the end for its resolution, by which point audiences will have more than likely forgotten about it altogether (though parents will enjoy the gag that punctuates their final scene). Classic Disney characters and their respective properties, which includes flagships Star Wars and Marvel, fill the background of nearly every scene, while new characters voiced by Gal Gadot as a racing game rebel who becomes something of a mentor to Vanellope, Taraji P. Henson as some sort of viral video algorithm and Alfred Molina as a virus architect who inhabits the Dark Web all do well, even if they all are ultimately supremely run-of-the-mill at the end of the day. Alan Tudyk returns as a personified search engine modeled after Google, and Henry Jackman once again has composed a score that successfully builds off the themes introduced in Wreck-It Ralph, though the Imagine Dragons tune that accompanies the credits just isn’t quite as catchy as Owl City, if I’m being honest.
In addition to a peek into viral video culture, which works well in the story, Ralph Breaks the Internet is an overall about face from the retro-ness of the original and is able to poke affectionate fun at similar cultural items such as pop-up ads, the aforementioned Dark Web, what a digital persona of a human might actually look like to digital beings and tributes to nearly every major web site in existence, including a particularly funny moment where glimpses of internet fossils Geocities and dial-up modems are seen in the background. Almost every joke, both big and small, sticks the landing, another example of the stellar writing team once again firing on all cylinders, and the Disney princesses seen in the trailers luckily save all the best moments for the movie, for those afraid they’d seen everything already. Their final scene is a particular triumph, setting up a beautifully melancholy ending that truly demonstrates no need for further sequels-if ever there was a movie that ends on a high note, Ralph Breaks the Internet is it. Whereas Wreck-It Ralph focused on being satisfied with yourself, the sequel builds on that with a recurring theme about friendship, and the need to move on with one’s life if & when the time is right. It’s a story about growth, surprisingly rich with more depth than one might expect, and one that doesn’t need a major villain to move things along, though one does show up in the third act & the jury’s still out if it served the story or was, at the end of the day, a bit odd.
Flawed? Sure. But Ralph Breaks the Internet still has it where it counts, a natural progression from the original that feels fresh enough to function on its own. It’s a movie that cares about its characters, its story and its audience enough to offer an experience unlike that derived from so many similar animated efforts seen nowadays-it’s a film I truly want to see again. Ralph’s adventures may feel like they’re done, and in the best way possible, that is fine by me.