Directors: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Bill Hader, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill
Back in 2012 the world was introduced to Wreck-It Ralph, a fictional video game that featured an antagonist also by the name of Wreck-It Ralph (or just ‘Ralph’ to his friends), via the movie that was also called Wreck-It Ralph. It was a huge success (the film, that is) and thus, six years on, we have the sequel in which Ralph, apparently, breaks the internet. Disney (without Pixar) is not generally known for sequels when it comes to computer-animated releases (unless they’re direct-to-video) so it can only be assumed that the big bosses had some faith in Ralph. Has this proven to be accurate, or have they just… wait for it… wrecked it?
(Note: the following review contains some minor spoilers for Wreck-It Ralph).
Six years after they first met in the game Sugar Rush, Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman) and Wreck-It Ralph (Reilly) continue to be the best of friends, doing absolutely everything together, day in and day out, unless they are “working” in their respective video games. One day, the steering wheel on the Sugar Rush arcade machine is broken, and all the game characters are left homeless. When Litwak (O’Neill), the arcade’s owner, decides it’s too expensive to replace, Vanellope and Ralph set out on a journey into the newly connected Internet to find a way to pay for a new steering wheel and fix the game. Along the way, they venture into an online racing game named Slaughter Race where they meet Shank (Gadot), a particularly talented racer. The more time they spend in the game, the more Vanellope’s head is turned to something more exciting than her predictable Sugar Rush game. As Ralph becomes more and more worried about losing his best friend to the internet, accidents start to happen, mistakes are made and bonds are broken.
Arguably, part of the reason Wreck-It Ralph was so successful was its story. For the time it was released it was fairly fresh and original, with all its video game references (particularly for those who grew up in the 80s and 90s) and new and likable characters. Ralph Breaks the Internet, however, does not tread any such new ground. It really goes to town on the references, much more so than its predecessor, particularly now the internet is introduced, but this is far from a good thing; it’s already been (over)done this year alone by Spielberg’s Ready Player One, a film that really smacks the audience in the face with its references and easter eggs. It makes for rather a monotonous plot that only goes for a quick laugh, lacking story overall and with no real antagonist to speak of there’s not really anyone or anything to root for or against. Sure, one of the characters takes things a little too far, but annoyingly it’s understandable that it’s coming from a good (if misguided) place. For two characters who were well-rounded in the first film, Vanellope and Ralph take quite a dip in this. There’s also barely anything from Fix-It Felix and his other half, Calhoun, which is a shame because they actually seem like the more interesting and likable pair in this film (consider this officially a spin-off request, Disney).
Now, let’s be honest for a minute and put it out there that thanks to the Ralph trailer, there’s really just one thing that’s going to be pulling in audiences for this movie: the cameo of all the Disney princesses, from Snow White to Rapunzel, Merida to Elsa and Mulan to Moana, the gang is all here, complete with all living original voice actresses (bar Sleeping Beauty/Aurora’s Mary Costa due to the struggles of voicing a sixteen-year-old at the grand old age of 89). I will admit that my inner child lost it a bit and struggled to really concentrate on the main scene featuring the princesses and Vanellope (also technically a princess at this point) hanging out. It was a slightly mind-blowing experience, which may sound silly to many, and it probably is, but whatever, it was awesome. Granted that the film surrounding this particular scene has been found wanting, however this part is a great perk (and their reappearance later on is also fun). It was nice to see a little post-humous Stan Lee cameo too. So, the references, despite needing diluting in most places, were worth it in some respects.
Despite the characters’ stories not being anywhere near as interesting or entertaining as in the original film, there were still some good performances put in. Reilly as Ralph perfects some of his more comedic lines, even if Ralph has become somewhat annoying in his clinginess towards Vanellope (it actually comes across more like they’re dating, which is really weird). Silverman’s unique voice that is perfect for caricatures is spot on again for Vanellope, who as a character is relatable in her need for something more in her life – it’s nice to see stereotypical movie gender roles reversed here between Vanellope and Ralph. Gadot as the spunky and likable Shank is the perfect choice for a strong female character, with her background as Wonder Woman proving as such, and Henson as Yesss, another character who lends a hand to Vanellope, is another strong female presence. Tudyk (another actor whose voice was made for caricatures) provides the voice of the ‘searchbar’ KnowsMore, an endearing character who’s screentime is limited but noteworthy, and Bill Hader’s new character J.P. Spamley is as endearing as they come. The return of McBrayer and Lynch as Felix and Calhoun, respectively, is also duly noted as the characters are very much two of the strongest (as previously mentioned).
Overall the cast is spot on and the characters are interesting, but they are mostly let down by a struggling plot that doesn’t give them the story they all deserve. It has its moments, such as Spamley’s little sidekick Gord being both cute and hilarious, and Vanellope’s own turmoil pushing what plot there is, but as the film draws to its final twenty minutes it becomes apparent that the writers themselves may not have fully thought the whole thing through. The pop culture references are really what drives the film, but it’s not enough. Ralph Breaks the Internet could be one of those films that could grow on a second watch but finding the will to watch it a second time would be difficult. Unless it’s just for the Disney princess scene. Though maybe not even then.