The retro gaming themed Wreck-It-Ralph was a surprise gem of 2012, introducing us to the digital denizens of a video game arcade — Ralph, the nice-guy villain of a fictional 80s arcade game, and his new friends: Vanellope, a sassy kid kart racer from another game who becomes his best pal; bashful hero Fix-It-Felix, the Mario to his Donkey Kong; and Calhoun, a lady roughneck from a sci-fi shooter and Felix’s charmingly unlikely love interest.
When Vanellope’s native arcade racer Sugar Rush gets unplugged, she and Ralph cook up a plan to connect to the internet and order a new steering wheel for the broken game, saving its newly homeless denizens.
Despite Felix and Calhoun being major supporting characters (and among the best aspects) of the first film, they take a back seat in this narrative that focuses on Ralph, Vanellope, and the new characters they meet online (though the deleted scenes show a glimpse of an expanded subplot that wasn’t explored).
While exploring the web, Venellope becomes enamored with Slaughter Race, a gritty urban racing MMO, and finds a new friend and mentor in Shank (Gal Gadot), a tough street racer from that universe. This development introduces the idea that she might be outgrowing her “sassy kid” persona and becoming M for Mature. Too soon for Ralph, who isn’t ready to share his best friend.
It’s a surprisingly relevant kind of story, if not a “fun” conflict to watch. While Ralph is a sweet guy, there’s an undercurrent here that comments on toxic masculinity: he has a sense of ownership of his friend, and isn’t willing to give her up. In short, he acts like a clingy boyfriend (which is even creepier considering their age difference). In one of the story’s more clever developments, his insecurity is latched onto by a computer virus, which replicates beyond control threatening to destroy that which he loves most, forcing him to analyze his crippling emotional issue in the film’s bizarre climax. While Wreck-It Ralph ended in selfless heroism, Ralph Breaks the Internet finishes off with a painful assessment that acknowledges that, yes, even a hero can get caught up in his own selfishness. It’s a good message, but also kind of a buzzkill.
Even though video games, including modern ones, figure into Wreck-It-Ralph’s themes, the first film was steeped in 80s and 90s arcade nostalgia, giving it a classic, timeless quality. The sequel takes really weird left turn, delving into a totally current context — the story takes place on the Internet, with a very current if sanitized version of what that looks like: memes, games, social media comments, viral content, and lots and lots (and lots and lots…) of recognizable websites and logos.
Product placement is fun when we’re getting lots of crossover arcade characters from Street Fighter and Q*Bert, a lot less so when it’s the soullessness of… eBay and Snapchat. While I enjoyed the movie, it was always with a grudging sense of resentment of getting advertised at. I’m usually pretty forgiving of product placement, especially in context, but here it’s at times literally a barrage of brands.
The film also creates its own fictional sites like viral video site “Buzzztube” and search engine “Knowsmore”, and it would’ve been so much more charming AND timeless if they had run with more of those as the rule rather than the exception.
Because in the long run, the biggest threat to Ralph Breaks the Internet is time. Imagine what a version of this movie would look like to us now, if it was made had it been made in 1999. That vision is the inevitable future. Five years from now, this will feel out of touch. In 20 years, it’ll be hopelessly dated. (But just maybe in 30 years, it’ll be a warm slice of nostalgia in a cheery time capsule of 2019 for middle-aged iGen-ers).
Disney even gets in on the product placement action in a big way by having Vanellope visit Disney.com, which manages to be both the most completely shameless advertisement and unabashedly fun sequence, as she rubs shoulders with tons of cameo characters and eventually meets the other Disney princesses. Interestingly, this simple dichotomy encapsulates both sides of Disney, if by accident: the ruthless entertainment monopoly, and the somehow still truly magic kingdom.
Beyond blatant advertising, one of the most nagging elements to me is that the movie promotes the Internet to kids as a vast, gorgeous and vibrant place of fun and entertainment where everything is great. Aside from a brief foray into the Dark Web and the plot point involving a computer virus, there’s no sense of threat or danger. But even moving beyond the obvious threat that the web poses children (because, hear me out, I’m not saying this movie should’ve been full of racism, porn, and sex trafficking), there’s a less obvious layer of it just being a dumping ground with no quality filter. But RBTI doesn’t make any judgments on this, it just jumps in with both feet. Ralph stars in a bunch of moronic copycat viral videos, spams them all over the web with pop-up ads, and even a befriends a spambot who is one of the movie’s heroes, because Internet. The path to online stardom is easy; all you have to do is sell out. But none of this is really questioned or disparaged; if anything it’s encouraged.
Here’s a rare instance where “PG” really means “Parental Guidance”. Ralph’s view of the Internet is a slick world of entertainment and fun where you can be a celebrity, but that’s an incredibly dangerous message for kids who are already tempted to eat Tide Pods, dress provocatively on Instagram, and post asshole pranks on Youtube. It’s OK, responsible even, to let them know know what the Internet really is: a cesspool.
Overall, Ralph Breaks the Internet isn’t as fun or clear-headed as the first film, and definitely has some big problems with its subject matter. But at the same time, it’s an enjoyable and creative movie with a lot to offer. These characters are still great, and despite reservations I’ve expressed about problematic aspects of its plot and attitudes, I did enjoy its charms. It’s a gorgeously animated and fun ride with tons of great gags and enormous scale. The Disney princesses in particular are absolutely delightful. Director Rich Moore (Wreck It Ralph, Zootopia) is becoming a very adept veteran at directing these huge, highly entertaining CGI spectacles, and writer Phil Johnson steps in on this sequel as co-director. Ralph and Vanellope remain the heart of this story and I’m still on board to see where they may go from here, should they make any more sequels.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is now available on “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” 4K Blu-ray, which includes a standard Blu-ray disc as well (which includes the bonus features). My copy included a slick, embossed, foil-enhanced slipcover. It’s a nice looking package, pretty typical of Disney’s high-end presentation.
The 4K presentation of Ralph Breaks The Internet is breathtaking. While I have some problems with the film and its values, none of this extends to the visuals which are amazing. The portrayal of the Internet is a vast, highly detailed, infinitely layered megalopolis of movement and information. It’s absolutely stunning. This is one of the most visually packed movies, ever, period. To that end it’s full of Easter Eggs — non-stop cameos, references, and visual gags that will have viewers pausing to take it all in.
Special Features and Extras — Blu-ray Disc
- Surfing for Easter Eggs (3:37) — a fun and breezy look at some of the film’s Easter Eggs, with greater attention to Disney Animation in-jokes than external references
- The Music of Ralph Breaks the Internet (10:19) — a look behind the scenes with composer Henry Jackson and various vocalists and musicians involved with the soundtrack
- BuzzzTube Cats (1:47) — a reel of animated “cat videos” presumably created for background insert purposes. Much like animated “bloopers” at the end of Pixar movies, these are false spontaneity and do nothing for me. My kids, however, found these hilarious.
- How We Broke the Internet (32:57) — the primary Making Of feature, a neat multi-part documentary.
- Deleted Scenes — with intros. Most of these are storyboard animatics, but “Recruiting Grandma” is completed. Into the Internet (4:54), Opposites (3:17), Domestic Hell (2:44), Bubble of One (5:56), Recruiting Grandma (2:15)
- Music Videos — “Zero” (3:51) by Imagine Dragons, “In This Place” (3:32) — let’s avoid being unkind and just say I’m not the target audience for these.
- Previews — Promo trailers play on startup and are also available from menu: Toy Story 4 Teaser (1:44), Aladdin Teaser (1:35), Dumbo (1:28);
Special Features and Extras — 4K Disc
- Barer than the bare parts of Zangief’s baby-smooth skin
Movies Anywhere Digital Exclusive:
- Baby Drivers: Slaughter Racing School
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.