By Jim Slotek
Even before Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens cluelessly and hilariously described the Internet as, “a series of tubes,” the human mind has tried to wrap itself around the nature of this digital realm where we spend so much of our lives.
Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to the arcade-themed Disney animated feature Wreck-It Ralph, certainly gives us one of the funniest and artistically impressive imaginings. The original, which introduced us to the denizens of an old-school video arcade (for the kids out there, arcades were a place where gamers once paid to play), sees the two main characters – Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) and his little pal Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) – break out of the arcade world and into the great digital unknown.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, YouTube, eBay, they all pop out as CGI office towers amid the pastel-coloured landscape (seemingly inspired by the animated opening to HBO’s Silicon Valley), a search engine is represented by a stuffy know it all named KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk), eBay auctions are actual auctions and viral videos go viral under barrages of hearts thrown by square-headed avatars who walk the streets.
In audience terms, Ralph Breaks the Internet casts a wider net than Wreck-It Ralph, which operated on nostalgia for fictional arcade games that reminded the parents of real ones. (As for the kids, it still functioned as fast-moving eye candy).
Indeed, in some ways, Ralph Breaks the Internet may be more for kids than the original (they may even be able to explain some of the finer points of some ‘Net jokes to their parents).
As the movie begins, Ralph and Vanellope are at odds. He’s happy just hanging, between his eight-hour day of smashing things to be repaired by his pal Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer). But Vanellope is bored wasting her driving skills on the same old adorable races in her Sugar Rush game.
Be careful what you wish for. When Sugar Rush is broken, the game is unplugged, and the only hope for repair is a replacement steering wheel available on eBay. Separation from her game starts to make Vanellope go “glitchy,” and she and Ralph set out through the arcade’s new wifi modem to find this mysterious eBay.
For Ralph, the quest is simple. Get the steering wheel sent to the arcade and make life the way it was again. But for Vanellope, a whole new world opens up when they try to steal a car for gaming dollars from a tough Fast and Furious-type gang leader named Shank (Gal Gadot). After a furious chase, Vanellope loses, but gains a heroic role model and finds a grittier, less Candy-Crushy place to take her talents.
In a brilliant side story – in which the movie actually pokes fun at Disney’s own tropes – Vanellope gets advice on her fulfilling her potential from what amounts to a sorority of every Disney princess you can think of (including Merida from Pixar’s Brave, whose brogue is so thick, none of the other princesses understand her). In return for teaching them to dress down in jeans and t-shirts, they advise Vanellope to look into pools of water to find the one that will magically make her burst into song. A priceless scene.
The friendship-betrayed scenario sees Ralph turn, however briefly, into a spiteful bad guy, fulfilling the movie’s title loudly and noisily on route to learning a valuable lesson about what friendship really means. This is the de rigueur saccharine moral that every Disney movie must provide.
In between, however, Ralph Breaks the Internet is everything that made Wreck-It Ralph enjoyable, painted on a canvas as big as the Internet itself. The satire is sharp and the pace is relentless, a can’t miss combination for a kid outing.