Three out of four
“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is full of internet adoration, pop culture fun and emotional bonding.
Taking place six years after the events of “Wreck it Ralph,” Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) are best friends and life couldn’t be better. During the day they work at the video arcade, and their nights are spent having fun inside video games, doing things like racing in “Tron” and having root beer in “Tapper’s.”
But then Vanellope’s game “Sugar Rush” breaks. Unless a replacement part can be purchased, the game will be unplugged for good. Ralph decides to help Vanellope buy the part on the internet. However, the lure of the internet might tear Ralph and Vanellope apart, thanks to a game called “Slaughter Race” and a racer named Shank (voiced by Gal Gadot).
Disney’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is what “The Emoji Movie” (a 2017 movie about emojis and apps) wanted to be. It’s full of internet-y things: buildings that represent various websites and apps — Google, Instagram, Pinterest — a pushy search engine with an aggressive autofill and avatars of all people who use the internet.
Because of this movie’s connection to Disney (which thanks to its own vast movie collection and acquisition of Star Wars and Marvel now owns a significant number of recognizable characters), the film easily adds pop culture references. Storm Troopers patrol the Disney website, Disney princesses show up offering commentary on their tragic stories, and there’s a Stan Lee cameo for the Marvel fans.
These references and easter eggs provide a fun backdrop for our characters, but they are not the driving force. That’s how “Ralph Breaks the Internet” succeeds where “The Emoji Movie” massively failed. The story remains focused on the friendship between Ralph and Vanellope.
Their bond is strangely effective and relatable. It deals with the problems friends can run into, including distance, having different goals and when one person is insecure and becomes too attached to the other. This animated kids’ movie about video characters becomes one of the most honest films about friendship by addressing such problems and how they can be fixed.
On those terms, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” manages to hit every age level in the audience. For kids, it has colorful animation, fun characters and some slapstick humor, mostly at the expense of Ralph. For teens, it references the movies they watch and the sites and apps they use. For adults, the story of friendship resonates.
“Ralph Breaks the Internet” works by keeping the characters central and using the grand concept of the internet as its backdrop.