Review: ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ (Wreck-It Ralph, Part Deux)

Ready Player One is about to get Tron‘d on its way to The Matrix.

Six years after classic video game villain Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) became a hero, his best-buddy Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) admits she’s bored with the same “everything” every day — a sentiment Ralph doesn’t share. After a part breaks on the “Sugar Rush” console, the arcade owner deems it too expensive to replace. Unwilling to settle for seeing his best friend homeless when the game is unplugged, Ralph decides to hit the Internet with Vanellope by piggybacking on the arcade’s new wi-fi connection. To buy the only real-world part available anywhere and get it shipped home, they’ll need real-world cash fast; if only there were a place chock-full of questionable get-rich-quick pop-up opportunities… and oh yeah: Ralph breaks the Internet.

The original Wreck-It Ralph was a bit of a surprise hit… in no small part by being self-aware enough to know it could become a surprise hit; the Mouse House never aims low. With a lovable lug and smart-mouthed kid hosting a who’s-who of video game fandom, it was enjoyable enough for kids young and at heart. On the heels of the half-billion dollars made by Amblin Entertainment’s 80s pop-culture overload Ready Player One earlier this year, can informed ‘net nostalgia and a few familiar friends create box office magic once more before the end of 2018?

Like any sequel, reinventing newness without losing the special charm that made the original film work is ever a challenge. As masters of their own arcade, our heroes are thrust out of their gamer comfort zone and into pop-culture media — a perfect excuse to showcase the properties now under the Disney umbrella corporation (pun intended). From pop-ups and surveys to schemes and the dark web, Ralph 2 wallows in online familiarity while still squeezing out a decent story about friends growing in different directions. In that most Shakespearean of ways, a breakdown in communication is ever the perfect catalyst for drama, drama, drama while the world around them spirals toward referential overload.

All the old familiars make an appearance, including Alan Tudyk trading in his villainy hat for supporting-character KnowsMore, again channeling his inner classic Disney character vocals. Gal Gadot trades her magic lasso in for another steering wheel as uber-cool racer Shank, serving Vanellope’s arc as both inspiration and foil. Taraji P. Henson voices fast-talking PR algorithm Yesss while Alfred Molina takes the low road as click-bait entrepreneur Double Dan. And yes: almost every Disney princess is voiced by everyone still alive who did the original voices (Deadpool voice: “Worth it.”)

From obvious birds re-Twittering from their branches to rodeo-style auctions at eBay, it’s captivating how even basic Internet functions are visually realized, from clicking a banner ad to dealing with an over-aggressive auto-fill at a search kiosk. It’s hard to hate on this level of imagination, especially blending all this craziness together (and multiple end-credits scenes, so stay in your seats for all the fun), but it’s chiefly there to entertain, sell merchandise, and not really move the needle more than that. In spite of a near-desperate need to entertain viewers no matter what corner or crevice they peer into, Disney’s savvy enough to apply the Pixar formula to ensure tugging a heart-string or two.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is rated PG for some action, rude humor, and one explosive showstopper.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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