'Ralph Breaks The Internet' Review: A Perfectly Fine And Charming Sequel That Feels A Bit Too Familiar

Over the last few years, the Walt Disney Company has become marked by its willingness to, essentially, cannibalize itself. The animated films that serve as the building blocks for the massive conglomerate we know today are now fodder for live-action or computer-animated remakes. Couple that with the company's predilection in the late 1990s and early 2000s to churn out direct-to-video sequels, and it's almost surprising to consider that, in 81 years, Walt Disney Animation Studios has only created three in-canon sequels. In 1990, there was The Rescuers Down Under. In 2000, they went IMAX-level big with Fantasia 2000. And now, we have Ralph Breaks the Internet, a perfectly decent animated film that, to its credit, critiques its title character, despite being unable to transcend a profound sense that we've seen this all before.

As in the real world, it's been six years since the events of Wreck-It Ralph, in which the eponymous "bad guy" of an 80s arcade game tries to turn heel and become a hero with mixed results. Now, Ralph (voiced again by John C. Reilly) and his best friend, colorful racer Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), hang around the Game Central Station in Litwak's arcade and...just hang out. Ralph is content with this shiftless existence, clocking in his time in the Fix-It Felix, Jr. game every day and chilling in the evening. From the opening, though, it's clear that Vanellope has gotten restless with what Ralph finds so satisfying. After a human racer accidentally breaks the steering wheel for her game, Sugar Rush, Vanellope and Ralph set off on an adventure via Litwak's new purchase: a wireless router that sends them straight into the Internet.

In the year 2018, it is the height of fantasy to create a family film about the Internet and how it's mostly pretty great! But that's basically what happens with Ralph Breaks the Internet. (There is an exceedingly brief scene where Ralph reads the comments on viral video posts, but otherwise, most of the encounters that he and Vanellope have with Internet characters, save a climactic fight with an unexpected foe, are pleasant. Would that it was true in the real world.) In the same way that the 2016 film Zootopia introduced a world with unique sections, each with exceptional attention to detail in their design and layout, so too is the case with Ralph 2 — there are no doubt thousands of tiny Easter egg-like details in every shot where Ralph and Vanellope speed through this brightly lit cyberspace. Though the way the film depicts actual websites is unsurprisingly inaccurate — Twitter is presented as a series of bluebirds on tree branches tweeting and retweeting pictures of cute cats, and remember how long it's been since that's what Twitter was like? — the animation is overwhelmingly detailed, in a good way.

Ralph 2 also deserves credit for veering away from rehashing its predecessor beat for beat, as many sequels tend to do. This movie is almost too eager to escape Litwak's (Ralph and Vanellope are on their way to the wonderful world of Wi-Fi maybe 15 minutes into the picture, if not in less time); once they arrive, it's clear that the real subject of the film is Ralph and Vanellope's tenuous friendship. Vanellope's desperate to do anything aside from the same old, which only terrifies Ralph, whose entire identity is reliant on her seeing him as a not-bad guy. The subversion of Ralph as the hero is a nice twist. He's accurately, and literally, labeled in the film as insecure, and is crippled with a sense of co-dependency on his diminutive friend. Vanellope, on the other hand, finds lots to love on the Internet, first in a grim-looking racing game called Slaughter Race; she makes a quick friend in that game's lead character Shank (Gal Gadot), whose ability to race in a world without tracks is awfully appealing. (The ads have predictably played up Vanellope's encounter with all the Disney Princess characters, in a scene that's not much longer than what's in the marketing.)

There's nothing exactly wrong with Ralph Breaks the Internet, but it lacks the same emotional heft as Disney's 2016 efforts, Zootopia and Moana. It's not that this new film avoids emotion — Ralph and Vanellope's friendship is fraught with it — as much as it simply feels a bit more forced this time around. What makes Disney animated films so special is their universality, and it's a bit hard to find that in a movie that feels very, very specific to the time of its release. (Or, more frankly, to two years ago, when some of the cultural references might have had more bite.) Even the depiction of Ralph's friendship with Vanellope is rooted in a specific time period, or in the way that people are Facebook friends with each other in the mid-21st century.

For the rare few who didn't much enjoy the first Wreck-It Ralph (such as this writer), Ralph Breaks the Internet technically is an improvement on its predecessor. The various twists and turns all make sense, and there's a propulsive quality throughout in spite of the film being the longest in the studio's history at 112 minutes. Some of the set pieces are handled smoothly, including a racing sequence that — like the Kakamora scene in Moana — feels indebted somewhat to Mad Max: Fury Road. Reilly and Silverman do their very best in crafting a shaky friendship through their performances. But this film doesn't leap off the screen the way the best Disney films do, the way that Moana and Zootopia did. Ralph Breaks the Internet is fine. But it could've been better.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10