Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph wasn’t a box office breaker six years ago, but it did well enough and expanded its audience in home release. Fast forward to 2018 and Ralph carries high expectations as he leaves the cozy, 8-bit arcade for the boundless worldwide web. Ralph Breaks the Internet has the heart of a worthy sequel, but can’t maintain the pace demanded by its broadband environment.
Not much has changed since we last left Litwak’s Arcade and that’s just the way Ralph (John C. Reilly) likes it. Routine is his jam, but Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) has grown restless over the past six years and wants more. She wants to race around new corners not knowing what she’ll see, but the emergence of a WiFi router doesn’t get the plot moving just yet.
Ralph tries to make Vanellope’s Sugar Rush feel fresh again, but his improvements lead to a busted steering wheel. Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill) can’t justify spending the money on a new part, forcing all the racers to get out of the game before it’s unplugged. They’re all going to be homeless if the part isn’t replaced, so Ralph and Vanellope go online to track down and pay for the spare part on eBay.
The sluggish first act feels like logging on via dial-up. Even after making it inside the router, we hold for another beat before Ralph and Vanellope get online. Once we finally reach the internet, we see mostly what we’d expect to see and hear all the jokes we could’ve counted on hearing before we sat down in the theater. The internet gags aren’t bad; they just aren’t particularly clever.
Ralph and Vanellope’s adventures in monetization take them through Slaughter Race where we meet Shank (Gal Gadot). Shank appears to be completely capable of solving the heroes’ problems, but instead only offers a referral to Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), the lead algorithm for BuzzzTube. Basically, Ralph and Vanellope are charged with becoming internet rich and famous.
This sets up the most successful segment of the film, a tour through Disney’s own website. That’s where you’ll find the Marvel and Star Wars cameos you’re looking for and they are fun. They don’t hold a candle, though, to the hilarious meeting between Vanellope and the Disney Princesses. It’s a sequence worth the price of admission and possibly the film Disney really wanted to make (and still should).
This sequel delivers a mildly amusing tour of the internet, but it takes too long to really show us its heart. Once we finally see it, there is a worthwhile message about how our insecurities can make relationship saboteurs of us all. Friendship is not ownership. Ralph and Vanellope are challenged by this reality in moving, but also overly-creepy ways.
There is also a bit about our craving for social validation. It’s muddled, though, since the protagonists literally need that validation and the cash that comes with it in order to prevent Sugar Rush racer homelessness. The film largely skips the dangers of the internet, keeping it confined to a brief trip into a BuzzzTube comments section. The “It’s a Disney film” rationale isn’t enough to cover for all of this unnecessary sanitization.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is harmless fun with valuable takeaways for kids and adults. If it was just about the messages, the movie would be a complete success. As a delivery system for those messages, however, Ralph struggles with connectivity problems.