With apologies to Tangled, Wreck-It-Ralph was Disney’s first great 3D animated movie. It was a creative and loving look at the early days of arcade games. The easy, and fairly apt, comparison was that it was Toy Story for video games. As much as I enjoyed it, I can’t say I was especially eager for a follow up. Luckily, Rich Moore and Phil Johnston found a worthy new story with the characters that wasn’t just repeating the first movie. This time, protagonists Vanellope and Ralph go to the internet when the arcade owner hooks up a router to the same power strip where all the arcade games are plugged in.
When the first movie released, the same year as Brave, I thought it seemed like Disney released the Pixar movie and Pixar did the Disney one. That Pixar feeling is here this time as well. I don’t mean that as a catch all for a good movie, which Pixar’s output almost invariably is, but this is a kids movie that is as much for the kids parents as for the kids themselves. It doesn’t just throw out some jokes that go over the kids’ heads but their parents will laugh at, it builds some adult themes into the movie.
The movie is about friends growing apart, at least a little. It is about growing up and maybe not having the exact same interests at your friends anymore and how to be a good friend in that case. But it is also about parents learning to let their kids grow up, that they eventually become their own people and move out the house. Both stories are remarkably effective.
However, it is still a kids movie and the plot is largely an excuse for the two protagonists to romp around a virtual internet and comment on internet culture. Luckily, Moore and Johnston show the same affection for weirdo internet stuff that they did for old arcade games. Sure, it feels just like a Futurama episode from … 18 years ago (I’m so old!), but it is still a fun romp for most of its run time. They physically visit web sites, deal with pop up ad street vendors, fail to understand the concept of money, etc. It mostly serves as a vehicle for jokes until the greater problems come into focus.
Ralph becomes a youtube star to get the money they need, while Vanellope becomes enamored of a dangerous online racing game. Ralph has no interest in the game, but Vanellope can’t help but go back to it. It isn’t the cause of the growing conflict between the two friends, but the a symptom of a conflict that was already there.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is a good movie, a solid be to its predecessor’s A. It has some inspired jokes and inspired visuals, a story that is at times very touching. Ralph and Vanellope are two strong characters, and the events here build on the previous movie rather than resetting things. However, the movie doesn’t really have place for much of anyone else. Fix-It Felix and Calhoun, who played big roles in the first movie, are almost entirely absent. They aren’t really replaced by anyone. The movie brings in Shank, a racer from the deadly slaughter race, and Yesss, a buzztube algorithm, but they aren’t as big of presences as they could have been. There also is no true villain in the movie. Nearly all of it rests on the conflicts between best friends Vanellope and Ralph. Luckily, that relationship is strong enough to support the whole movie.
This isn’t the best recent Disney movie, but it is still a strong addition to the canon.