In the language of film, no concept has been more esoteric or hard to translate than that of computers and the Internet.
Whether it’s translating the binary into something ethereal and dreamlike à la 1982’s TRON, or using the language of code as a thinly veiled power fantasy under the guise of social commentary à la 1999s The Matrix, Hollywood has had a hard time adapting the concept of being online. Every few years, you see another attempt at taking something that has become as ubiquitous as breathing, and using it to help escape from the horrors of the real world…which more often than not arise directly because of technology. Regardless, this hasn’t stopped producers and writers from trying to crack the .com conundrum, leading to such works as 2017s The Emoji Movie and this year’s Ready Player One (which technically is a video game movie, but still), both agreed to be either just “okay” or “a god-awful trainwreck of product placement and tired references to immediately outdated content.”
Whatever your stance, a new film trying to capitalize on the internet craze has come out, and not only does it dare to buck the trend of bad internet movies, it intends to smash it wide open.
One could even say that it’s gonna wreck it.
“Ready Player One”, for people who hated “Ready Player One”
Released November 21, 2018 and directed by the originals’ Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, Ralph Breaks the Internet picks up roughly six years after the events of the original Wreck-It Ralph. In turn, we find Ralph (a Donkey Kong-esque bad guy for the appropriately Donkey Kong-esque Fix-It Felix Jr.) and his best friend Vanellope (a glitchy go-kart whiz hailing from Sugar Rush Speedway) living out a seemingly monotonous existence at Litwak’s Family Fun Center and Arcade. Ralph’s grown accustomed to his new status quo of breaking down buildings by day and slugging back root beers with Van in the Tapper machine a few rows back by night, but the girl eventually starts to question if there’s more to life than the small provincial power strip that links them together. After a well-intentioned attempt to spice things up in Sugar Rush goes horribly wrong, Ralph and Vanellope are forced to venture forth into a newly-installed Wi-Fi router at the arcade in order to go online and save Van’s game through the power of (you guessed it) the Internet. However, as the two descend further and further into the bowels of the Information Super Highway, Ralph and Vanellope’s greatest challenge won’t be saving Sugar Rush, but making sure their friendship comes out in one piece.
In all genuine honesty, I’ve had a long history with the original Wreck-It Ralph, and upon learning that a sequel was inbound, I was ecstatic. However, as more and more information about the film came out, especially regarding it’s massive jump from the concept of the first, I grew more and more anxious in regards as to whether or not this film would even be good, let alone worthy of the original. All of that said, I can firmly say that (from a sheer writing and story perspective) the film manages to actually pull its own comparatively high-concept premise off nicely. The film’s depiction of the Internet (while mostly sanitized, because Disney) is the closest I’ve seen to a legitimately realistic version of the Net that still attempts to put a fantastical spin on it. However, it only plays backdrop to John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman’s engrossing performances in this film as Ralph and Vanellope, respectively. The two, through sheer vocal performance alone, completely sell you on the value of their friendship and are what keeps the movie from potentially descending into pop culture calamity alone. Extra kudos to Silverman, whose role gets an especially meaty upgrade from the original installment. Even furthering this is some of the best animation Disney’s put out to date, and it demands to be seen on the big screen.
That said, it still falls prey to some larger issues. Despite the strong characterization for our leading duo, it could come across as regressive, negating most of the development made in the prior movie. Early on, a subplot featuring Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) and his gun-toting “dynamite gal” Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch, both reprising their roles from the first entry) is put into place…only to be forgotten about until the very end of the movie. Perhaps biggest of all, in lieu of referencing old arcade games, the film prominently features established brands and websites (to the point where the story somewhat hinges on an eBay auction gone awry), along with “memes” and “meme culture”. In literally any other circumstance, doing this would be a death sentence for the relevance of a film and an immediate signifier that the people steering the ship have next-to-no idea on what they’re doing. Ralph Breaks the Internet largely manages to avoid this sense of tedium by “tastefully” using these brands and ideas to fuel the plot and characters’ motivations as the show goes on, in addition to glorified set dressing. The same, however, can’t be said for one brand in particular…
Staring into “Important Water”
In all honesty, the best encapsulation of this film’s use of product placement (for better, and for worse) is the infamous OhMyDisney! sequence, in which the film stops dead in its’ tracks for a solid five minutes for Vanellope to gawk at the proverbial Infinity Stones in Disney’s corporate gauntlet. It’s in this sequence that we’re barraged with an outrageous amount of cameos from Disney properties, alongside appearances from characters and various paraphernalia from Star Wars, Marvel, and strangely enough The Muppets, all before leading into the Princess scene that almost every trailer for this movie has highlighted in detail.
The sequence, overall, sticks out like a sore thumb in a movie that otherwise was carefully threading the line of using product placement as set dressing and becoming a straight-up commercial akin to some of the most banal moments from the aforementioned Emoji Movie. I commend it, at least, for not being one-sidedly cheery about the brands that actually factor into the plot (the movie hinges on an eBay auction gone awry). Yet, at this point, it drops any sense of subtlety in favor of pure fan service (going so far as to include what is now the first posthumous cameo of Stan Lee) and it feels, to give in to cynicism for a moment, utterly crass. That isn’t to say that the sequence isn’t well-written (there’s a generous amount of potshots at the company here that hit) or lacks effort from a visual perspective, but it feels self-indulgent to the point of excess.
After that, the film manages to regain control over itself going into the third act. Even then, however, it still finds a way to shoehorn in the Disney crossover element in its’ climax. I can at least praise what comes immediately out of the Disney commercial in the middle of this movie and that the filmmakers made part of it work organically into one of the leads’ character arcs, but that doesn’t change the fact that it eats up a chunk of runtime that could have been devoted to something else entirely.
Ralph Breaks the Internet, in all genuine honesty, it had everything going against it. A sequel to one of the (if not the) only good video game movies, completely jettisoning the nostalgic hook of its predecessor in exchange for personifying what we live on, work in, and dread nightly? In the aftermath of the colossal failure that was The Emoji Movie and an ad campaign that solely focused on literally anything but the original cast? If you do the math with those odds, it isn’t pretty. However, much like the underdogs at the center of the story, Ralph manages to do the impossible through jaw-dropping animation and a fantastic sense of humor. This doesn’t make it a perfect film by any means, but it does what a good sequel should set out to do: take the relationships and characters that we’ve grown to love in the original, and push them further than they have gone before on both a physical and emotional level. Look past the literal monuments to tech titans and semi-shameless self-advertising, and Ralph Breaks the Internet has a living, beating heart underneath it’s glossy exterior.
Featured Image: IMDb
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