Ralph Breaks the Internet is the first sequel out of the ten-year-old restructured Walt Disney Animation Studios, which began with the merging of the Pixar leadership team over to Disney’s animation studio, beginning with 2008’s Bolt. Today, that studio is led by Frozen co-director Jennifer Lee, but the newly restructured division of the company has been responsible for hits like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Zootopia. However, Walt Disney Animation Studios would be taking their first foray into sequel territory with Ralph Breaks the Internet, and thankfully for the studio and for its fans, lighting has struck twice, even if it has done so with less ferocity this time.
Like Wreck-It Ralph before it, Ralph Breaks the Internet features a plethora of interconnected brands and corporate crossovers, making the franchise Disney’s own version of Ready Player One. Luckily, the story of Ralph doesn’t get lost in the synergy machine, and for the majority of the film, the story team keeps the story moving through clever imagination and emotional character development. Ralph Breaks the Internet explores the evolution of video games and technology since the cutting edge era of Fix-It Felix Jr and Sugar Rush, in much of the same vein that it’s predecessor does, when an all-too-realistic first-person shooter game, Hero’s Duty, in plugged in during the first film. Ralph also explores the evolution of friendship, and the struggle of forgoing one’s own selfishness, and the importance of allowing the people we care about the opportunity to succeed, even if that means letting them go.
Ralph Breaks the Internet builds upon the character development groundwork laid out in the first film, finding Ralph once again battling his own insecurities, and his struggle to find his place in the virtual world. Ralph managed to discover that perhaps he didn’t need to be the hero in his own game to be the hero in the eyes of his friends, particularly the expert candy racer, Vanellope Von Schweetz, of Sugar Rush. Ralph finally finds happiness in his own life, and the world in his newfound friends, but his happiness becomes challenged when Vanellope seeks to find a new dream, and a new purpose in the new digital realm they discover thanks to a new internet modem plugged in at Litwak’s Arcade.
Through clever reimagining, the majority of the film takes place exploring the internet in all of its glory and misery that a family-friendly film can provide. Like Inside Out which reimagined the inner working of the brain, and the characters that make up its habitat, Ralph Breaks the Internet introduces audiences to colorful new characters that make up the internet, like Spamly, the character responsible for those frustrating pop-up ads, who introduces Ralph and Vanellope to the ‘dark web’, full of malware, and shady online video games. Its plot gets quite clunky at times, much of that due to the synergy being pushed at astronomical proportion, from a sequence in which Vanellope visits OhMyDisney.com, the Disney-owned Buzzfeed-style fan site, or the use of corporate sites, like Pinterest or Google, for not much reason. Regardless, the strengths of the film keep it afloat and entertaining throughout, and fans will be delighted by the film’s exploration of new technology evolution, and Disney fans should be pleased by the Oh My Disney sequence for its fun and goofy crossover sequences, even if the scene doesn’t offer much to support the story.
Hopefully, the longevity of Ralph Breaks the Internet won’t become outdated by its reliance on internet gags, from quick gags that parody ‘Chewbacca Mom’, an internet meme already mostly forgotten as quickly as it surfaced. For what it is worth, Ralph is full of references perfectly relevant if seen during its initial theatrical release, but one can only hope that years down the line, this movie won’t become outdated through its usage of online gags. Like the first one, which played on video game nostalgia and technology evolution, hopefully, this movie will stand the test of time, and even present a wave of nostalgia to future audiences so that its longevity stands alongside other Disney films.
Despite it’s several, yet minor, flaws, Ralph Breaks the Internet is another landmark accomplishment for Walt Disney Animation Studios and a great first foray into sequel storytelling and world-building. It isn’t quite at the same level at its predecessor, but it’s another story worthy of the franchise and the Walt Disney Animation Studios brand, and one that audiences will be willing to cherish yet again.