by Nick Spake
While Disney has a vast library of straight-to-video follow-ups, they’ve rarely delved into sequel territory on the big screen. Wreck-It Ralph paved the way for so many fun ideas and inventive characters, however, that its wonderful world couldn’t be contained to a single outing. Speaking with Story Monsters, Disney animator Michelle Robinson discussed the passion directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore had going into this sequel. “We describe ourselves as a director-driven studio,” she stated, “and they really wanted to do it.” In the same vein as Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet takes the foundation its predecessor laid down and builds upon it in a marvelous way. What we’re left with is a cornucopia of imagination with brilliant attention to detail packed into every frame.
Where the original film was a love letter to video games, this sequel is a love letter to the whole digital world. John C. Reilly once again voices the lovable, not-so-bad guy, who is content with his day-to-day life as the villain of “Fix-It Felix Jr.” Meanwhile, Ralph’s BFF Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) feels as if she’s going in circles as a “Sugar Rush” racer. Vanellope is stopped in her tracks when her game is unplugged, but Ralph believes the solution awaits in a brave new realm known as the Internet. Once the Wi-Fi is up and running, Ralph and Vanellope boldly venture where no arcade character has gone before. Along the way, they cross paths with a trendy algorithm named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) and several shady figures with ties to the Dark Web.
If you thought the OASIS in Ready Player One was an Easter egg haven, just wait until you feast your eyes on this film’s interpretation of the Internet. The animators have literally created a worldwide web where eBay is an auction house, viral videos put citizens on the fast-track to big bucks, and a search engine called KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk) can get users to their desired destination in no time. This is a film where you could pause the action at any moment and find a new visual gag. As such, this movie demands to be revisited at home after watching it once in the theater. While the Internet’s main hub is like a virtual version of Times Square, it’s just one of several vivid environments the filmmakers take us to.
Vanellope finds a kindred spirit in a fellow racer named Shank (Gal Gadot), who lives a fast and furious lifestyle as the head honcho of “Slaughter Race,” a game that’s like a cartoony version of Mad Max: Fury Road. Our pint-sized heroine also makes an unlikely connection with several animated princesses upon venturing to Oh My Disney, which makes an actual Disney theme park look like a small-town carnival. Seeing all the Disney princesses together onscreen is perhaps the most astounding crossover since the Avengers first assembled. What’s even more astounding, though, is seeing Disney poke fun at some of their most recognizable mascots.
Granted, Disney previously parodied their princess formula in Enchanted, but who thought we’d ever see Cinderella use her glass slipper as a weapon? While the sequence is wonderfully self-aware, it’s also clear that the writers have sincere affection for Disney’s legacy. It’s a clever spin on classic characters, demonstrating just how far the company has come in recent years. Apparently, it wasn’t hard convincing Disney to take a contemporary and satirical approach to Snow White, Ariel, and others. According to Robinson, “We had pitched this idea in the story screening and the executives saw it and they loved it.”
If there’s a downside to Ralph Breaks the Internet, it’s that there aren’t many new video game characters added to the mix. The film more than compensates, however, with characters from Star Wars, Marvel, and other properties under the Disney umbrella. For all the cameos it works in, the movie never loses sight of its heart or moral, leading to a poignant ending that isn’t conventionally happy, but sees genuine growth from our protagonists. In regards to the ending, Robinson says, “It needed to be a little bittersweet in order to honor both characters’ journeys.” One can only hope that Elsa and Anna experience a similar evolution in Frozen 2.