A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! A big thank you to those who read the many days of the Advent Calendar that got out, and the warmest wishes to everyone that they have enjoyed the holidays as they continue into the new year. It’s been a terrific 2018 here at AniB Productions, and while I may slip in another piece or two before the calendar flips to 2019, it has been a pleasure to keep this blog going for you, the readers. And now…for a review of a film I’ve wanted to tackle for a month, but finally got to sit down and see in theaters at last- Wreck-It Ralph 2, or more formally, Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Film: Ralph Breaks the Internet (Wreck-It Ralph 2)
Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 2018
AniB’s thoughts: There’s a lot to unpack from Disney’s first official animated sequel since The Rescuers Down Under, and also a followup to what is one of my personal favorites in the original Wreck-It Ralph, which was a film full of personality and character. (Here’s my review for that here.) While sequels are usually not up to the standards of the original film that inspired them, Ralph’s second outing proves to be a good one, featuring a deep dive into character dynamics and relationships, splashed against the background of perhaps the best take a film has done yet on the beast of an idea known as the Internet.
Set 6 real-world years after the events of the first film, Ralph Breaks the Internet starts off by showing the routine of two best friends had established at the arcade- but also some lingering want for something more from Vanellope, who while happy with her friendship with Ralph, had started to grow bored of the same thing every day. Ralph on the other hand, fully enjoyed his life as it was- and we wouldn’t have a film if this pattern held, which it doesn’t, as Sugar Rush, the racing game prominently featured in Wreck-It Ralph, has the steering wheel of its arcade console broken through a certain event- and coupled with Mr. Litwak’s (the arcade owner) purchase of a Wi-Fi router, the hunt is on for the surprisingly rare part to save Vanellope’s game- along with a world bigger than the duo ever imagined.
Unlike past horror shows like like The Emoiji Movie, this film actually manages to tackle the Internet’s vastness with a good deal of savviness and creativity. Product placement is fairly unavoidable- but in this case, feels authentic, much like the game characters from the first film, and plenty of clever references abound (my favorite might be a certain area where an AOL logo pops up. You’ll know when you see it.) And Ralph might just be the perfect universe to actually approach this subject material- especially as it continues the series trend of keeping the narrative character and story-driven, while using the internet to frame it in clever and inventive ways.
Vanellope’s character arc represents someone who had grown far beyond her initial encounter with Ralph in the original film. Finally allowed to realize her original dream of being a real racer and having the best friend in the whole world for 6 years, she had grown past the point of mere contentment, although she was starting to dream bigger. Forget about the Internet for a moment- the opening part of the film in the arcade foreshadows it, from Ralph’s failure to pick up on Vanellope’s longing for more in her life, to her attitude towards Sugar Rush– which while still her domain, had long since grown past the point of challenging her, enough so that even in the middle of a race she dozed off. By preserving the real-world time that elapsed between the two films, there was an emphasis that the world had changed- though Litwak’s Arcade, not so much. It was a surprising and bold move to actually have Vanellope stay in Slaughter Race at the end of the film, partially because I never thought they’d actually do it- and in turn, it’s a genuinely emotional and bittersweet moment that still has me reflective on how this actually happens in life too. Super impressive writing right there.
Ralph on the other hand, was content because he’d ultimately achieved his version of happiness by the end of the first film. That said, while his bond with Vanellope remained the glue and backbone of this film, his aversion to any sort of change with Vanellope and general jealousy of her own developing dreams was a lesson personified about obsession. Yes, the King Kong inspired final act was a bit heavy handed, but the character dynamics rang true in that scenario, and I think it touched me deeply on some profound level about how life changes- and relationships evolve. This is a message that will go over much more strongly with the older crowd now and into the future. It was also fairly ambitious to not go for a traditional antagonist- instead using the surprisingly complex web of relationships (pun maybe intended) and the initial steering wheel issue to kickstart the plot as a much more abstract series of problems.
There was a bit of a natural arc with the dynamic duo- Vanellope went from being “the glitch” without a place under King Candy’s iron fist in Wreck-It Ralph, to living her dream as a “real racer”- but now she needed literally and figuratively, a bigger racetrack than what Sugar Rush could provide- and in the ultimate twist, wound up leaving the game that once imprisoned her for good. She’s had an interesting, often heartwarming and also bittersweet roller-coaster of a relationship with Ralph over two films, and in the end, it’s hard not to acknowledge the duo’s chemistry as one of Disney’s best, simply because of the way their dynamics continued to evolve over both films.
Was this film better than the original? Hard to say, as they represent very different plots on a number of levels, but in this critic’s opinion, they are both worthy of praise in their own rights, and this is a sequel worth seeing if you haven’t already.
Animation Quality: Modern 3-D animated film. As always, these films have been gorgeous this decade, and Ralph is no different, continuing to show the savviness to detail that its predecessor established. Everything pops, the character models work well for what they are doing (Vanellope is somehow even cuter than the first film, I think), and everything comes together so well to help tell the story they want to tell. That’s impressive. 5/5 points.
Characters: I pretty much expounded on the main 2 characters in my spoilers, but to reiterate: Wreck-It Ralph is the big, hulking bad guy of 80’s arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. and best friends with Vanellope von Schweetz, the star racer of Sugar Rush, where the duo established a relationship in the first film that carried over into this film. The two are co-leads in this film- and as Vanellope is a fully established character from the start in this movie, it actually allows a much deeper exploration of her character on some interesting levels.
Aside from the main duo, new character mostly step up to fill other roles in this film. Yes, Felix and Calhoun still make appearances early in the film and at the end, but aren’t the major supporting characters in this go round. Neither are the Sugar Rush racers, who find themselves under the care of the couple after their game’s hardware malfunction (and I can sense a mini-film featuring what happened there to be hilarious.) Instead, there’s colorful Internet denizens who step into key roles, such as J.P. Spamley- a seedy personification of clickbait ads on the web, or Yesss- the head algorithm of “BuzzTube” who determines trending content. There’s also Shank- a beautiful, tough woman racer voiced by Gal Gadot in the online game “Slaughter Race,” which appears to parody both online MMO’s and franchises like Grand Theft Auto. It all comes together in a way that works- and yes, the Disney Princess cameos you’ve all probably heard about or seen are terrific. Just a lot of fun from this cast, but this is ultimately held together by Ralph and Vanellope- and it delivers an emotional punch on that level. 4.5/5 points.
Story: A simple premise launches Ralph 2’s plot- a broken arcade cabinet wheel, which proves to be rare and expensive to find, to the dismay of both Mr. Litwak and the denizens of Sugar Rush. Vanellope in particular takes it hard, sensing a loss of what made her her, despite recent complaints that the game had gotten painfully boring for her- and so, the journey to the Internet launches a grand quest.
Premise-wise, this was always going to be convoluted on some level, but it works within the framework of the story, which is character-driven. The narrative takes drastic shifts in stride, although the final act is a slightly mixed bag (though the emotional, character driven bits are still absolutely on point there.) It had a decently tough act to follow Wreck-It Ralph’s narrative- and it did reasonably well. 3.75/5 points.
Themes: This movie was surprisingly complex in terms of exploring interpersonal relationships, along with the positive and negative impacts of the web. Sure, I wonder how well this film will age considering the subject material, but the character stuff is meaty and lasting, and honestly this will resonate strongly with mostly an older audience, which is great. The younger audience will still find plenty to like as usual, but the endgame plot may be a little complex (and for the very young ones, terrifying)- but overall, good stuff. 4/5 points.
Don’t Insult the Viewer: For my money, an entertaining family friendly film with some fun musical stuff in there, some very funny bits (and very few cringy ones, at that), and a narrative that felt more complex that the first film. It’s a treat. 5/5 points.
Overall: 22.5/25 (89%): A worthy followup act to Wreck-It Ralph, this film takes the best part of the first film- Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship- and pushes it to another level against some really difficult subject material, and does it well. It’s definitely worth a look!
Like what you see? Big fan of the first or second film? Leave a comment!