Is it just another cash grab?
At this point in the Disney Animation/Pixar world, that’s what we’ve been trained to ask every time yet another sequel arrives. Is an octopus going to drive in this one? Will talking cars continue to race in a deceptively terrifying world without humans? Are they going to repeat the same basic plot and story beats of the first one? Is it just going to be a passably entertaining, but ultimately time-filling, stock portfolio-padding widget that entertains the kiddies but leaves no real lasting cultural impact?
So, there’s a lot of cynicism for Ralph Breaks the Internet to overcome, not all of it fair. After all, this is technically Disney Animation Studios’ first sequel since being retooled and relaunched by John Lasseter (let us speak of him no more). Tangled and Big Hero 6 have each lived on as TV shows, and Frozen has produced several short film sequels in advance of the inevitable Frozen 2, due a year from now. But Ralph Breaks the Internet is modern Disney Animation’s first true movie sequel to hit theaters. Pixar and other animation houses are the true ones who have gone sequel crazy.
Still, the cynicism exists and it’s not exclusive to adult viewers either. Yesterday during the previews before the movie, my 8-year-old niece, using her best annoyed voice, loudly asked of the Toy Story 4 trailer, “Gosh, how many Toy Story movies are there going to be?” Out of the mouths of babes comes franchise exhaustion, apparently.
So, the question has to be asked: Is Ralph Breaks the Internet just another cash-grab? Not as much as you might expect. In fact, in many ways, it’s an improvement on its predecessor. Too clever by half and saddled with a third act which rather jarringly rushes to live up to its title, Ralph Breaks the Internet is by no means perfect, but its rather lovely message about how to truly be a caring, open-minded, and supportive friend is well told. Plus, unlike The Emoji Movie, the product placement isn’t the whole reason for being and the visualization of the internet is actually quite clever.
The plot: It’s six years later, and Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope are still best friends, living out their days at the arcade. However, while he’s content with the way things are she’s newly longing for change, for something more. She gets what she wanted, just not in the way she expected, when the steering wheel controller for the Sugar Rush video game breaks. Facing the very real potential of the Sugar Rush machine being turned off for good and sold for parts, Ralph and Vanellope use the arcade’s new WiFi (insert jokes about them not even knowing how to pronounce “WiFi”) to head to the internet where they think they can find a replacement steering wheel on something called eBay, or “eBoy” as Ralph keeps calling it.
Once there, Ralph stays on mission but Vanellope’s eyes are opened to a whole new world of possibilities, especially once she makes a new friend (voiced by Gal Gadot) in a Grand Theft Auto-like online racing game. How is she ever going to tell him that she might not want to ever go home? How will he take the news if she ever works up the courage to tell him?
And, yes, eventually Vanellope meets all of the Disney Princesses, who kind of steal the movie due to the sheer unprecedented nature of not only seeing and hearing (most original voice actresses returning for the cameo) every Disney Princess ever in the same scene together but also hearing them deconstruct the more objectionable Disney Princess tropes. As the Wall Street Journal recently detailed, the concept of having the Princesses actually acknowledge some of the criticisms leveled at them (“Do people assume all your problems got solved because a big, strong man showed up?”) set of a civil war within Disney, making it a minor miracle the scene made it to the screen at all.
That specific scene went viral well before the movie ever came out, but the Princesses end up having only a little more to do in the storyline. Used sparingly, their every appearance certainly had every little girl’s undivided attention in the theater.
As Star Wars and Marvel characters pop up, the Disney brand synergy begins to feel a bit oppressive, forever threatening to push Ralph and Vanellope out of their own movie. Luckily, they are such a plucky pair, again adorably voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, that they never get lost under the avalanche of meta-commentaries and synergistic elbow rubbing.
Returning directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston delightfully celebrate the misfit nature of the characters and touchingly preach a more sober message, by Disney standards at least, of accepting life’s limitations and the reality that eventually your closest friends might move away. Ralph is challenged to support Vanellope’s longing for a less monotonous life even though he doesn’t feel the same way. It’s a message which doesn’t quite possess the genius or emotional impact of recent Disney classics, but it’s universal enough to give you the feels. It worked on me.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The rare Disney sequel to be better than its predecessor.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- Post-Credits Scene Alert: There are two of them. The first, mid-credits scene, is a slightly longer version of something we saw in the second trailer. The last, a true post-credits scene, is a joke on the audience in the vein of Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Captain America speech about patience, but funnier.
- For fans of the first Wreck-It Ralph, several supporting characters return, but mostly for glorified cameos.
- I was actually overwhelmed whenever I tried to look at every single tech company/famous website logo sprinkled in the background of some of the big aerial views of the internet. There. Are. Just. So. Many!
- I would absolutely watch a Disney Princess Avengers movie.