Movie: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

I grew up with video games, though with the first wave of arcade games and home consoles.  I still feel some nostalgia for those.  My current outlet for that is my collection of arcade game flyers, and I have never met anybody else who collects those. 

This lead-in is my way of saying I am not predisposed to disliking video games or media related to them.  And yet, I was pretty harsh on 2023’s The Super Mario Bros. movie, and I still stand by each of my points in that essay.  In that review, I compared the film to Wreck-It Ralph to demonstrate how similar material could be done better. 

Although Ralph had easter eggs to appeal to the fans of old arcade games, it largely had a plot that did not require any previous knowledge of such games in order to follow the storyline.  It probably helped that the main characters were from fictitious titles; albeit, ones that are analogous to popular ones in the real world.  Most importantly, it had interesting characters we find ourselves caring about, especially the leads of Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman).

Roughly the first half-hour 2018 sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet wisely focuses on characters we remember and like from the first film, and stays in the environments with which we are familiar.  Nothing happens which is radically new or different from that first movie at this point.  In fact, these scenes feel a bit like deleted scenes from that picture, and that’s OK.

It is the breaking of Vanellope’s game that steers the film into previously unexplored territory.  A replacement for the broken steering wheel controller can only be found on eBay, so our protagonists go onto the internet for the first time.

The wheels start to come off as soon as they arrive in the world of the…um, world wide web.  I have seen this sequel before but could barely remember any of it before this point.  Then I felt my hackles go up fast as soon as we’re flying over a cityscape of product placement that is the internet.  I get angry enough at the commercials shown before films in the theatre, so I immediately saw red when I realized this entire movie was product placement.  No matter how little one may pay to legitimately see this picture, you still paid something to see an advertisement.

Of course, nobody shills Disney more than themselves, so the plot eventually sends Vanellope on an extended solo mission into  I think I actually felt my blood boil at this development.  In addition to cramming in as many of the company’s Intellectual Properties as possible, it puts an “ironic” spin on their legacy of princesses by having them wax sarcastically on their predicaments in their respective films.  They also now have superpowers, with that of Sleeping Beauty’s being a poison apple.  Somebody explain to me why that is and how that works.  The scene where all the princesses work collaboratively to save the day didn’t explain that to my satisfaction.

Even in the internet world, there were some elements I liked.  Our protagonists are assisted by a clickbait character named Spamley (a curiously uncredited Bill Hader) who assists our protagonists.  Though little-used, I found him to be one of the most interesting of the new additions to the world of this series.  Even more interesting, though deliberately creepy, is his speechless assistant, Gord, a stout thing with large, unsynchronized eyes protruding from the neck of his sweater.   This thing is as if something Lovecraftian was benevolent, with thin arms that can grow to seemingly impossible lengths, and this is made all the more unnerving by how slowly that happens.

Endless product placements aside, one of the least welcome additions I found in this sequel is a very violent racing game Venellope longs to make her new home.  The film is very careful as to the fine line it has to walk when parodying what is obviously Grand Theft Auto in what is ostensibly a kid’s film.  In the end, it fails to really sell the danger of that environment, while spending too much time in a world that is too sharp in contrast to everything else here. 

All that said, I was amused when a killer dog was dispatched of by a literal sewer shark that appears suddenly, like some deus ex great white.  But, taking this one step further, everything I have said in this paragraph would have to raise some flags for those who have only seen the charming first film.

I thought it was interesting how the time the characters spend in the internet in Ralph Breaks the Internet appears to correspond to the same amount of time outside of that world.  Then again, that rule somehow curiously applies to the worlds of the characters in their own video game worlds and time in the real world outside of them.  This is in contrast to how time passes in most similar fare, going back as far as Tron

Conversely, this film feels at least an hour longer than its actual runtime of slightly less than two hours.  I would have been happier if that time had been spent solely with the characters from the preceding film; instead, almost three-fourths of the time here is spent with new characters I don’t care much, and who do little more than force-feed us advertising.

Dir: Phil Johnston and Rich Moore

Starring John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Godot

Watching on blu-ray