Life’s pretty good for Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). It’s been six years since the two unmasked the dastardly Turbo, restored Princess Vanellope to her rightful place in Sugar Rush, and flipped Ralph from villain to hero. Now they live out their days playing games while spending nights at Tapper’s, downing root beer by the mug and swapping stories. For Ralph, ever the outsider looking in, life couldn’t get any better. For Vanellope, things are getting a little dull.

Then something new arrives at Litwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade: Wi-Fi. While the characters can leave their games and hang out together in the power strip—the Grand Central Station of the arcade—their interactions have always been limited to whatever games were physically present at the arcade. Now a whole new world awaits Vanellope and Ralph, though one is much more eager to explore it than the other.

Released in 2012, Wreck-It Ralph was an imaginative look at the secret lives of arcade characters as they pushed against the limitations of their prescribed stations in life. The characters were defined, the story was simple, and the message was clear. Not exactly the case in Ralph Breaks the Internet, Disney’s sequel to the beloved animated film. Now Ralph’s desires are a touch more complex—he wants Vanellope to be happy while hoping that her happiness is being with him—as is the world he inhabits: a fully realized, hyper-noisy, every-changing, snake-eating-its-own-tail internet.

That sounds like a bit much, and it is at times, but the filmmakers mine Ralph for all it’s worth. In particular, the architectural structure of the internet, which the animators envision as an endlessly self-referential cross between a theme park and a utopian city. Built high in the sky—upon the bones of the former internet, now a dusty wasteland of public chat rooms and broken neon signs advertising fast dial-up speeds—websites like Instagram, Pinterest, and eBay become physical spaces avatars walk around in like massive shopping malls. Commerce is ever-present, as are the pop-up ads working the streets like three-card monte hustlers. One such hustler, JP Spamley (Bill Hader), practically steals the show.

But a world does not a movie make, and, thankfully, Ralph Breaks the Internet has plenty on in its mind. Some ideas are more developed than others; then again, the same can be said of the internet. In that regard, watching Ralph Breaks the Internet is a bit like surfing the net for two hours: an exciting and shiny carousel of familiar and nostalgic signposts that slowly become bizarre before refracting into an all-too-revealing hall of mirrors. And once you start reading the comments, it’s all downhill from there.

That’s what makes Ralph Breaks the Internet an engaging movie. It doesn’t all work, and it doesn’t all have to, but it does come together in the end. And with a Busby Berkeley musical number in the middle, it certainly is lively.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
Directed by Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Screenplay by Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon
Story by Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, Jim Reardon, Pamela Ribon, Josie Trinidad
Produced by Clark Spencer
Vocal talents: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Alan Tudyk, Bill Hader
Walt Disney Animation Studios, Rated PG, Running time 112 minutes, Opened Nov. 21, 2018.

The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 26, No. 15, “He’s not a bad guy, he’s just a little clingy.”