Spoiler Review: “Ralph Breaks the Internet”

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After six years, Disney has finally returned to the world of , and given that “A Walt Disney Production” and by proxy, this site, was started as a lead-up to the sequel, I couldn’t very well let the movie pass by without a write-up of some sort. That being said, this is going to be more of a traditional review, since there aren’t as many resources available for information about the process and development of , and I didn’t have the opportunity to take notes as I was viewing it in the theater.

Based on the film’s marketing, I was worried it wouldn’t hold up to the original, which I believe is one of the best animated Disney films of the 21st century, though I remained hopeful. As my friend and I were leaving the theater two weeks ago, I was still working out in my mind whether or not that hope had been totally vindicated.

Let me start off by saying that I was right in predicting that the American marketing for was largely a misrepresentation of what the movie actually is. References to viral videos, memes, and social media platforms are plentiful, but they just avoid becoming excessive or obnoxious. When online phenomena is used to advance the story, it’s done in ways that are universally recognizable for any internet users, and explained well enough for kids to understand what they mean for the characters even if they haven’t seen pop-up ads or volatile comment sections for themselves. The cameos from social media influencers don’t linger too long, and although the jokes will probably be funnier to people who are familiar with these specific creators, they don’t feel out of left field for those who aren’t. There were some dated references — the phrases “teh kittehs” and “epic fail,” both of which were already slipping in usage by the time the original came out, make appearances in a few scenes, but they don’t amount to much more than background gags. The jokes about “Chewbacca Dad” and the screaming goat meme from circa 2013 are just out there enough that if you weren’t aware that they existed previously, they’ll still be funny.

The sequence set in Oh My Disney passes by quickly enough, and although it felt weird hearing the name of the site said out loud by one of the movie’s original characters, you don’t have to know a lot about its specific brand to understand what’s going on. The princess scene is also brief, and actually does have an effect on the story, helping Vanellope realize she wants to stay in Slaughter Race through a pretty hilarious Alan Menken number. Equally hilarious is the pop version that plays over the end credits, which doesn’t alter a single lyric, keeping in all the references to creepy clowns and flaming tires and thus avoiding any compromise in the self-parodying angle of the movie’s comedic style. The princesses even return in the film’s climax, and while part of me thinks they should have kept that scene focused on their own characters, you could also argue that their inclusion made them fall into that category. Some of the callbacks to their individual movies felt gratuitous, but overall, it made for fun satire.

The film being a sequel definitely works in its favor when it comes to characters; we’re already invested in Ralph and Vanellope’s dynamic after seeing what they went through in the previous film, so it’s fun to watch them joke around, and the stakes are higher when they clash. Its timeline follows the real-world passage of six years, so the relationship has changed somewhat to become more sincere than sarcastic in a way that still feels natural to these characters, which makes their separation at the end a lot more impactful that it would have been if this was our first introduction to them. Ralph even acts as something of a stand-in for the audience at times, nostalgic for the heartwarming moments in the original film. His “hero” medal becomes a clever symbol of the changes that occur both in their friendship and in their individual journeys. It starts out as a representation of the positive aspects of their bond, but as they start to realize that constantly being together is holding both of them back, it becomes a symbol of Ralph’s dependence on outside validation, having gone decades without it and now living in fear of losing it. When his resistance to Vanellope wanting to leave the arcade reaches a boiling point, she finally takes it and throws it over a railing for him to find it broken in half later on. Through her act of frustration and his accidental creation of a virus seeking to isolate Vanellope from the rest of the world, Ralph is forced to face a rather ugly side of himself that he’s mistaken for normal friendship. Once you see that it’s broken clean in half, the compromise for each of them to keep one half after they part ways is a bit predictable, but still a good visual cue for their remaining presence in each other’s lives even after they move on to new stages in their lives. The entire plot line parallels a kid leaving for college: they’ll miss the way things used to be and the people they’re leaving behind, but at the same time, they don’t want to stay in that part of their life forever. One of the final scenes, in which Vanellope is about to head into Slaughter Race, was particularly resonant with me. They wave to each other up until the last second when a car passes by and Vanellope has disappeared into the game, which I found to be startlingly realistic to the feeling of leaving your home and loved ones. In one moment, you’re saying goodbye or starting to walk away in opposite directions, and in the next moment, the other person is gone even if they’re technically still in the same vicinity: outside the building, in the car driving off, etc. It’s a part of the transition that feels strange simply in how quick it is. I’m a junior in college right now, so the feeling is still fresh in my mind, and it’s made that much more bittersweet when you see it happen with characters you’ve become familiar with and grown to care about over a span of years.

Although the plot point of Ralph bringing a virus into a game is a bit of a repeat from the first movie, it does give us some interesting insight into him and Vanellope that wasn’t explored much before. Like I said before, it causes Ralph to have to accept the fact that his insecurity has made him act selfishly, and it also brings out Vanellope’s fear that her glitch will ruin any chance she has of a new life and new friendships. The film goes a little deeper into both characters’ psyches, and develops them further like any good sequel should.

Sadly, there are a few downsides to the heavy focus on the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope. Where their story was more of an A-plot to Felix and Calhoun’s B-plot in the original, now there’s so much to unpack that other characters don’t get a lot of time in the spotlight. Yesss and Spamley are funny enough, but there’s not a lot to Yesss’ personality, and we know very little about either of them besides their jobs. For that matter, we know about as much about Shank, and she’s hinted to have been through some tough experiences that might have made her more compelling. Apparently they’ve made her wise in the ways of human connection, but we don’t know how or what even happened to her. Even the side characters from the 2012 film hardly get any screentime, which kind of becomes a problem in the case of Felix and Calhoun. They certainly didn’t need to have another B-plot devoted to them this time around, especially since this film needed to differentiate itself from its predecessor’s formula, but their adoption of the other Sugar Rush racers is introduced as both a source of comedy and a potential way for them to develop as they face a new challenge. Even if they weren’t given an arc, I think the film could have at least cut back to them dealing with the kids wreaking havoc in the apartment for a quick gag, or ended their last scene in the first act with a hint to how they were going to handle it. Instead, they just have one more scene in the epilogue that jokes about the fact that we have no idea what happened over the previous 24 hours, which is funny, but feels like it was only added to tie up a loose end that really didn’t have any effect on the story. The whole thing feels like it was planned to be its own full subplot, but ended up needing to be cut for time.

Where Calhoun’s intensity was a comedic highlight of it seems to no longer be a part of her character at all from the few scenes she (and Felix) had. It’s understandable for her to have softened over the years, but it almost feels like she’s just absorbed a lot of Felix’s personality without him having changed at all. It would have been one thing for her to act that way with him and a different way around her friends, but we don’t get much of a look into how her life has changed over the last six years, or how any of the side characters’ lives have changed, for that matter. It might have been interesting to see how the dynamics have shifted between Ralph and Felix and/or Calhoun, especially Felix had an entire arc previously that resulted in him getting a better understanding of how difficult Ralph’s life was at that point.

All in all, succeeds in justifying its own existence by acting as an interesting continuation of the first film’s story, but doesn’t measure up to the quality of the original. The pre-existing characters are (for the most part) just as strong as before, but the new ones don’t get enough focus to become equally fleshed-out. However, the excellent comedy, world-building, and heart of the 2012 film manage to carry over and make for a fun experience with some earned emotion and a mature message. It may not surpass or even equal everything that made but it’s overall a worthy successor.

Film/TV critic, essayist, and screenwriter. Hollins University class of 2020 current MFA student.

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