‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’: Disney Gets Caught in the Web

Posted November 19, 2018 4:47 p.m. EST

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” might look like just another adorable, funny animated family film, but it also connects to our current reality in ways that are downright bone-chilling. This sequel to the 2012 Disney hit “Wreck-It Ralph” — which was set in the virtual world of arcade games, and whose affable lug of a hero was an 8-bit video game villain trying to break free from a lifetime of mindless destruction — sends its protagonists out into the broader internet, where they discover all the pandering, cruelty, addictive behavior and viral shamelessness that we have come to associate with online culture.

The initial reason that Ralph (voiced ably by John C. Reilly) and his best friend, Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman), go online is to find a replacement controller for Sugar Rush, the colorful, candy-and-chocolate-themed racing game in which she competes. But soon enough, they lose their bearings amid the labyrinthine cacophony of the internet, which is depicted by directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston as an impossibly busy, multilayered cityscape of brands, emojis and careening message bubbles.

To raise the funds to purchase the controller (which they have accidentally bid up to $27,001 on eBay, since they have almost no idea what money is), Ralph becomes a viral video superstar on a site called BuzzzTube. He is then plagued by message board abuse, as well as the here-today, gone-tomorrow nature of fame in the digital era.

Meanwhile, sweet little Vanellope becomes enraptured by a gritty game called Slaughter Race, which takes place in a wasteland of garbage fires, dancing lowriders, pyromaniacs and sharks. She also at one point finds herself in a corner of the web called Oh My Disney!, where she gets some daffy life advice from a collective of Disney princesses. (It is a clever bit of synergistic self-deprecation for the studio: Who doesn’t want to see Cinderella break a glass slipper and wield it as a weapon? Or for the Little Mermaid to get excited about finally putting on a T-shirt?)

As Vanellope begins forging her own path, Ralph becomes obsessed with trying to salvage their once-inseparable friendship, which makes him easy prey for the internet’s ability to feed on one’s insecurities — all our “needy, clingy, self-destructive tendencies.” And somewhere amid the film’s ornate imagery and deliriously irreverent humor, we might begin to realize that we are watching a terrifying, incisive satire about the ways that a life lived online makes monsters of us all.

‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’

Rated PG for aggressive racing, comment board meanies and suggested toxic masculinity. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.