Ralph Breaks the Internet review: The celebration of capitalism that will also break your heart

The animated sequel presents an opportunity for one corporate behemoth to tip its hat to its fellow corporate behemoths, but there's warmth to be found at its centre

Clarisse Loughrey
Thursday 29 November 2018 13:44
Sarah Silverman and John C Reilly make each other video game characters

Dir: Rich Moore, Phil Johnston; Starring: John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, and Ed O’Neill. Cert PG, 112mins

The sequel to Disney’s Oscar-nominated animated comedy Wreck-It Ralph (2012) has catapulted its returning heroes, video game characters Wreck-It Ralph (John C Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), into the realm of the World Wide Web.

It’s right to be wary of Disney’s intentions here: Ralph Breaks the Internet presents an opportunity for one corporate behemoth to tip its hat to its fellow corporate behemoths, as we visit the dizzying worlds of eBay, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon. There’s little sign of Netflix.

Presumably, in the dreamscape of Disney’s imagining, it’s been successfully defeated by their own incoming streaming service. In short, it’s a capitalist love fest with Mickey Mouse himself sat at the helm.

We rejoin Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope, now best friends, as they sink back into routine, fulfilling their duties as arcade game characters by day, while sipping root beers over at Tapper’s by night. Yet, Vanellope has started to get restless and, after she ventures into the newly connected internet with Ralph, in search of a broken part to her game, she finds herself spellbound.

This is the land of bountiful unpredictability, which Vanellope finds particularly attractive when she comes across a Grand Theft Auto-type online game called “Slaughter Race”, and meets the ultra-slick, leather jacket-clad Shank (Gal Gadot).

Ralph Breaks the Internet wants us to feel just as wonderstruck as Vanellope, as jaded as we might be by our online lives. The internet is rendered as a utopian city, filled both by its own denizens – from eBay auctioneers to Taraji P Henson’s algorithm expert Yesss, head of the Buzzfeed/YouTube mash-up BuzzTube – and avatars of real-life users.

Much like Pixar’s Inside Out, which created a world inside the human mind, Disney has found a way to turn the internet into a practical, logical landscape. Pop-up ads run about in a panic, wielding signs about “sassy housewives” dying to make new friends. The dark net, meanwhile, is a true hive of scum and villainy; its twisted alleyways inhabited by grotesque monsters ready to cut a deal.

Every frame is bursting with life, colour, and clever jokes. There are cameos by YouTubers and nods to Fortnite, Chewbacca Mom, and screaming goats. The references reach maximum density when Vanellope wanders into Oh My Disney, the company’s official blog site. Here, the combined presence of Disney’s assets – Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and the Muppets – results in enough cameos to make your head spin.

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It’s a grandiose display of brand synergy that deserves to be approached with a level of cynicism, but Rich Moore and co-director Phil Johnston seem not only aware of the problem, but do enough to (almost) wash that cynicism away.

The scene that unites every Disney princess (well, almost – sorry Kida and Giselle) is hilarious, partially due to the shock of Disney so readily poking fun at its own product. “I don’t even have a mother,” Vanellope says at one point. In harmonious chorus, the princesses reply: “Neither do we!”

More importantly, the film allows one of its most poignant moments to be the acknowledgement that the internet corrupts as much as it enriches: Ralph, after becoming a viral hit on BuzzTube, wanders into the “comments” section. The sense of dread that suddenly overtakes the film will feel all too familiar. It’s a crushing scene in a film that, in time old Disney fashion, never fails to pull the heartstrings.

Ralph Breaks the Internet certainly isn’t naive about technology’s impact on our wellbeing, but by creating a world so filled with life, colour, and excitement – as filtered through Vanellope’s own wide-eyed enchantment – it dares us to feel hopeful about the future.

It dares us as Walt Disney himself once did, when he commissioned the 1964 song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”. Ralph Breaks the Internet, in the end, gets to have its cake and eat it: it’s an unironic celebration of corporate monopoly that still feels sincere in its message.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is released in UK cinemas on 30 November

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