Despite having a physical existence, the Internet is also something of an abstract concept for most of us, so it’s not hard to understand why it’s such a tricky thing to interpret through visual media. When we think about the idea of being sucked into a virtual world, we think of things like Tron or The Matrix trilogy. Both of these iconic series offered aesthetically and conceptually fascinating takes on what virtual realms within machines could look like, with a healthy dose of sci-fi dystopia and championing the resolve of the human spirit. But, in terms of what the inside of our real-world Internet looks like, examples are few and far between.
Or, at least, they were until two came along in a relatively short space of time: 2017’s The Emoji Movie, which showed us the hidden world beneath our smartphone and tablet screens, and the upcoming Wreck-It Ralph 2, which promises to “break the Internet” (probably without the help of a Kim Kardashian magazine cover.) Both movies paint the ‘Net as a CGI fun-fest of child-baiting color, soft edges and familiar, man-made constructions. The Internet, according to Disney and Sony, is a bustling metropolis (or, more specifically, “Textopolis”) where websites, apps and other collections of complex code mirror modern human civilization. They are digital societies that are essentially little more than virtual shopping malls populated by brands, games and mascots. You know, how we already see the Internet without needing it animated for us, which makes these big-budget renderings seem really uninspired. By literalizing something that is curiously abstract, we’re left with something far less interesting. (Internet trolls depicted as actual trolls? Come on…)
Obviously, these films are aimed at kids, and very young kids at that, so we can’t really expect writers and animators to do anything particularly challenging with these kinds of projects. Except that, there are already two excellent, Internet-based, animated kids movies that already exist that do just that: The Digimon Movie and Summer Wars, both the brainchildren of acclaimed anime director, Mamoru Hosoda. And, considering the latter was released nearly two decades ago now, it’s amazing how well his interpretation still holds up, and, has yet to be matched even in our current Internet-reliant culture.
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