The sequel to Disney's 2012 animated hit Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a prescient treatise on the internet and relationships.
The scope of Ralph Breaks the Internet dwarfs that of the original, as Ralph and Venellope are introduced to cyber space when their arcade finally gets wi-fi and their world expands infinitely. The journey that follows takes their friendship through the wringer of expanding horizons and evolving goals, most of which are due to the sheer possibilities offered to humans (and bits of code) on the internet. Both characters are overwhelmed in different ways, mirroring the experiences of humans as we try to grapple with what is largely still undiscovered country.
At a press event ahead of the film's release, stars John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman expounded on their experiences with the internet and both spoke to its vast positive potential, as well as its vast capacity for the negative.
"I remember this one really moving conversation I had with them where I realized, the internet is the central issue of our time," Reilly said. "Our relationship to this technology, its power, and its effect on us, we don't even quite understand yet. It's as powerful as, like, a nuclear bomb. But it uses other means. So it was really exciting in the context of an entertaining Disney film to be able to talk about some of these issues in a really, really, real way. Its effect on people. Why do we crave the anonymous acceptance of people we don't know? All of this stuff. The way we're bombarded with commerce on the Internet. So we made this fun entertaining story."
Ralph and Venellope are effectively children when it comes to the endless possibilities the internet has to offer, in terms of entertainment, identity, community and commerce. The film is at its strongest when it addresses how overwhelmed the two are when confronted with the future, and when they experience their own versions of the internet's highs and lows. That conundrum echoes in other parts of the narrative as Fix-It Felix and Calhoun deal with sudden changes in their own relationship and the fallout that follows.
Silverman offered a similarly contemplative response when asked about her own experiences, but pointed out that, like so many other powerful forces, the internet has the ability to be both bad and good.
"I think the internet, because it was new for us, kids, it's all they know. And they probably ... I wonder in what ways that's good and bad," she said. "But we had to learn how to navigate and how to protect ourselves, and what we can handle, and what we can allot ourselves. It's like anything, there can be way too much of it. It's nice as a treat, and there are bells that can't be un-rung that probably happen a couple of times a week or a day or in the middle of the night.
"But I think there's a lot of good in the internet," Silverman continued. "It's brought the world a lot closer. It's made it a lot smaller. And then of course there are terrible things about it. A lot of outside misinformation. This new world of chaos, and lack of knowing what is true, I would attribute to the internet. But also learning truths about other people that I would have never known, culturally. Like waking up to my own white privilege had a lot to do with the internet for what it's worth. But yeah. It's a very complicated relationship, the internet, that we all have. And we have to try to find a healthy balance."
Ultimately, balance is at the crux of what makes Ralph Breaks the Internet work. Ralph and Venellope each deals with a different versions of the same problem. It makes watching them navigate the world wide web relatable for those of us born before the advent of what feels like another dimension and those who've grown up with this weird, cybernetic extension of society. Their experiences are, in part, a micro-view of what society has gone through in the last quarter-century or so that the internet has been an inescapable part of our lives.
Directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnson, Ralph Breaks the Internet features the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Taraji P. Henson, Gal Gadot, Jane Lynch, Ed O’Neill and almost every Disney Princess voice recorded. The film is in theaters now.