Ralph Breaks the Internet continues Disney's current trend of solid sequels. It manages to balance its own considerable nostalgia factor with fresh story developments, and those new developments involve a well-executed discussion of friendship and how it evolves, not to mention a decidedly un-preachy moral on the dangers of external validation. It also doesn’t hurt that the film boasts the biggest gathering of Disney Princesses ever seen on screen, complete with original voice actors. The new characters introduced aren't all as memorable as Vennelope or Ralph (or even Fix-It Felix and Calhoun), but most of them make for welcome additions to Ralph’s now very crowded world. And anytime the movie hits a lull, there’s a dense basket of Easter Eggs to spy, not to mention their characteristically clever presentation of the Internet as a whole along with many of its individual components. There’s always something interesting to shift your focus to if and when the film lags, which it does here and there.
The story picks up six years after Wreck-It Ralph, and wi-fi has come to Litwak's Arcade. After years of only exploring the games in their hub, a portal to a world with literally endless possibilities appears on Ralph and Venellope's doorstep. Unfortunately, while exploring this new realm they not only get themselves in significant trouble, their friendship also suffers as both of them start moving in opposite directions.
As the trailers promised, Disney nails its manifestation of the Internet on both superficial and more meaningful levels. The physical structure of cyberspace reflects both its relatively short life as well as the sheer amount of innovation that's occurred in the quarter-century this thing has been so ubiquitous. On the less literal side, Venellope is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of opportunity at her fingertips, while Ralph experiences the darker, more judgmental side of the web.
While the heart of the movie is Ralph and Venellope's friendship and whether it can stand the test of time and change, Ralph Breaks the Internet is chock-full of other stories, lessons and relationships -- almost to a fault. While the crowded nature of the story is fun in a "more of a good thing" kind of way (the film is just as well-executed as the first, so nothing's bad or boring), things do eventually feel overloaded. That results in an occasional lag here and there as subplots that aren't quite as compelling as the main storyline are dutifully resolved, but Ralph Breaks the Internet finishes up with such a prescient message on the dangers of external validation and what defines healthy friendships, that you'll forgive any prior sins.
The most scathing critique one could levy is the film's devotion to Disney cross-promotion. But considering this ultimately results in one of the most gratifying scenes in the entire movie (possibly in Disney history), it's best to just embrace the naked shilling of Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar and literally any other property/studio under the Disney umbrella.
Honestly, the main reason to see this film is the screen time we get with Team Princess, aka Your New Squad, aka Spin-Off Now. Disney tapped nearly every original voice actress to create their ensemble scene, with the obvious exceptions of older Princesses like Snow White (Pamela Ribon), Sleeping Beauty (Kate Higgins) and Cinderella (Jennifer Hale). But Jodi Benson, Paige O’Hara and Linda Larkin all returned for Ariel, Belle and Jasmine, as did every other actress for the rest of the princesses. Things get delightfully meta as the women explain the concept of a "princess" to their new visitor, and there's plenty more of to that delightful interaction than what was shown in the trailers. (Also, Disney’s been careful to confirm that this does, in fact, make Vennelope Von Schweetz an official Disney Princess, so look out for that merchandise.)
The icing on the cake of this story about growth and self-worth is that the audiences walks away with excitement and anticipation for what the future holds. The bravery Ralph and Vennelope exhibit by facing uncertain futures but plowing ahead anyway is contagious, and underlines the positive qualities of cyberspace. While it can be an overwhelming and dark place depending on your perspective, it’s also a resource for endless knowledge and opportunities to explore the human condition in different ways. The key is, as with many things, for us to use its powers for good.
Directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnson, Ralph Breaks the Internet arrives in theaters on November 21. The film 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.