SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Disney's Ralph Breaks the Internet, in theaters now.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is a sequel that could easily have gone either way. On one hand, the original Wreck-It Ralph was one of the cleverest of the recent batch of Walt Disney Animation features. Audiences wanted more of these characters and, even with the original's story wrapped up, there was plenty of potential for more video game-based adventures. On the other hand, the trailers for Ralph Breaks the Internet did not do the best job communicating strong reasons to return, focusing on product placement over story hooks and making it look like just a better version of The Emoji Movie. Now that the actual movie's in theaters, it's clear the actual results are smack dab in-between the best and worst case scenarios.
Despite the trailers' vagueness, this sequel does actually have a plot, and a genuinely involving one at that. However, in many ways Ralph Breaks the Internet is a let-down from the first movie. If anything, this is a film which might play better to people who haven't seen the first movie, as most of the sequel's worst frustrations are in inconsistencies with the original's character development. Though it has many qualities both kids and adults will enjoy, it's ultimately a middling movie, better than the direct-to-video Disney sequels of yore but nowhere near the level of a Toy Story 2 or even an Incredibles 2. This list will analyze seven of the movie's best qualities as well as seven of its worst and one we have incredibly mixed feelings on.
15 LIKED: VANELLOPE'S STORYLINE
With Ralph's existential crisis solved at the end of the first movie, where does a sequel naturally continue? The story team on Ralph Breaks the Internet came up with a smart premise for the sequel: now Vanellope is experiencing a similar crisis, but ends up coming to very different conclusions.
Whereas Ralph came to accept his preordained fate as a villain in his own game, Vanellope decides she actually is happier leaving her arcade cabinet and moving into the more dangerous and exciting world of the online game Slaughter Race. It's a story that's unexpected and allows for a lot of emotional conflicts and bittersweet goodbyes.
14 DISLIKED: RALPH OUT OF CHARACTER
It makes sense what they were trying to do with Ralph's character in this movie. Of course he's upset his only close friend might be leaving him, and there's certainly commentary to be mined out of the idea of the Internet enabling our worst selves. In fact, his development in this movie completely works if you completely ignore his characterization in the last movie.
Ralph in the first movie might not have been an intellectual, but he was relatively resourceful and self-reflective. His self-reflection was the whole impetus of the original's plot! In the sequel, Ralph's reduced to a giant idiot for the sake of fitting him into the plot beats they wanted.
13 LIKED: PORTRAYAL OF THE INTERNET
Trying to conceptualize the Internet as an actual physical place must have been a challenge for both the writers and animators at Disney, but the team behind Ralph Breaks the Internet pulls it off excellently for the most part. The level of absolute detail is wondrous, but this is decidedly not an (overly) idealized take on the Internet.
There are lighter satirical digs at pop-up ads and personality quizzes, but also acknowledgement of the Internet's darker sides. Ralph's video-making work at BuzzTube emphasizes just how much viral popularity, cynical trend-chasing and humiliation are tied together. Every adult in the audience will gulp when he enters the comments section.
12 DISLIKED: LACK OF VILLAINS
Disney Animation has really forgotten the value of a good villain; Tangled was its last film to really make an effort with its villain. Ralph Breaks the Internet doesn't have even have a real villain, except perhaps Ralph himself at his worst moments. When telling a story about the Internet's dangers, the lack of villains is a major flaw.
So many of the characterization problems could be fixed if, instead of just randomly jumping from "I'm jealous of Vanellope" to "I'm gonna destroy her new game," Ralph had an Iago to his Othello, egging him on and radicalizing him for nefarious means. That would change Ralph from being a total idiot to a much more realistic portrayal of how average people become radicalized online.
11 LIKED: POSITIVE MESSAGE ABOUT FRIENDSHIP
Even with its major flaws, it's hard to get angry at a movie when what it's ultimately trying to say is both so positive and so mature for a children's film. Even if the way Ralph gets possessive of Vanellope feels poorly developed, it's still important that this movie is showing kids how possessiveness over friends is unhealthy and counterproductive to actual friendship.
This is a movie about accepting that people you love will make choices that upset you, but that that's no excuse to rob them of the freedom to make choices. It's about understanding that people can and do drift apart, but that doesn't mean they no longer care about each other. Intentions aren't everything, but it's hard to fault this film's intentions.
10 DISLIKED: DUBIOUS PLOT LOGIC
Questionable logic was one of the biggest flaws of the first Wreck-It Ralph (so free will exists in games but only if you have cheat codes?). Ralph Breaks the Internet takes it to the next level. Obviously we don't expect realism from a Disney cartoon about sentient game characters, but we want to at least understand how things work within this fantasy.
Does it make any sense that the movie's big MacGuffin is a physical real world item that these video game characters buy with actual real world money for an actual real world human? You'd think the degree virtual characters actually impact the real world would lead to Sid-in-Toy Story-level questioning of reality, but the script ignores these confusing aspects.
9 LIKED: THE SURPRISE MUSICAL NUMBER
By far this sequel's most joyous surprise is a full-blown Alan Menken musical number titled "A Place Called Slaughter Race." A classical "I want" song that's also an ode to a hyper-violent mash-up of The Fast and the Furious and Grand Theft Auto is maybe the last thing you expect in the latest Disney film, but it's kind of wonderful.
Disney making fun of Disney is kind of old-hat by now (Enchanted was over a decade ago), but this energetically choreographed musical interlude is at just the perfect mix of irony and sincerity to work. It'll certainly be fun to bring this song in to future Disney sing-alongs.
8 DISLIKED: OVER-RELIANT ON REFERENCE HUMOR
Just referencing something isn't in and of itself funny (if it was, Ready Player One would be the comedy of the year). References can be amusing, and references can be used for the sake of comedy, but there has to be something more than just "that's a thing I've heard of" to actually be funny.
Ralph Breaks the Internet has a ton of cultural references but not that many big laughs surrounding them. It's not as if it's just shouting out references expecting laughs, but with some notable exceptions, the jokes constructed around most of these references are pretty weak.
7 LIKED: THE ANIMATION
It's not a surprise that a new Disney film has high quality animation, but it nevertheless is one of the most consistently enjoyable aspects of Ralph Breaks the Internet. The design work on both the characters and the settings is impressive, and the animation is always fun to watch. The main world of the Internet is vibrant and constantly moving, while the grittier settings of Slaughter Race and the Dark Web provide visual variety.
There's just so much detail packed into almost every frame that you can't possibly catch everything on one viewing. While the film itself might not demand constant rewatches for older viewers, parents whose kids demand to watch this a billion times will at least have something to occupy themselves with.
6 DISLIKED: WASTES FELIX AND CALHOUN
This is one of those issues that's not that bad when considering this installment in a vacuum, but is a let-down after the first movie. The romance between Fix-It Felix and Sergeant Calhoun was one of Wreck-It Ralph's unexpected delights, but the couple is sidelined for the vast majority of the sequel.
The first act does set up a promising subplot for them, adopting the 15 homeless Sugar Rush racers. Once Ralph and Vanellope go to the Internet, however, the movie completely forgets about Felix and Calhoun until an admittedly funny punchline in the last few minutes. We couldn't at least cut back to the comedy gold of "fake-Mario and fake-Samus struggle with parenting" a few times as a subplot?
5 LIKED: THE VOICE ACTING
Where celebrity casting in cartoons can be used as a crutch, Disney's actually been smart about hiring recognizable actors who still fit the characters they play. Ralph Breaks the Internet continues the trend of Disney animated films with a stellar cast of voice actors.
John C. Reilly's performance carried much of the first movie's emotion, and even with the issues in Ralph's characterization, he's able to sell this take on the character. It's Sarah Silverman who really gets the chance to shine in this movie, both comedically and emotionally. Of the new additions, Gal Gadot stands out as Shank, and it's cool they got all the living Disney Princess actresses to reprise their roles.
4 DISLIKED: UNMEMORABLE NEW CHARACTERS
With the arcade and its cast of characters abandoned for most of the movie, who picks up the slack in the ensemble? Not that many characters, really, and most of them aren't so successful. Shank is easily the stand-out among the new characters as the sort of cool big sister Vanellope's longed for. The search engine KnowsMore is also pretty funny, if a one-joke character.
Beyond that, the new characters are pretty much a bust. It's just harder to personify forces of the Internet than it is video game characters who actually have personalities. Yesss the trending algorithm makes little impression beyond just furthering the plot, and the various pop-up ads and virus pushers are just flat as characters.
3 LIKED: PREVIEW FOR FROZEN 2
If you're reading this article, you've either seen Ralph Breaks the Internet or don't care about spoilers. For those who've seen it: wasn't that preview for Frozen 2 in the post-credits scene great? Maybe a bit too predictable given some of the details in the actual credits, but still kind of the perfect way to end the movie. Of course it would never let us down.
For those who haven't seen the movie yet, this article will not spoil the details of the Frozen 2 teaser for you. Even if you're fine with spoilers, this is something which should not be spoiled. To say more might hurt you, which we'd never do. Trust us, we don't lie.
2 DISLIKED: CONSTANT PRODUCT PLACEMENT
Early concept art for the Wreck-It Ralph sequel showcased parodies of famous websites. In the final film, those parodies have mostly been replaced by the actual brands. Supposedly this wasn't traditional product placement, as directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston weren't paid to include them and didn't even ask for permission (it's not as if these brands would sue Disney for free publicity).
That said, even if it's not as crass as The Emoji Movie, watching this parade of constant brand names is an odd experience. It feels more like it's celebrating commercialism than satirizing it. The few parody brands feel redundant (so BuzzTube coexists with actual YouTube?). The one brand the movie actively makes fun of just so happens to be its own...
1 MIXED FEELINGS: DISNEY CROSSOVERS
So if you've seen the trailers, you've basically seen about a third of the total Disney crossover content Ralph Breaks the Internet has to offer. It's something of a relief this sequel isn't completely overtaken by corporate synergy, and the Disney characters, especially the princesses, are integrated into the film in about the most natural and least obnoxious way possible.
That said, beloved characters and self-aware jokes don't quite negate the sinking feeling you're watching a company advertisement during these scenes. They're also a reminder that while movies take a long time, corporate mandates change suddenly; it feels weird watching Groot get a spotlight months after Disney effectively delayed the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.