REVIEW | ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’

Unlikely bestfriends, Ralph and Vanellope, return in the sequel, ‘‘Ralph Breaks the Internet.’’

The sequel’s plot is pretty simple: the steering wheel of the Sugar Rush arcade cabinet breaks off, and our heroes, Ralph (John C. Reilley) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), go on the Internet and race against time to buy a replacement on eBay. Quite surprisingly, this simple plot hides a goldmine of sharp satire, self-deprecating humor and existential despair.

Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to the well-loved 2012 Wreck-it Ralph, breaks expectations. Screenwriters Phil Johnston (who co-directs with Rich Moore) and Pamela Ribon deliver an inspired tale within the terrifying and intoxicating world of the Internet. Who would have thought that a pop-up ad could provide hope? Or that a Disney Princess fansite could resolve complex friendship issues better than Psychology Today?

To help refresh your memory of the original film, protagonists Ralph and Vanellope are arcade video game characters that come alive, along with other arcade game characters, during the closing hours of Litwak’s Arcade. The hulking, beast-like Ralph is a villain in the game Fix-It Felix Jr., while the tiny, feisty girl Vanellope is a racer in a game called Sugar Rush. In the first film, the two form an unlikely friendship, with Ralph seeking acceptance and recognition in the video game arcade community.

In Ralph Breaks the Internet, we find the best friends at different stages in their lives. Ralph is basking in happiness and contentment, while Vanellope is bored and tired of her monotonous, predictable life in Sugar Rush. Their disparate feelings towards life become the catalyst for conflict and adventure.

When arcade owner Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill) shuts down Sugar Rush for its broken controller, leaving its residents homeless and jobless, Vanellope sorrowfully asks Ralph: “If I’m not a racer, what am I?” This deeply expressed fear of a meaningless life — a life devoid of passion and purpose — resonates. Ralph, on the other hand, finds life meaningless without Vanellope, and goes to overenthusiastic measures to cure her existential crisis.

SHANK (center), voiced by Gal Gadot, threatens the friendship between Ralph and Vanellope.

So the best friends enter the strange and new world of the Internet for a joint mission: to search for that prized Sugar Rush steering wheel on eBay so that Vanellope can go back to the only world where she thrives: race-car driving. Of course, the mission proves to be complicated after all. Once they enter the World Wide Web and easily locate eBay, things go wrong at the checkout, and hilarity and adventure quickly follow.

The filmmakers impressively build an imagined world inside the Internet. Naturally, the animation is flawless, truly a visual feast. The cyberspace is converted into a literal cityscape, with buildings labeled with “Amazon,” “Google” and other online household names, and a social media district that houses Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and BuzzTube (YouTube). It’s a riveting Internet landscape. But the true brilliance of this imagined world lies in the accurate and witty visual representations of the Internet.

Ralph Breaks the Internet depicts the nature and culture of Internet with clever humor and remarkable verisimilitude. Users crowd the cyberspace, their avatars walking like expressionless robots, like brainwashed zombies zipping in and out of websites, with the help of a scholarly and patronizing search engine called KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk), who funnily falls into “aggressive” auto-fill actions.

Navigating inside the Internet from the vantage point of Ralph and Vanellope proves riotous and thrilling. They experience live auctions at eBay, bump into cameos of classic Disney characters, and are frequently bugged by spammy pop-up advertisers. But perhaps the funniest is Vanellope’s encounter with the band of Disney princesses, voiced by the original voice actors from the animated films.

As Ralph and Vanellope go through a series of adventures inside the Internet, their friendship is tested. Vanellope is drawn to a multiplayer game called Slaughter Race and its super cool racer called Shank (Gal Gadot). As Ralph senses Vanellope drifting away from him, he makes a series of bad decisions that widens the crack in their already strained friendship.

This is where the wrenching beauty of the movie is found: Ralph’s world revolves around Vanellope, his only source of happiness and self-worth. As he goes to desperate — and dangerous — lengths to keep her, Vanellope falls into a dilemma: dreaming of a new and exciting life in Slaughter Race, which means possibly leaving Ralph behind.

The writers build conflict through Ralph’s crazy obsession with his only friend and Vanellope’s need for an upgrade on life. And as Ralph’s distress becomes deeper and deeper, literally affecting and breaking the Internet along the way, you empathize with his pain and desperation.

Disney has done it again — weaving a masterfully crafted, gorgeous animation with rich, relatable characters and touching on universal truths. Its creativity and inventiveness, combined with its study on the nature of friendship, deliver both heart and entertainment. Oftentimes uproarious, it also paints an affecting tale about pain and longing, holding on and letting go.

4 out of 5 stars