Sometimes kids’ movies are really more for the parents. That seems to be the case for Ralph Breaks the Internet. But that doesn’t mean that your kids won’t appreciate it, they just might not love it as much as you do. The movie is chock full of arcade games you’ll remember if you grew up in the 1980s, not to mention clever visual references to social media, Internet trends and even trolling. Not all of this will fly over kids’ heads, especially if they have smart phones and social media accounts.
As far as sequels go, Ralph Breaks the Internet is pretty clever. This follow-up to Wreck-It Ralph finds our hero Ralph (the voice of John C. Reilly), the video game villain who’s really a nice guy, coming to understand what it really means to be a friend. You don’t have to have seen the original to follow this reboot.
But for a bit of backstory, Wreck-It Ralph is the villain in a fictitious classic 1980s arcade game (inspired by Donkey Kong). In the first movie, he longs to win the approval and friendship of his fellow video game characters, who hang out together after the arcade closes. To do so he enters other games, and through a series of disasters and victories befriends Vanellope (the voice of Sarah Silverman), a racer in a candy-themed racing game called Sugar Rush (also fictitious—I checked!)
In Ralph Breaks the Internet, Vanellope has grown tired of competing in Sugar Rush. She longs for something more. Out of friendship, Ralph tries to give it to her when he enters her game in an attempt to make it more exciting. But all heck breaks loose with the unpredictability this causes this for the game’s players. Mr. Litwak (the voice of Ed O’Neill—he’s perfect!), owner of the arcade, decides he must unplug Sugar Rush when a key component breaks off, spelling doom for Vanellope.
There is only one place to get a new part: eBay. Luckily Mr. Litwak has just installed WiFi, and so Ralph and Vanellope can venture forth to find the missing part in the great unknown: the Internet.
The filmmakers do a terrific job of capturing the vastness of the Internet. It’s an infinite city with skyscrapers featuring the likes of Google and Twitter. (Talk about product placement! Disney’s lawyers must have been busy.) A friendly pop-up cleverly named Spamley (the voice of Bill Hader) helps Ralph and Vanellope along the way, and a cool chick named Shank (the voice of Gal Godot) inspires Vanellope and helps her find some of the adventures she’s longed for.
In addition to lessons of teamwork, Ralph discovers how to be self-sufficient, to trust his friends, and how to take pleasure in the every day.
The filmmakers could have cut this down by half an hour: they didn’t need to present everything the Internet has to offer to tell their story. Nevertheless, the fleeting nature of Internet trends and occasional cruelty of social media will resonate with kids and adults alike. Overall, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a winner. I’ll take this over Kim Kardashian any day.