My notes on Ralph Breaks the Internet Somehow, animators who make movies rooted in the obsessions of their own childhoods have managed surprisingly often to connect with kids who can have no real idea what they’re going on about. In the Toy Story films, Andy’s childhood seems to have started in 1952 – with cowboy toys all the rage … and Wreck-It Ralph was a witty paean to arcade games that was somehow embraced by kids born in the 21st century for whom PacMan and Donkey Kong are as antiquated as spinning tops and penny-whistles. Maybe parents drag their kids to films they’ll understand and the combination of Disney magic, kinetic action, proper humour, and an emotional connection means that they’re rapt anyway. This at least brings things up to the moment, exploring as much of the internet as is possible in a Disney movie, as it tells a nuanced story about friendship, ambition and neediness with enough fart jokes to keep anyone happy and more easter egg in-jokes than Ready Player One. An issue that causes the sequels to Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and other animated hits to falter is deftly sidestepped – in those films, the hero’s journey means that at the end of their first adventure they aren’t the flawed goofs we liked in the first place and increasing contrivances have to be found to turn them back into their old selves. Here, the happy ending of Wreck-It Ralph is cannily built on … exploring the notion that the ideal life Ralph (John C. Reilly), villain of a Donkey Kong-like game, has found might not be equally ideal for his best friend, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman).
The hook is that the Princess’s game gets broken when Ralph tries to shake it up as she’s wished, and a replacement part can only be found on ebay … prompting the pair to leave their original supporting cast and venture into a new cyberrealm, which the film has a lot of fun envisioning. Though we get a pop-up spam character and a trip to the dark web to commission a virus, this of course can’t deal with the Avenue Q issue of what the internet is for (porn!) or do much to tackle trolls, bots, online bullying, social media addiction and other aspects of the net that make some wish the thing hadn’t been invented. There’s a decent, quite affecting moment when ‘buzzztube’ star Ralph learns not to read the comments, but for the most part we get a romp exploring realms … as Vanellope finds an exciting new life in Slaughter Race, a GTA/Death Race 2000 online game starring Shank (Gal Gadot) and then gets to hang around amusingly with all the other Disney princesses (technically, she’s one of them) who send themselves up and poke fun at the conventions of toon features (‘do people assume all your problems got solved because a big strong man showed up?’) before she gets her Alan Menken-scored parody wishing song production number in a hymn to a lawless urban wasteland (the choreography on this is perfect – note the lowlifes turning and walking away at just the right moment).
There is schtick about the Disney properties left out of Ready Player One, including a gag with young Groot (Vin Diseel) and a perfect one-word cameo for Eeyore, but the film crams in so much background detail and incidental gags it’ll sustain multiple viewings. Even at the screening I saw, kids in the audience knew to sit still for the whole end credits – which include a wonderful standalone sequence involving a childish game with a gruesome payoff and a ton of Mad Magazine-style marginal jokes. This version of the net as a sort of Tex Avery World of Tomorrow studded with brand-names and logos is imagined in depth (a derelict area featuring dial-up and millennium bug compliance). What really plays, though, is the central relationship – Reilly and Silverman do the sort of work there ought to be awards for, playing ridiculous characters whose shifting moods and fractious friendship feel genuine and affecting. Scripted by Pamela Ribon (who voices Snow White) and directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore.