Ralph Breaks the Internet Review

Even though animated sequels are commonplace in this day and age, Walt Disney Animation Studios – the world’s most famous source of animated features – rarely creates follow-ups to their animated classics. Some might be quick to point out the flood of direct-to-video Disney sequels that plagued the 90s and early 2000s, but those were actually produced by the now (mercifully) defunct DisneyToon Studios. Those were products of their time, and never once have those straight-to-video sequels been considered a part of the official Disney Animation canon.

The beloved studio’s only true animated sequels are The Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000, Winnie the Pooh (2011), and now, Ralph Breaks the Internet, sequel to 2012’s delightful Wreck-It Ralph. Though considering the Pooh movies work more like standalone episodes, and the Fantasia films are non-narrative, there could be an argument that Ralph Breaks the Internet is only the studio’s second animated sequel. No matter how you look at it, however, Ralph Breaks the Internet proves to be the best sequel Disney has yet made by an incomparable margin, and arguably the best Disney animated film since Frozen.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is set six years after the original (coinciding with the real gap between films). Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), the lovable video game ‘villain’ of Fix-It Felix Jr., has become something of a surrogate brother to Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a character from the cutesy, Mario Kart-esque racer, Sugar Rush. Ralph and Vanellope spend the days in their respective arcade games, while at night they jump from game to game goofing off. Ralph, having spent years as an outcast due to his role as a video game baddie, is perfectly content with his life now that he has a friend. Vanellope, meanwhile, wishes for something more out of life, feeling that her game is too simple, and her time with Ralph too routine.

Ralph, wanting to help Vanellope out with her problems, tries adding something new to her game. But, true to his name, Wreck-It Ralph’s good intentions make a mess of things. This results in the steering wheel controller for Sugar Rush’s arcade cabinet breaking. Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Niell), the owner of the arcade, unplugs the Sugar Rush game. A child at the arcade finds a Sugar Rush wheel on eBay, but Mr. Litwak deems it too expensive, and expects to can the game for good

Luckily for Ralph and Vanellope, however, Mr. Litwak has recently installed wi-fi in the arcade. And so Ralph and Vanellope sneak into the arcade’s wi-fi router, in hopes of traveling into the internet to find eBay and buy a new Sugar Rush wheel so that Vanellope (and all the other now-homeless Sugar Rush characters) can go home. Of course, being video game characters, Ralph and Vanellope don’t exactly know what they’re getting themselves into, and their ensuing adventure may just test their friendship.

It sounds like a simple setup, but like the other recent Disney films, Ralph breaks the Internet tells a story that’s made complex by the characters. Gone are the days when Disney simply utilized their stock archetypes to push plots forward, Disney’s recent output have told stories dictated by the characters, not the other way around. And Ralph Breaks the Internet continues this trend in a unique way. Being a sequel, Ralph 2 could have easily fallen into the pitfall of recycling the original’s material under a new guise. Instead, Ralph Breaks the Internet uses its position as a sequel to build on the characters we grew to love the first time around, and give them new dimensions. In turn, this sequel may actually outdo its predecessor in the emotional department.

Like the first film, Ralph Breaks the Internet uses its premise to create a wide array of different visual styles and art directions. It’s easy to go into the film being skeptical at the change in focus from the video game theme of the original to the internet theme of this sequel, but Ralph Breaks the Internet finds ways to make it work.

Not only does the internet world have a cleanly “retro future” look about it, but Ralph and Vanellope also find themselves visiting an online game called Slaughter Race, a grungy mix between Grand Theft Auto and Gran Turismo that beautifully contrasts the vivid colorfulness of the rest of the film. And – as has been greatly advertised – Vanellope even finds herself in the (very real) Oh My Disney website, where she encounters characters from Star Wars, Marvel and even her fellow characters from the Disney Animation canon, most notably the Disney Princesses (with all the more recent princesses being voiced by their original actresses). These scenes are among the funniest in the movie, though they do kind of make you wish we could get an entire movie about a Disney crossover…

With so many different worlds to explore – whether it’s the returning Sugar Rush or Fix-It Felix Jr., the internet itself, Slaughter Race, the dark web, or the worlds of Disney – Ralph Breaks the Internet continues what the first film started by making an animated feature that’s constantly rebuilding itself on the visual front. The Wreck-It Ralph movies are so good I’d love to see a third entry, but I wouldn’t mind a third one even just to see what other visuals they can come up with.

Like the first movie, Ralph Breaks the Internet also features a memorable musical score that channels the video games that inspired it. And this time around, we even get a big musical number, which is another highlight of the film.

Another interesting change of pace from Disney norms is that Ralph Breaks the Internet doesn’t have any real villain. It seems like Disney’s recent flicks have been doing new and different things with their villain scenario, finding ways to make them key to the plot without being the center of it like the Disney of old. And now Ralph 2 seems to just throw the villain element away entirely. As stated, this is a movie about Ralph and Vanellope, and they end up creating their own dilemmas for themselves (whether through conflicting interests or well intentioned accidents). There’s something really refreshing about that.

If there are any issues with the story, it might simply be that it can feel like it takes a fair bit of time to get going. As stated, searching for a video game steering wheel doesn’t exactly sound like it makes for a great adventure, and you may wonder where exactly the film is going for a while (albeit the charming characters and witty writing might make you not care), but once it picks up, it’s a consistently entertaining and heartwarming picture.

Fans of the original film may also lament that returning characters Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) and Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) have largely reduced roles. After marrying at the end of the first movie, Felix and Calhoun end up adopting all of the Sugar Rush racers (sans Vanellope) once their game gets unplugged. It had the potential to be a pretty funny sub-plot, but sadly it gets very little time overall.

New characters include Shank (Gal Gadot), a badass chick from Slaughter Race, Knowsmore (Alan Tudyk, who’s omnipresent in Disney animation these days), a search engine, Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), an algorithm on a YouTube-esque site, and J.P. Spamley (Bill Hader), a clickbait pop-up advertisement. With the exception of Shank, most the new characters don’t have too big of roles. But they all help push the main plot forward with Ralph and Vanellope’s journey, so they don’t feel underutilized in the way Felix and Calhoun do with their own sub-plot.

In the end, what makes Ralph Breaks the Internet such a winner is that it is a heartfelt story between its two main characters that helps them change and grow in a way a lot of sequels are afraid to do. It doesn’t simply continue what its predecessor started, but builds on it. The change in setting from video games to the internet may have been cause for concern going in (because really, which one seems the more fitting setting for an animated film?), but the story and characters win you over so strongly the change seems inconsequential. It seems a lot of CG animated films are defined by their setting – emulating the ‘themed movie’ approach of Pixar films without understanding the deeper story aspects – but Ralph Breaks the Internet lets its characters take the steering wheel, ultimately telling a story that delivers in entertainment and emotion, with a pretty heavy and mature message about friendship that may bring a tear or two to your eye.

Disney has rarely created proper sequels to their animated classics. But Ralph Breaks the Internet puts up a good argument that they should do it a little more often. It may have a slow start, but Ralph Breaks the Internet is a prime example of what a sequel should be. Fingers crossed that Frozen 2 can do the same.

 

8

Advertisements

Wreck-It Ralph Review

Wreck-It Ralph

Disney’s current streak of animated features has seen a consistently high level of quality, as well as a greater variety in stories than any previous generation for the studio’s animated output. Perhaps the best example of this variety is Disney’s 2012 animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph.

Wreck-It Ralph is something of a cross between Toy Story and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but with its focus being on the world of video games. The film takes place within the arcade machines of Litwak’s Arcade, where the video game characters live their daily lives during closing hours, with the roles they play in their respective games during the arcade’s operating hours being something of their careers.

One of these games is Fix-It Felix Jr., a not-so-subtle nod to the old Donkey Kong arcade games, which sees a Mario-esque construction worker, the titular Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer), climb a building to stop the villainous Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly).

Ralph is good at his job as a video game bad guy, but it’s thankless work. The villains are the outcasts of the video game world, even though many of them – such as Ralph – are good people outside of their job. Felix is just about the only friend Ralph has, but even he can’t ease things with the other denizens of their game.

Wreck-It RalphTired of his lot in life, Ralph sets out to be the good guy for once, as to finally gain some recognition. He gets this opportunity after a chance encounter with a soldier from a game called Heroes Duty, a modern FPS-style game that’s more rewarding to Ralph’s more destructive nature. Ralph soon learns that game-jumping is serious business, however, as his ventures outside of his game leaves Fix-It Felix Jr. without its villain, essentially rendering it unplayable and risking it from being removed from the arcade. Worse still, Ralph’s actions inadvertently unleash a problem that threatens the entire arcade, and Ralph will need to venture to a game called Sugar Rush (a kind of hybrid between Mario Kart and Candy Land) and team up with the glitchy, would-be racer Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) if he wants to save the day and prove himself a hero.

The story may seem to evoke elements of past animated features, with Ralph’s motives echoing Shrek to some degree, but Wreck-It Ralph becomes something original due in large part to its setting. Placing the action of the film in the realms of video games not only gives the film some of the most inventive and varied visuals in any animated feature, but even gives the film a strong sense of world-building (characters can’t regenerate if they die outside of their own game, glitches like Vanellope can’t leave their games, and other interesting rules). Not to mention in allows for all kinds of video game cameos.

Ralph attends support group meetings for video game villains alongside the likes of Clyde from Pac-Man, Bowser, Dr. Eggman, M. Bison and Zangief (who is notably out-of-place among villains). Sonic the Hedgehog provides public service announcements (which may be a sly reference to similar PSA segments in one of the old Sonic cartoons)., and the characters from Q*Bert have become vagabonds after their game was unplugged from Litwak’s arcade.

Wreck-It RalphThe references don’t stop with the cameos, even the film’s humor reflects video game culture, from character dialogue to visual gags (including the Konami Code). You get the feeling the filmmakers had a lot of fun throwing in shout-outs to their favorite video games.

On the downside of things, most of the video game-based nature of the film seems to disappear almost entirely as soon as Ralph enters Sugar Rush. Though Sugar Rush bears a number of similarities to Mario Kart, the video game cameos come to a dead stop, and the humor deviates from referencing Mario and Metal Gear to Nesquik and Oreos.

I fully admit that my status as a fan of video games may make me especially bummed out that the video game theme doesn’t feel properly carried through the whole film, but even with my preferences set aside, the fact that the central theme of the film’s world seems to shift so drastically midway through may feel a bit like the filmmakers ran out of steam on their initial subject.

Still, even with the change in the nature of the film’s world, Wreck-It Ralph is still a terrific entry in the Disney canon for its well-paced story and memorable cast of characters.

Wreck-It RalphWreck-It Ralph easily wins us over. His status as a misunderstood outcast makes him easy to sympathize with, while his more dimwitted and brutish tendencies make him funny and likable. Fix-It Felix is just as memorable, being a classic video game hero, Felix is an overly-polite do-gooder whose graciousness almost parodies itself. And Vanellope, on top of being cute and spunky, is in a similar situation to Ralph, being an outcast in her game for being a glitch, making her just as sympathetic as Ralph himself.

Wreck-It RalphThen there’s Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the tough-as-nails soldier from Hero’s Duty who seems to be a parody of the “edginess” of more contemporary gaming, and King Candy (Alan Tudyk), the mischievous king of Sugar Rush who will stop at nothing to prevent Vanellope from racing.

Another highlight are the visuals themselves. Because its setting allows for multiple different worlds to be presented, Wreck-It Ralph is able to showcase a constant visual variety in its animation. The retro, pixellated suburbs of Fix-It Felix Jr., the gritty and metallic world of Hero’s Duty, and the insanely colorful landscapes of Sugar Rush are all distinctly realized, yet they are all weaved together effortlessly through the film’s art direction. Wreck-It Ralph is simply a constant visual delight.

Wreck-It Ralph is a highlight of the studio’s ongoing winning streak. It’s an undeniably entertaining film that – although it seems to lack the confidence in its subject matter to sustain it the whole way through – is something of a love letter to the video game medium, and one of the most visually appealing animated films Disney has ever made. It’s a whole lot of fun.

 

8