Thursday, November 22, 2018

Ralph Breaks the Internet

When I saw the original Wreck-It Ralph film, I’ll admit that I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it at first, but I was surprised by the final product and how it turned out to be basically the best video game movie ever made (though notably not based on any one property). Pretty much the same phenomenon occurred with the sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet. The initial trailers gave me mixed feelings that watching the film helped me sort out. While Ralph Breaks the Internet is a worthy follow-up to the original, I thought it wasn’t quite as good as it could’ve been; I’ll admit however that watching it in an audience full of obnoxious children took me out of the movie a little and somewhat affected my feelings about it.

Six years after the events of Wreck-It Ralph, Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) are still best friends who hang out after work every night in Litwak's Family Fun Center and Arcade. After Vanellope expresses that she knows the ins and outs of her game, Sugar Rush, Ralph tries to help give her a new track. However, the new addition unintentionally leads to a player breaking the game’s steering wheel and, due to the rarity and cost of a replacement wheel, Litwak (Ed O'Neill) unplugs the game. To help save Sugar Rush from being permanently scrapped, Ralph and Vanellope travel to the internet in search of the replacement part on eBay. During their quest, however, the two of them also go through a journey of self-discovery and test the limits of their friendship.

On paper, the premise sounds vaguely like the infamous The Emoji Movie, though with the world of the internet instead of just the confines of a smartphone. In practice, Ralph Breaks the Internet does its best to take full advantage of its new setting and, for the most part, it succeeds. Various websites are referenced, including eBay, Google, Amazon, Purple and Pinterest, though other sites are generic stand-ins for other big sites or concepts, mainly “Buzzztube” instead of YouTube and Slaughter Race as a representation of online games. In spite of the references, however, Ralph and Vanellope only visit the sites that are relevant to the plot so the movie doesn’t come off as obnoxiously advertising anything.

That said, there is an extended sequence within the Oh My Disney! website that comes off as a bit of self-indulgence on the part of Disney. When Vanellope visits the site, the audience is reminded of not only the various original Disney properties, but also the fact that they own both Marvel and Star Wars. Vanellope’s interactions with the other Disney Princesses, however, take up a lot of the time spent here in what’s admittedly a pretty clever way of not only taking a jab at people who don’t give the princesses enough credit, but also advancing Vanellope’s own character development.

The visit to Oh My Disney! feels a bit self-indulgent.

Since this film mostly takes place within the internet, I’d say that its representation of the space, visualized as a more or less nebulous cloud, is mostly accurate. People do spend a lot of their time online nowadays, there are plenty annoying clickbaity ads and the dark net is not only real, but very shady. However, there are some minor things it gets wrong seemingly for the sake of the plot.

To begin with, eBay’s bidding system is fudged a little. Without spoiling too much, when you win a real eBay auction, you only pay a little bit more than the second-highest bid, even if your bid was thousands of dollars higher. As for Buzzztube, the site presents more or less an idealized version of viral fame and monetization. In real life, it’s more difficult to achieve a large online following, much less have one or more videos go viral within a single day. Monetization on Buzzztube is also based on the number of Hearts a video gets, a system that, while somewhat balanced by the need to have millions of Hearts before any money gets made, is a far cry from what it takes to monetize a YouTube video nowadays.

Naturally, there are pop culture references within Ralph Breaks the Internet, though thankfully specific ones are kept to a minimum while others are more within the realm of universal concepts, including the idea of memes and the kinds of videos that are popular on YouTube, such as makeup tutorials and unboxing videos. There is a point where Ralph performs a Fortnite dance, something that makes sense within the context of the movie and when it came out, but something that I’m not sure will stand the test of time and a move that, unfortunately, helps to date the movie, as does a reference to Chewbacca Mom.

Outside of the specifics about the internet, I did have one issue with the plot, namely that it required Ralph to be outside of his game twice for an extended period of time, once while the arcade is open and another during the trip to the internet, which is implied to take at least 24 hours. This bothered me when I noticed, since characters leaving their game too long was a major plot point in the original Wreck-It Ralph, yet the consequences are largely ignored or brushed off here.

Overall, Ralph Breaks the Internet, while a good movie, doesn’t quite reach the same heights as its predecessor. The execution of the film is hampered a bit by the lack of any real consequences for Ralph leaving his own game, as well as the small but noticeable inaccuracies with the otherwise clever depiction of the internet. If you can easily ignore these things, however, then you’ll definitely be in for an enjoyable movie filled with clever writing and smart humor, including a nice meta moment during a mid-credits scene. Also, be sure to stay after the credits for a nice preview of Frozen 2, slated for release next year.

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