'Wreck-It Ralph 2' Review: The Internet Is Already Broken
The internet is irreparably broken. Anyone who’s spent time on Twitter or a YouTube comments section knows that. But Wreck -t Ralph 2, officially titled Ralph Breaks the Internet, seems to suggest that the internet was just fine until a shoeless oaf voiced by John C. Reilly showed up and wrecked everything.
In the digital world of Wreck-It Ralph 2, Instagram is represented as a fancy art museum in the mold New York’s Museum of Modern Art. That alone should tell you just how off-base the movie’s depiction of life online really is. If director’s Rich Moore and Phil Johnston cared about showing the internet as it truly is, Facebook’s photo-sharing app would be a crowded marketplace full of shouting tween influencers and constantly vacationing models snapping selfies at overpriced hotels.
But they don’t, and that’s totally fine, too. Disney’s new animated movie, out November 21, still delivers plenty of laughs, impressive visuals, and the occasional tear-jerking moment. By starting with that simple incorrect assumption, however, Wreck-It Ralph 2 never really gets a chance to say anything significant about the internet at all.
A bit of context: In original Wreck-It Ralph, Disney borrowed Pixar’s Toy Story concept (inanimate objects come to life when we’re not looking at them) and applied it to a dusty old arcade to create an instant classic. As the sequel kicks off, Ralph, John C. Riley’s video game villain with a heart of gold is living his best life as the best friend to Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a scrappy racing game character who’s tired of driving through the same three tracks every day.
When Ralph tries to help Vanellope shake things up, he accidentally breaks her arcade machine. And with the only replacement part selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay, she and her fellow racers quickly became video game refugees. At the same time, the arcade’s owner finally gets around to setting up wifi. And, well, the rest pretty much writes itself.
The only real discussion of the pros and cons of the web comes early in the film, when that wifi connection first arrives in the arcade. Ralph is perplexed, and unsure how to pronounce “wifi.” Sonic the Hedgehog (Roger Craig Smith, who’s voiced the character across TV and video games for nearly 10 years) steps in to call it “a wondrous place.” Then the buzzkill Surge Protector (Phil Johnston) chimes in with an over-the-top warning before blocking off the only entrance with caution tape.
Of course, that doesn’t stop our heroes, and it doesn’t exactly offer up the kind of nuanced debate we need to actually start having in real life. In real life, even Sonic (or at least the actor who plays him), recognizes that nothing is black and white.
“The internet is absolutely a double-edged sword,” Smith tells Inverse. “It’s a great place for connectivity and information gathering, but it’s a bit of a jungle and there’s dangers in the jungle.”
If only Sonic could offer as thoughtful a description of the internet as that.
“It’s just like a human being, very complicated” Smith adds. “The internet can be both wonderful and profoundly deeply flawed.”
When Ralph and Vanellope do head into the internet, it gives the movie an opportunity to lampoon various popular apps and services, from a know-it-all search engine to video platforms like YouTube to online gaming to the “dark web.” Bill Hader even plays a charming pop-up named Spamley who offers our heroes a way to earn money by unlocking and selling video game items through his website, LootFinder. He’s also got an even more unsavory friend in the computer virus business.
As promised in the trailer, Ralph Breaks the Internet also features an extended sequence set in the world of Disney (which just so happens to own this movie ). That scene is mercifully short and does feature a few fun images, including geeky fans peppering Marvel’s Groot with questions during an ill-fated Q&A, and a live game show where contestants take a BuzzFeed-style quiz to find out which Disney Princess they’d be BFFs with.
Outside of Disney’s safe zone, even Wreck-It Ralph’s PG-friendly internet features a few sharp edges (see Hader’s Spamley) but it’s nothing compared to the actual risks we all face online from fake news to identity theft.
Ralph Breaks the Internet doesn’t need to feature Russian troll farms and white supremacist Twitter armies, but it could do more to highlight some of the broader issues the internet is still grappling with, from privacy to screentime.
Considering that Ralph Breaks the Internet is aimed largely at children, it might not be such a bad idea to portray the internet as a dangerous but useful tool that should be used in moderation, rather than a “wondrous place” with no real downsides.
Is that too much to ask?
Ralph Breaks the Internet hits theaters on November 21.