The internet is toxic. Just look at the comments section of... literally anything. But in 2018, a Disney animated movie used the internet to shine a laser-focused light on interpersonal toxicity. And while the film pales in comparison to its 2012 predecessor — and bends over backward in its rules on how the internet works — it's still a worthwhile watch, especially in a difficult year when our real, offline friendships and relationships have been tested.
Ralph Breaks the Internet, co-directed by original Wreck-It Ralph director Rich Moore and screenwriter Phil Johnston, is the movie you need to watch on Netflix before it leaves on December 10.
Released in 2018 from Disney Animation, Ralph Breaks the Internet (which, for a brief period, had the full mouth jumble title Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2) picks up six years after 2012's Wreck-It Ralph. Video game boss Ralph (John C. Reilly) is content with his contained world at Litwak's Arcade, but his best friend Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) yearns for something more beyond her outdated racing game. Worse, the steering wheel controller on Vanellope's game just broke, and the cost to replace it is more than the old game makes in a year.
When the arcade installs a wi-fi router, Ralph and Vanellope travel into the internet in the hopes of acquiring the steering wheel on eBay. But to pay for it, Ralph needs to go viral. The story quickly spirals out of control from there to the point where Ralph will, in fact, break the internet.
The first way the movie falls flat on its face is in its title. The franchise had a gimme with "Ralph Wrecks the Internet." But attaching itself to the aging term "Break the Internet" (lest we forget, originates out of a 2014 Paper cover story with Kim Kardashian) encapsulates the film's misguided priorities. Throughout its near two hour running time, Ralph Breaks the Internet always feels like a trend-chaser hoping to satirize the cultural moment at the cost of betraying its own sense of self. And for what? The film feels dated even just two (admittedly long) years later. Case in point: Oh My Disney, an official Disney blog that takes up prominence in the plot, is now semi-defunct and exists only as a Twitter and Instagram feed.
Really, Ralph Breaks the Internet fails at its own premise with an eye-rolling, inoffensive depiction of the internet. Surely that is to be expected as a family Disney movie, but even its approach feels insufficient and practically copy-pasted from HBO's Silicon Valley intro.
Tech giants like Facebook and Amazon manifest as gleaming skyscrapers users go to harmlessly — these are not nosy behemoths harvesting our data. Places like YouTube are a portal to watch silly videos, not a platform run by algorithms that divert ad revenue to white supremacists. Twitter is where birds chirp at cat pictures, not an endless feed of depressed journalists and celebrities canceling themselves. The dark web, where Ralph goes to buy a virus in Act 2, is not an encrypted network where illegal drugs, weapons, and pornography are traded.
You get the picture. It's the internet by Disney, and it shows.
But Ralph Breaks the Internet does one thing well, and that's Ralph's — I'm quoting the movie here — “needy, clingy, self-destructive tendencies." Ralph has developed a severe attachment to Vannellope. While Ralph believes he's trying to save her game, what he's really trying to save is the status quo. Unlike Vannellope, Ralph likes his same-old life. It's what he knows. Anything that differs from that is to be feared. But Vannellope, a daredevil by nature, wants the unexpected.
To Vannellope, that means a life outside her game and inside Slaughter Race, a dangerous online racer that's like Death Race 2000 meets Fast & Furious (complete with franchise alum Gal Gadot voicing the leader of ragtag car thieves who call themselves "family"). The emotional conflict between Ralph and Vannellope is where Ralph Breaks the Internet excels the most, and where the movie feels more relevant than in its jokes about Beyonce. It spoofs the internet, but it also speaks truth to toxic friendships that may have run their course.
Covid-19 has no doubt tested our limits. I've had friends go through nasty breakups. I also have friends who've gotten engaged and have babies. All during a most tiresome year. It happens when you're confined to one place for months living in a routine that almost never changes. Coronavirus lockdown didn't put our lives on pause, it only revealed to us what we prioritize or should prioritize the most. I imagine Ralph would relish lockdown orders, while Vannellope would go mad with restlessness.
Two years after its release, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a harmless and dated family comedy that feels insufficient as cultural satire. But as a breakup movie, it's practically mandatory viewing, and it's about to leave a popular streaming service before hopping over to Disney+. (Try to imagine this movie coming out now, when the streaming wars have heated up tenfold.) As the holidays approach and lockdown orders are renewed, try watching Ralph Breaks the Internet with someone you're stuck with at home and on the fence about. It is my hope you find the strength to fix what's broken, even if that means going your own way.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is streaming on Netflix until December 10.