'Ralph Breaks the Internet' is savvy, fresh look at life on the web

Katie Walsh
Tribune News Service

2012's "Wreck-It Ralph" felt like a real breath of fresh air. Using '80s arcade game characters, co-writer and director Rich Moore explored the nuances of heroism and villainy through the surprisingly self-aware video game bad guy Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), exposing the limitations of the good/evil binary. It was self-reflective, and not afraid to pillory genre formulas, which Disney has been known to employ a time or two.

Moore is back to helm the sequel, "Ralph Breaks the Internet," along with co-director Phil Johnston, who co-wrote the original film. Once again, the team brings a razor-sharp scalpel to dissect the zeitgeist.

From left, eBay Elayne, voiced by Rebecca Wisocky, Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, and Vanellope von Schweetz, voiced by Sarah Silverman, in a scene from "Ralph Breaks the Internet."  The movie opens Nov. 20 at Regal West Manchester Stadium 13 and R/C Hanover Movies.

Although Ralph is perfectly happy with his life hanging with his best pal in the arcade, racer Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) is bored, and nothing fixes boredom like a high-speed Wi-Fi connection. After running roughshod over Sugar Rush, Ralph and Vanellope hit the web to snag a new steering wheel for the console from an eBay auction. Along the way, they discover the risks of online shopping, viral fame, pop-up ads, the dark web and a truly addictive adult racing game in the style of "Grand Theft Auto" called "Slaughter Race." Headed up by the very cool Shank (Gal Gadot), it's love at first engine rev for Van and a cause for concern for Ralph, who doesn't want to lose his best pal.

"Ralph Breaks the Internet" opens Nov. 20 at Regal West Manchester Stadium 13 and R/C Hanover Movies.

So while Vanellope follows her heart to the thrills of "Slaughter Race," Ralph does everything he can to right things in the arcade, which means winning the eBay auction. He becomes a viral video star, doing his best video impressions — makeup tutorials, hot peppers, screaming goats, you name it. The whole film is quite a savvy analysis of how the web works, and it's cleverly rendered visually. The characters zip around the internet in little flying cars, make queries at a Search Bar headed up by a stuffy know-it-all KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk), and Ralph vacuums up hearts he turns into cold hard cash.

There's also a big plug for the Oh My Disney website, but writers Johnston, Moore, Pamela Ribon, Jim Reardon and Josie Trinidad are sharp enough to use this as a means to a very necessary takedown of typical Disney princess lore, with all their strong man saviors, dead moms, kidnapping, singing and magic hair. Vanellope realizes her real dream is to stay in "Slaughter Race," as it's what she sings about while staring at "important water," as the princesses instruct. Ralph, who has become totally co-dependent with Vanellope, panics at the development.

Shank, voiced by Gal Gadot, in a scene from "Ralph Breaks the Internet."  The movie opens Nov. 20 at Regal West Manchester Stadium 13 and R/C Hanover Movies.

There's no real villain in the film — Ralph's own worst enemy is Ralph himself. His insecurity is cloned by a virus, and his worst, neediest qualities swarm into a giant King Kong monster. Vanellope and Ralph's most important survival quest is learning to set boundaries and not rely on each other's validation, and it's pretty incredible to see how the filmmakers easily and boldly slip concepts right from the therapist's office into the wild rumpus through the internet.

"Ralph Breaks the Internet" is a fresh, smart, funny and most importantly, comprehensible analysis of both internet culture and the complexities of interpersonal relationships. Once again, the seemingly dopey video game bad guy Ralph manages to be the wokest Disney character we've seen in a long time.

3 stars
Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Alan Tudyk, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Taraji P. Henson.
Directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston.
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.
Rated PG for some action and rude humor.