Disney Animation carries a lot of weight as a brand when it comes to the age of reboots and remakes no one specifically asked for but everyone enjoys anyway. The studio that got famous on translating fairy tales and legends to the big screen, doesn’t enter the 21st Century for just any reason. Indeed, Ralph Breaks The Internet doesnʼt find its legitimacy with its almost blatant exploitation of familiar property until it transforms into a heartfelt story of character change we truly havenʼt seen before.
Wreck-It Ralph was a hit, sure, especially among a truly crowded animation slate that deems a time where Disney reigned supreme in the genre unimaginable. Yet from all the titles in the Disney Animation Studioʼs library, many of which are currently getting the live-action treatment, the tale of the smashing bad guy turned good and the hyper energetic tiny racer isnʼt the most obvious to get the full-length feature sequel treatment. The last time we checked in with Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Venelope (a truly engaging Sarah Silverman) they were happy in their own worlds, playing their respective games dutifully while their friendship endured regardless. Thatʼs where we pick-up when Ralph Breaks The Internet opens.
As the title predicts, Ralph and Venelope, quickly find themselves out of their familiar retro surroundings of a video game arcade to the place where most, if not all, of its audience is bound to spend their lives: the internet. The subject of the internet is as inescapable in todayʼs films and shows as film and shows are on the internet. The marriage isnʼt necessarily a happy one, if only because screens with texts and images, which basically the internet consists of, arenʼt that photogenetic. The topic feels rather forced too. As if old media are trying their very best to stay relevant even though no one goes to the theatre to see a story about the screen they just turned off. Ralph evades much of the pitfalls of its clickbait premisse by poking fun at itself. The sequence where our leads enter the metropolis wide web especially is a fun recognition of all the brands we use everyday, with the magical kingdom full of stormtroopers and Marvel heroes as the ultimate cross-over event that would make YouTube Rewind jealous. None of this particularly is contributing to the story and so for the majority of the movie the self-referential carousel of commercialism seems to be just that. Until the end.
What is marketed and built up like your generic road-movie with a twist turns into something far deeper and more sophisticated when Venelope realizes she actually loves the online game she and Ralph accidentally wondered into. More so than the game she originated from. Suddenly the jolly, happy Ralph is faced with losing the only person he values and does… well… what men do when women donʼt do what they want. Itʼs a clash of a conservative with change, sure, but more specifically a grown man and his insecurities. Behind its superficial facade of brands and timely references lies what so many stories get wrong about the internet; the human emotions that drive it.
The symbolism dilutes as the movie progresses until it forces its characters to face their differences head on. Itʼs a human, flawed and realistic confrontation that makes many an indie feel utterly fraudulent. No need to have actual humans mope around for two hours when cartoon characters deal with psychological and social issues so vividly. Indeed itʼs the presumed simplicity of Ralphʼs premisse of a guy that just likes to smash that allows for its character to deal with the consequences of his actions; this is a problem he canʼt beat his way out of. As toxic masculinity of over-protective men who can’t cope with emotions is tilted on its axes, the movie shows the very real danger lurking in manʼs insecurity; the life of the woman in question.
Precisely here the movie finds morality where it has absolutely no right to: in its cash-grabbing marketing tool. Being online fuels Ralphʼs insecurity while it offers Venelope more than she ever dreamed of. But better yet, the solution turns out to be what made the studio great in the first place. For the first time since embracing progressive story telling, Disney created a bad guy out of the internet, capitalism and ultimately man himself. Luckily it has 80 years of hyper feminine characters to band together and challenge toxic masculinity as each of the famous Disney princesses get a shining empowering moment, which many of them never got in their original story. This is a new age. A new generation. Where men are taught to solve their own problems and women don’t have to be saved but thrive in the absence of limitations. If there is responsibility in commercialism, Disney is making that sweet spot its permanent residence.
Ralph Breaks The Internet already fulfilled its titular mission with the unification of Disney princesses, but it proves to aim much higher than that. Yes, Ralph does break the internet and all of its addictive and destructive sides, but the movie is entirely unafraid to go offline and tackle man’s problems which are in far greater need of addressing.