For such a sweet-natured, candy-colored, family-friendly animated adventure, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” serves up quite the mega-helping of meta material.
It’s like the Kiddieland version of “Ready Player One.”
At heart, the sequel to “Wreck-It Ralph” is about the up-and-down friendship of two arcade characters: the hapless, oversized “villain” Ralph (John C. Reilly), and the sharp-witted, glitch-afflicted racecar driving whiz Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). And once again, both Reilly and Silverman deliver funny and warm voice work.
But this time around, the adventures of Ralph and Vanellope are primarily set inside the world of the Internet, which is jam-packed with too many pop-culture references to count, numerous clever depictions of sites such as eBay and YouTube, and even a delightfully subversive subplot starring the roster of Disney animated princesses, some of whom have interesting insights on their own storylines.
And we haven’t even talked about what it looks like when a virus infects the Internet and zillions of zombied-out Ralphs start consuming and destroying everything in their paths.
Whew! There were times when “Ralph Breaks the Internet” was brimming with so much stimuli, I was so overwhelmed I had to remind myself to laugh.
Just as the sequel comes a half-dozen years after the original, the story picks up six years later as well. Ralph and Vanellope and all their arcade character friends are enjoying a blissful albeit predictable-to-the-point-of-boredom existence inside the old-school, 1980s-style console games at Litwak’s Family Fun Center and Arcade. Nothing much has changed in those six years.
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A broken steering wheel on the game console for Vanellope’s “Sugar Rush” game changes everything. It appears there’s only one replacement part available — and it’s for sale on something called eBay.
This leads to Ralph and Vanellope taking a leap of faith through a modem and into the World Wide Web, which they hadn’t even heard of until now. (The timeline of “Ralph” is a little confusing. Sometimes it seems as if the humans poised at their computers in the outside world are living in the early 2000s. But then we get references to Twitter and other entities that weren’t around back then.)
As envisioned by co-directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore (and the obligatory army of tech artists), the World Wide Web looks like a never-ending landscape that’s equal parts amusement park and shopping mall, filled with dozens upon dozens of recognizable brand logos, numerous characters from the Disney universe — and some thinly disguised fictional creations, e.g., an immensely popular video-sharing site called BuzzzTube.
While Ralph tries to earn the funds to buy the replacement part, Vanellope becomes enamored with “Slaughter Race,” a rough and edgy racing game a million bytes removed from the lollipop-flavored world of “Sugar Rush.”
For years, Ralph has built his world around his friendship with Vanellope, but now it appears she’s pulling away. The more infatuated Vanellope becomes with the game and in particular with “Slaughter Race” superstar Shank (Gal Gadot), the more Ralph resents Vanellope. Even if Ralph saves the day by finding that replacement steering wheel, will Vanellope even want to return to the simple and safe arcade life?
That simple main story plays out against an extremely busy backdrop featuring a fast-talking Pop-Up Ad huckster (Bill Hader); an algorithm named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), who explains to Ralph what it takes to become a trending viral video star; cameos by Disney-owned characters ranging from Stormtroopers to superheroes — and those aforementioned, self-referential princesses, and I’ll not spoil the fun by revealing any more details about their roles in the story.
“Ralph Breaks the Internet” has more Easter Eggs than the annual White House roll on the South Lawn. No doubt we’ll soon see (if it hasn’t happened already) an article titled, “All the Easter Eggs in ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet,’ In Order of Appearance.”
All very fun and clever, but we almost lose sight of the primary charm of the “Wreck-It Ralph” movies: that neato, lesson-learning friendship between the oversized brute with the soft heart and the little racer with the courage to take big chances.
‘Ralph Wrecks the Internet’
Disney presents a film directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston and written by Johnston and Pamela Ribon. Rated PG (for some action and rude humor). Running time: 112 minutes. Opens Wednesday at local theaters.