When Wreck-It Ralph came along, it managed to combine a sweet story about finding happiness with who you are with a nostalgia-filled journey through the world of gaming. Rife with references, it went far on its viewers' fondness for the likes of Sonic, Pac Man, and Q*bert. Director Rich Moore returns (partnering with Phil Johnston this time), taking his characters out of their arcade and into the infinite space of the Internet to achieve middling success.
When a key piece of equipment breaks in Vanellope's game, her and Ralph take to the Internet to locate it. On their journey through the world wide web, Vanellope begins to question who she is, and if there is something more to her life then her current home.
Ralph Breaks the Internet quickly becomes a frustrating affair, born out of its adopted setting. The Internet lacks the charm of arcade games, as it is an all-consuming, world-altering invention that has come to dominate our lives. While it gives the narrative more areas to explore, you become increasingly aware of the film's place as a tool of capitalist propaganda. An early locale of our heroes' journey is eBay, which sort of sets the tone, as much of the narrative revolves around our heroes gaining the capital to pay for the equipment Vanellope's game needs.
There are moments when the film sparks into life and genuinely threatens brilliance. Heavily-trailered though it was, the Disney Princess sequence is sensational. But it is too fleeting, and instead we return to the mediocrity of the rest. Without the thick hue of nostalgia that made Wreck-It Ralph so charming, what we are left with is nearly two hours of praise for the Internet as a capitalist tool. Everything feels so much tamer this time, with the film seemingly unable to critique the brands it is showing. Even a trip to the dark web merely acts as a means to a MacGuffin to instigate the finale. Unfriended: Dark Web this film is not.
Maybe I'm placing too much on this film. Certainly it is a welcome return for John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, who bring the same warmth, wit and humour to their parts as in the first installment. But given we are in a golden age of animation, encapsulated by Disney's recent films, such as Moana, Zootopia and Big Hero 6, a merely okay entry like this just doesn't hold water. Ralph Breaks the Internet will pass the time comfortably, but not install the warmth in viewers that Wreck-It Ralph so successfully achieved.