Ralph Breaks the Internet - Spoiler-free review
I'm not even sure Ralph Breaks the Internet is still in theaters. I saw this back in November, but only now have had the time to write up a short review for it. Actually, I've got three movies to write reviews for, hence the need to keep them all short.
What do you mean, you'll "believe it when you see it"? I don't always write needlessly long-winded, rambling, circumlocutory reviews.
And yes, I did look that last one up - I felt there would be additional humor if I made a counterpoint to my own statement within the statement itself. Padding the beginning of this out implies to the reader, "Here he goes again" when in fact, I do plan on making these three reviews more concise. Mostly because I don't feel like writing long reviews today. I'm afraid this newfound (and temporary) brevity has less to do with giving readers a break, and more to do with my own laziness. The point is... I'll be brief.
Right. So on with the first one.
I really loved the first Wreck-It Ralph movie. Mostly because it was a loving tribute to video games, and more importantly, video arcades, which are now all-but-gone, and were the places I hung out with my friends in high school and college. It was a great nostalgia trip, and a funny movie.
I saw Ralph Breaks the Internet at work, which may seem odd if you haven't read some of my reviews before (I work here), but being closely tied to the animation industry, we get special screenings there from time to time in our theater. In this case, co-director and alumnus Rich Moore was there to do a Q&A and introduce the film.
Seeing an animated film with 120+ animation students is the ideal audience, since if it's a good film, their reactions are going to be really strong because of their level of appreciation for the work. That was the case here. They cheered, laughed, applauded, and really seemed to love the movie (particularly Gal Gadot's character). Being in that room, it's hard for their enthusiasm to not be infectious.
But while I liked much of the film, a lot of it just sort of fell flat for me. It's certainly got its funny moments (including some choice parodies of Disney itself), but I just didn't connect with it like I did the first film, or as much as the students did.
The reason? Well, this film wasn't made for me. It's made for the current generation who have grown up on (and are immersed in) the internet and its culture. Even though I've been on the internet since 1994, I don't live there. I'm not into social media. I don't keep up on memes. I don't do online gaming. So while I understood the humor in the film - I didn't connect with it. The students loved it. But I think the real problem I had with the film goes deeper than being generational.
Wreck-It Ralph was a movie about Ralph being on a journey of personal growth. He had a character arc where he significantly changed over the course of the film. He learned what his true worth was, and went from selfish to selfless. Other characters had arcs too - Felix became more understanding of Ralph's feelings, Vanellope learned her true potential and realized her dream of being a racer, the Nicelanders learned to be accepting of Ralph, Calhoun moved past the hurt of her previous relationship and found love with Felix. The movie was packed with character development.
Not so much in the sequel though. The movie focused almost exclusively on Ralph and Vanellope and their quest to go find something on the internet. It wasn't driven by character development, but rather a MacGuffin. And even though there is some character development with Vanellope, it's all very superficial. As a character, she doesn't really change. She goes through a journey of discovery of sorts, but it pales in comparison to the one she already went through in the first film.
Ralph is largely wasted in the sequel, as, if anything, his character actually regresses in order to have some sort of arc forced upon him in order to learn something by the end of the movie. For the most part, he's just used as a point of ridicule where he ends up involved in various internet memes to propel the main quest along. Felix and Calhoun are completely wasted, get very little screen time, and are given almost nothing to do.
It's not that Ralph Breaks the Internet is a bad film... it does have some really funny moments, and is generally entertaining and visually impressive. The ending is, frankly, sappy and overly sentimental. Considering the effort that they put into the climax of the movie, I had hoped they'd find a more exciting way to resolve it than what they did.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is, if anything, a missed opportunity. Or rather, several.
One thing they really missed, was an opportunity to bring in Tron as a side character. After all, Disney owns Tron. The arcade game makes a brief cameo, and Tron himself is called out by name, but seriously - couldn't they get Bruce Boxleitner to come in and even read a few lines for the movie? How much fun would it have been for Tron to be the straight-man in this film, accompanying Ralph and Vanellope through the internet? Discovering that outside of his game, his light disc only has the properties of a Frisbee? It would be a great running joke as his useless Frisbee repeatedly, harmlessly bounced off things, and failed to get them out of several jams. Finally, Tron would get fed up, and bring something over from his game that really worked: a tank! "I fight for the USER!" Go get 'em, Tron! (sigh)
But the biggest missed opportunity, in my opinion, was to make the move about Felix. From the very first time I saw Wreck-It Ralph, one line stood out in Ralph's opening monologue that immediately jumped out at me as a film that I wanted to see: "So yeah, naturally, the guy with the name Fix It Felix is the good guy. He's nice enough as good guys go - definitely fixes stuff really well. But uh, if you've got a magic hammer from your father, how hard can it be?"
That's the story I wanted to see. How did that happen? What's Felix's relationship with his dad? Does a Fix It Felix Sr. game get rolled into the arcade? Was Fix-It Felix Jr. more popular? Was Sr.'s game a flop? Is Felix embarrassed about his dad? Is his dad resentful about his son's success? Or was Sr. the popular game, and Jr. was only popular at Litwak's? What is the quest that they need to go on? Are they mending their relationship? Or maybe the game arrives without Sr. in it, and they have to go on a quest to find him for the game to be restored. There are so many possibilities here for really good stories, and Felix's story is the one that needs to be told - everyone else had their backstory told in the first film. Then Ralph and Vanellope could be the ones going on the side quest this time. A huge, missed opportunity.
All that said (and yes, this counts as a "short" review, relatively speaking), Ralph Breaks the Internet was a bit of a disappointment to me, despite the enthusiasm of the audience I was with. Wait for it to show up on Netflix. Or the Disney Channel. Or rent it. Maybe you'll like it more than me, if you're more immersed in the internet than I am.
Ralph Breaks the Internet gets a 6/10.