Ralph Breaks the Internet is almost certainly the most wholesome content to ever focus on a full-grown adult man’s overly clingy relationship with a baby-voiced young girl on the internet. Its central messages—that love and possessiveness are antonyms and that individual growth does not negate interpersonal bonds—is probably more moving and less unoriginal-feeling to breeders. To parents, the moral is likely closer to “letting your kids grow up doesn’t really mean you’re losing them.” To us child-free reprobates, it just seems inherently good that a violent manbaby won’t be hanging out at the bar with a tween princess as much anymore.
Wreck-It Ralph was a surprisingly clever, breezy bit of entertainment that poked fun at video games. Ralph Breaks the Internet is a surprisingly predictable, slogging bit of corporate profiteering that barely pokes any fun at online behaviors. The gossamer plot sees Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) travel into the internet to retrieve a replacement steering wheel for the broken arcade game in which Vanellope lives. The quest for that circular MacGuffin involves Ralph having to digitally whore himself out with the help of Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), a social media maven. Meanwhile, Vanellope stumbles into a gritty, grown-up racing game dominated by Shank (Gal Gadot), a cool sultry criminal who embodies the “wrong crowd” friends all parents fear.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is the kind of busy, buzzy animated film that somehow fills nearly two hours without really doing much of anything. The sequence with Disney princesses that has been spoiled and hyped in all advertisements is briefly clever, as is Vanellope’s musical number, in which she yearns for a world filled with vehicular manslaughter. The titular Ralph’s shenanigans is limited to aping viral videos and memes, learning “not to read the comments section” and obsessing over his preteen best friend.
Obviously, a Disney animated adventure is not the appropriate place for a sophisticated investigation of the emotional burden overly testosteroned dudes frequently bury women beneath. And yet, that’s the actual dynamic at work. Ralph’s infantile behaviors do not squarely position him as a father-figure substitute so much as they paint him as a poorly dressed douchebag who makes controlling demands of the only woman in his life. A more satisfying message wouldn’t be “Ralph needs to give Vanellope some space” so much as “let all manbabies suffer and die.” Again, probably not the right medium for that moral, but they’re the ones who opened this door.
The best animated films provoke wonder and awe in younger audiences and speak in clever code to adults. The worst animated films are loud gibberish that offer to cheaply babysit. Ralph Breaks the Internet is somewhere in the middle, not quite cloying enough to condemn nor special enough to praise. Unless you insta-cry at the thought of the day your babies are old enough to waddle away from your nest. If that’s you, Ralph may also wreck your tear ducts.
Grade = C