The story sends arcade-villain-turned-good guy Ralph (voiced by John C Reilly) and his new BFF, arcade racer Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), into the internet to find a new part for her broken arcade game. Their arcade’s newly installed “wiffy”, as the endearingly slow-on-the-uptake Ralph calls it, is a portal to a host of opportunities for witty visual representations of cyberspace.
If it’s sometimes a touch literal – the internet is a sci-fi city filled with buildings marked “Amazon” and “IMDb” and (presumably for legal reasons) “Buzzfood” – the finer world-building is sharp. Every facet of cyberspace has a walking, talking avatar, including a search engine that notes its “autofill is a touch aggressive today”, and weaselly clickbait pop-ups that are shunted aside by ad-blockers clad like security men.
Refreshingly, the screenplay, co-written by Pamela Ribon, pulls focus from Ralph and onto Vanellope as she falls under the spell of a badass female character in a Grand Theft Auto-like game (Gal Gadot). It’s a journey of youthful empowerment and Silverman, who must have put her vocal chords on ice when she finished voicing the squeaky heroine, gives her heart and smarts. It doesn’t even need the hilarious scene with a group of earnest Disney princesses to see how she might even qualify for that pantheon.
Yes, that hoary quest for self-realisation runs through so many animations that it should feel tired. But somehow Disney keeps finding ways to keep it vital. Here, it’s via a smart riff on the highs and lows of social media that will surely resonate with kids and parents alike, as Ralph and Vanellope tumble into the angsty world of wannabe YouTube stars.
It’s much more complicated than the original movie – a straightforward origin story – and the plot starts to feel convoluted at times. But Ralph Breaks the Internet deserves kudos for dipping satirically into viral videos and fanboy culture. Next up? Ralph Tackles the Trolls. Phil De Semlyen