I was born in 1964, so video games like Pac-Man and Frogger were not retro games for me – they were new and big deals. Now, I wasn’t one of those kids who spend endless hours and weekends in the arcade, but I did enjoy what time I had between school and my teenage jobs. So when Wreck it Ralph came along it was a delightful slice of nostalgia mixing real game characters from golden age of arcades it was a fun ride through memory lane. Ralph, not a real game character of our world, was an interesting bad guy who was basically tired of being the bad guy. And the after hours world of the arcade is evocative of the toys in Toy Story that come to life when the humans are not around. With Ralph Breaks the Internet, we move from arcade game nostalgia to the massive sprawl of the internet.
Six years have passed since Ralph and Vanelope from the game Sugar Rush became friends and things seemed to be going great between them in the arcade. Mr. Litwak, the arcade’s owner installs WiFi, which is declared off-limits to the game characters. The internet is a dangerous place, afterall. So when a kid accidentally breaks Sugar Rush’s steering wheel, the only place to get it is on eBay, but unfortunately the price is a little too high for Mr. Litwak to spend on a vintage game so he plans to unplug the game. This would leave hundreds of game characters without a home, including Vanelope.
So of course Ralph and Vanelope end up going into the WiFi signal and enter the internet in search of eBay and a $200 steering wheel. With no understanding of how eBay works, or even money or credit cards, that $200 steering wheel ends up being over $20,000. What follows is elaborate schemes of trying to make that money before Sugar Rush is put to pasture.
The great appeal to Wreck it Ralph was, of course, the nostalgic appeal to it. With him now in the more contemporary world of the internet, some of that appeal is lost. Of course it is still fun to spot cameos of familiar logos like Google and Amazon. Tweets fly around as their bird icon. Geocities and Myspace are in a sort of Sargasso Sea of dead sites.
The best cameos, since this is a Disney movie, is reserved for when Ralph and Vanelope find themselves at a website called Oh My Disney, which is apparently a real thing. No spoilers since it is in all the trailers and ads, she meets the Disney Princesses. All of them. And almost all voiced by their original voice actress with a very amusing turn from Kelly McDonald reprising her Merida voice from Brave, speaking in such a heavy Scottish accent that no one understands her. Or maybe she’s actually speaking Scottish ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. “She’s from the other studio,” one of them tells Vanelope.
While the main plot is about raising the funds to pay for their eBay purchase, the secondary plot involves Vanelope becoming enamored with the word of Slaughter Race, based off of Twisted Metal. The racing in it is a near polar opposite of the cute Sugar Rush game with a definite grim and dark atmosphere.
There are a some not very subtle messages underlying the movie. Chief of it fcuses on Ralph and his inability to let Vanelope follow her dream and leave her mundane world. Yes, a Disney Princes tires of her mundane world and finds joy somewhere that is totally different from the world she is used to. There is actually a gag about this trope too. The other message is about one of the internet’s darker sides.
One of Ralph’s schemes involve making videos on a social platform called BuzzTube (YouTube exists, so this is apparently a competing platform). Somehow he is able to make money by accumulating likes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I don’t know how monetizing on social media works but this guess this makes sense. At one point, Ralph enters a secret room and sees comments. Number #1 rule of the internet, “Don’t read the comments” says the BuzzTube algorithm Yesss, as played by Taraj P. Hanson. Of course they are filled with trolling and spiteful comments about Ralph, which disheartens him.
We can look back at the references of the first film with fondness to decades old games that are still in the subconscious of our collective memory. One thing about he internet is that things change quickly and what we may think of as something that will be around will be subject to the trash heap of history, such as MySpace. In fact, the Disney crossover was supposed to take place in the Disney Infinities game, then the game and support for it was abruptly cancelled.
Yet, despite some shortcomings, Ralph Breaks the Internet still charms and entertains Adults will enjoy it as well as the kids. And to me, that is what makes a good family film.