“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Hey man, I’m not a monster, I enjoyed WRECK-IT RALPH like anybody, and the sequel is fun too. This licensing crossover bonanza shit has kinda become its own genre since WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT invented it in earnest, so we’ve had the toy version (TOY STORY), the other toy version (THE LEGO® MOVIE), the… everything version (READY PLAYER ONE) and the horrific, soul-rattling nightmare version (FOODFIGHT!). RALPH’s video game version does it just right – an elegantly executed premise full of Pixar-worthy well-thought-out world building, funny characters, good jokes, loving homages, minute detail, occasional Q*Bert cameo. I mean they even had an end credits jam by Buckner & Garcia (look it up). Some time later I went to Disneyland and they had playable Fix-It Felix, Jr. games in the Starcade, and especially seeing it in person you realize what a nice tribute it is to the beautiful design of the Donkey Kong game cabinet and the 8-bit animations of that era of video games. It makes you remember that, crude as they seem now, they are an artform.

So now we have the sequel RALPH BREAKS [sic] THE INTERNET, and at least it’s not a rehash. Sentient video game characters Ralph (John C. Reilly, CRIMINAL) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, THE WAY OF THE GUN) are inseparable friends from frame 1, and when the arcade they live in gets wi-fi they find themselves exploring the big city that is the internet. It has an actual help desk for a search engine, an eBay building where auctions take place, flocks of Twitter birds overhead, and lots of little blocky avatars of internet users walking around trying to avoid people waving pop-up ads and clickbait in their faces. It’s all very clever and observant (they get a big laugh from an auto-fill in gag, and there’s one about “one weird trick”) and designing the behind-the-scenes characters (a messenger who delivers eBay reminder emails) in the style of ’50s advertising icons helps keep it from feeling desperately current.

The new video game world we see is a driving game that’s an amalgamation of types of games the younger kids in the audience aren’t allowed to play. It involves street racing, car theft, evil clowns and shark attacks under a hazy yellow L.A. sky. Vanellope, bored of her static world made of candy, is thrilled by this updatable open world and idolizes a character named Shank, voiced by and modeled after Gal Gadot (CRIMINAL [different CRIMINAL than the one Reilly is in]) in hip-hugging leather pants. Both Gadot and Vin Diesel have their voices in the movie – I found that fast and curious.

There may be video game shit that’s over my head, but they got a whole section where Vanellope hangs out with the Disney princesses, and that shit I do know. They’re “backstage” at one of those stupid internet quizzes to find out which princess you would be B.F.F.s with, and they exchange information with this video game princess. Almost all of them have their original voices, pieces of their songs are worked into one complicated piece of scoring and there’s lots of little Disney details like Pocahontas wearing a t-shirt that says “Blue Corn Moon” (a phrase used in her Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe winning song and top karaoke jam “Colors of the Wind). Funny stuff.

But… I mean… do I gotta be the guy to say this? The truth is I enjoyed this movie and also it grossed me out. I kinda think it’s offensive. I see no evidence that it’s meant as a dark sequel like BABE: PIG IN THE CITY or a Verhoevien sarcastic celebration of humanity’s worst, but I found it kinda depressing. Instead of giving me those warm feelings of nostalgia like the first one I had a burbling sense of disgust at this cutesy celebration of the most hollow aspects of our culture.

Sure, they have an emotional scene based around the negativity of comment threads, and it’s not like they’re propping up racist Facebook posts or Russian #MAGAtrons. But it seems to me it’s uncritically turning stupid internet shit into children’s fantasy adventure. Ralph and Vanellope must raise enough real world money to pay for an eBay auction for a rare video game part, and they attempt this first by trying to obtain things inside video games that they can sell to real human gamers. This at least comes out of their unique talents as video game characters, like a normal let’s-put-on-a-show-to-save-the-orphanage type movie plot. But then they met Yesss (Taraji P. Henson, THE KARATE KID), a bigshot algorithm at “BuzzzTube” who’s cool and fashionable and teaches them about what types of dumb videos are popular, to help Ralph to Go Viral™ with wacky faces and memes. And there are still nice relationship things to deal with in the climax, but he (SPOILER) raises $30,000 in human money with the videos and it’s presented as a proper, respectable solution to the main problem they have to solve. I hate this shit.

I should’ve known this was coming when they announced the title. I know on the trailer (not in the movie) they had a scene pointing out that obviously the sequel to WRECK-IT RALPH should be called RALPH WRECKS THE INTERNET before BREAKS THE INTERNET. But they went with the uh… I don’t know if you can call it the trendy title, but it was a phrase that a magazine tried to make popular four years ago when they published some weird celebrity butt photos. It just seems sad to spend $175 million with many talented artists working for six years and then give it a title that will soon sound about as current as ERNEST TALKS TO THE HAND, AIR BUD LETS THE DOGS OUT or PUPPET MASTER: WHERE’S THE BEEF!? It’s just so profoundly uncool and yet at the same time un-Disney. I’m against it. But I’m old.

And maybe if it was just old me and the Seattle tech nerd dudes I heard knowingly laughing at the little references and shit I wouldn’t even think about it. Maybe an air of “all this commercialism on the internet, it’s crazy, right? But I kinda love it though!” would be forgivable. But I saw it in a big theater full of the little kids that surely make up most of the audience, giggling and repeating phrases and then asking mom what the phrase means, and it kind of feels like negligence to be molding their little brains with the shriveled up values we’ve been left with after decades of online commerce and frivolousness. Call me old fashioned, call me old man yells at cloud, call me Guy Who Thinks Depiction Equals Endorsement, call me Tipper Gore hearing her daughter listen to “Darling Nikki,” but I just don’t think little kids should know which sets of characters are owned by the Disney corporation, or that cynically manufacturing moronic memes is one of the ways to make money. Maybe they should get a couple years head start before we infect them with a distorted world view that Felix could never fix.

There was a line on the end credits that did play like a little bit of satire. It involves a baby in the backseat of a car complaining about a scene from the trailer not being in the movie. I thought that was a funny idea – a culture so addicted to marketing and trivia that even a baby would care about something like that.

Nobody else seemed to take it as a joke, though. They were quiet and then cheered for the scene from the trailer when it played on her iPad. Maybe that’s just how we live now. I think I’m gonna ralph.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2018 at 8:46 am and is filed under Cartoons and Shit, Reviews, Videogame. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

23 Responses to “Ralph Breaks the Internet”

  1. Standard ‘we get a review for this but not INCREDIBLES II even though with this one you clearly had something you wanted to say and get off your chest!’ Comment here

    I’m one of the few who didn’t really like the first one. Felt it was the same damn film Disney always make but now with nostalgia-baiting crap and I likable characters. So wasn’t looking forward to this one and I haven’t heard anything on this I’ve that convinced me I shouldn’t wait fir video. Especially because of what you wrote here seems to suggest such things are going to bug me even more maybe.

  2. Thanks for the somewhat haunting review. As the parent of a four year old, the internet scares the shit out of me. I’ve been online since about 1994, but I never really got into social media. There’s whole new ways to fuck people up now.

  3. Geofferyjar- I’m in the same boat. I just didn’t get what everyone seemed to love so much about the first one, and I’ve been a video game guy since I was a little kid. It was *fine*, not a bad movie by any means, but it didn’t seem to me like it flew any higher than that and, to be honest, the praise I see heaped on it everywhere makes me like it even less. That’s my own problem for sure, and I guess maybe I’ll see this one eventually, but it won’t be in theaters.

    I will say, though, any reminder of the opening scene for THE WAY OF THE GUN is more then welcome. Nobody yells a disgusting series of insults and over-the-top accusations quite like Sarah Silverman.

  4. A few days ago I read that Disney shortened the title from WRECK-IT RALPH 2: RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET to just the last part, because they were told it was too long. They definitely removed the wrong part of the title IMO. (However, in Germany it’s called RALPH REICHT’S 2: WEBCRASHER – CHAOS IM NETZ [Ralph has enough 2: Webcrasher – Chaos in the net], so fuck y’all!)

  5. One of my pet peeves is people who always feel the need to defend internet-addiction and culture with “Maybe you’re just too old.” Fool, I’m addicted to it, too! But the irony is that the need to always defend new interests and tech to seem in touch with the youths is that the motivation is clear and makes you seem even older than the people who complain about it. What I’m saying is there’s no winning. The internet owns our souls; we should be allowed to point that out now and then.

    Good review.

  6. I feel like there’s a course correction brewing about this issue… people are deeply, deeply unhappy, and they’re increasingly aware of how severely our society and psyches have been damaged by the rise of internet culture. It has all happened so fast that I don’t think the consequences were understood, at least on a widespread basis, until very recently; but now I think we’re at least in the very early stages of an attempt to address the damage and chart a more sustainable course.

  7. So, add me to the grouchy old man club because I actually had similar feelings about the first one. I mean, I liked the story and the Qbert cameos and that sort of thing, but at some point it really felt like it changed gears and became all about product placement for candy. At the time, this really rubbed me the wrong way because I felt that in a world where we have childhood obesity and somethingj like half a billion people with type 2 diabetes, it was gross and irresponsible for Disney to be advertising candy to children the way they did in that movie. Now get off of my lawn.

  8. SPOILER!
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    I was grossed out by the undulating mass of Ralphs that made the giant Ralph, especially in closeups when they were lying face down but still moving. They were extremely unsettling in all their writhing pinkness. It was hard to look at.

  9. I thought Ready Player One *was* the soul-rattling nightmare version…

  10. Mr. Subtlety- I totally agree that we’re due for a course correction in terms of the internet. It’s a wonderful invention that has changed the world in some very powerful, positive ways, but has also had really powerful negative impacts that I don’t think we even fully understand yet.

    The oldest generation has either rejected the internet entirely or leapt whole-heartedly into its darkest maw, but I think as the generations proceed, we’ll come to a more reasonable balance. I know I keep bringing it up over and over (because it’s, uh, very much on my mind) but I’ve been thinking about how differently my own kid will engage with and react to the internet and I can’t imagine it will look much like the way I’ve done so for most of my life. Either way, I suspect the rise and (rapidly approaching) fall of Facebook will be the real story of the second internet era, and we’ll hopefully learn some lessons from that. Hopefully.

  11. That “fast and curious” line made my day.

  12. I have zero faith that the internet will course correct. The last 2 years have destroyed every ounce of my faith in humankind. It’s the same as television. The people who brought us that thought it was going to be used for education and information. Boy were they wrong. I’m not saying it doesn’t do any of that. I’m saying that it does very little of that and that’s because that’s not what people want. There are other examples of how we go in the opposite direction of what’s best for ourselves. Take the food industry. Processed food is on par with the not bathing and bleeding with leeches for healthy benefits and yet, here we are. People are the worst. And I’m not saying I’m any better. There are days I would punch a baby for a burger and fries while marathoning some ridiculous show.

  13. I remain hopeful simply because I feel like we’re reaching some kind of breaking point — we simply can’t go on like this. People are miserable. Anxiety in young people is off the charts. Politics has become so polarized and distorted that democracy is functionally broken. Misinformation is rampant; endemic. People live in fear of online mobs destroying their lives at a moment’s notice. I don’t think this is something we can just get used to. It’s going to either destroy us, or we’re going to be forced to alter things in a way which allows humanity to continue.

    It’s so bad people aren’t even fucking anymore. When things are bad that the kids aren’t even trying to get laid, I’d say they’re about as bad as they can get.

    Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?

    Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.

  14. MAGGIEMAYPIE: BABY PUNCHER

    I would would watch that show.

    And I’m not really sure about the course correction of the web either. I mean, if you look at it, it’s still mostly cool or at least harmless. And despite my believe that humans are actually good (Just look at the huge crowds that show up at your average social justice demos, compared to the wrong-side-of-history ones, as one example), the internet would have to be so extremely controlled, regulated and censored, that it would probably be unusable for a while, before a bunch of kids figures out how to make it fun again. (And I’m not even talking about the “Who watches the watchmen” factor yet)

  15. My beef with 2 Wreck 2 Ralph is they didn’t even seem to figure out what it was about (Ralph and Vanellope having diverging interests) until near the end of the movie. Pixar would’ve gone back to the drawing board and made the whole movie work. Disney was like “eh, we got there when we got there.”

    But the selling of internet to chcildren is insidious and adds another unpleasant layer.

    Also why wouldn’t Ralph love Slaughter Lane? He loves to wreck things. It’s s full of things to wreck!

    I hope the optimists for course correction are right. Am I a dick if I saw that social media was a bad idea 10 years ago? All my colleagues were jumping on it and I said “so you need another place to get validation, which will never be enough to fill that hole, and avoid being alone with your thoughts?” I mean does that make me enlightened or psychic or just a pessimist.

    It’s sort of hilarious that it took 10 years for people to realize “Hey, these thousands of followers are not supporting me at all” but it just makes me sad. Sure 10 years is a drop in the bucket for future centuries of internet. He’ll, Ive found more positive connections on social media than I ever expected, but it seems rare that people can balance to positive and not get wrapped up in the trolls and assholes.

  16. And we have President Trump because of Twitter. Automatically not worth it.

  17. I haven’t seen this and probably never will, so I can’t fully comment, but I saw the trailer for RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET before INCREDIBLES 2 and found it at least mildly revolting. It looked like an entire movie made up of ads for Disney IP.

    There’s been a real lack of major reviews that are pushing back against this kind of rampant consumer whore-ism and celebration of shitty internet culture, which sucks. I mean, we all agreed that THE EMOJI MOVIE was morally repellent in addition to being bad, right?

    I get that this sort of thing isn’t new, that plenty of entertainment I watched as a kid was little more than glorified toy commercials, and I still love ROGER RABBIT and you could lob similar anti-consumerist complaints at it. So I’m not judging the audiences for wanting to see this. But I do feel like critics need to try a little harder to be gatekeepers against this kind of shit. So, Vern, thanks for your thoughts.

    Also, again, I haven’t seen it so maybe it’s not nearly as bad as I imagined it to be.

  18. Personally I think Roger Rabbit gets a pass. They weren’t, like, trying to reinvigorate the Droopy property. They just knew it would be amazing to see Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse in a scene together, because nothing like that had ever been done.

  19. That’s ultimately how I feel, too. It’s also a brilliant and wonderfully made film, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

    But I could understand someone arguing that it helped pioneer the trend of regurgitating pre-existing pop culture and lazily relying on familiarity and nostalgia in order to get butts in seats. READY PLAYER ONE is another movie that I’ve avoiding like the plague because the whole idea of it makes me dyspeptic, and it’s a similar mashup of things that people love by a gifted auteur.

  20. I think there’s a huge difference between something like ROGER RABBIT, or even TOY STORY, which use familiar properties to ground a story in tangible things from the real world, and stuff like THE EMOJI MOVIE, which was clearly written AROUND those things. Having Mickey or Bugs in ROGER RABBIT or Mr. Potato head in TOY STORY lends a specificity to those worlds, which would otherwise just be generic versions of real things. You’re gonna make a movie about toons, or toys, there’s gonna be toons and toys in it either way, and so why not make them real ones? THE EMOJI MOVIE –and from the sound of it, the new RALPH– are stories which no one would ever consider telling if they weren’t being used to foreground brand names. I consider that a such an enormous difference that it barely even seems worth it to compare them.

  21. THE FUNKO POP MOVIE: A group of plastic figures, who all look the same although they are supposed to be different popculture icons, do nothing but standing in the shelf of the adult nerd who collects them and watch him masturbate to internet porn.

  22. Roger Rabbit was also based on a book so an artist in another media had the idea first. Not sure it mentions Disney and WB toons in the book but I also agree with Subtlety that it would be more distractingly false to have zero known IPs.

    Original Wreck It Ralph was kind of that way. Fix It Felix and Sugar Rush were original. They just existed in a world where other games exist.

    I think it would’ve been great if they managed to turn The Emoji Movie into a brilliant film thus showing it could be done. I have been told they did not.

  23. In the book version of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (which I read as a kid after the movie scared the hell out of me), there are “real life” characters, but they’re all newspaper comic strip characters like Dick Tracy and Blondie stuff, so it makes sense they’d change that to be animated characters for a live-action version.

    Personally I think ROGER RABBIT works specifically because it *isn’t* terribly nostalgic. It uses all these real life properties, sure, but it presents a world in which they’re all second-class citizens who are ruthlessly exploited by movie studios and ghettoized away from “normal” people, with the idea of their, essentially, genocide being the driving threat of the movie. The draw isn’t just “come see Bugs and Mickey have a waaaacky adventure together!”- it’s telling a really original story within the framework of a world where some recognizable things exist for context. I guess maybe that’s obvious, but I think it’s also really different from something like READY PLAYER ONE more crassly playing to open nostalgia without any real new context to add to the references.

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