Where Disney’s 2012 comedy “Wreck-It Ralph” was a delightfully retro dive into video games, the sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is giddily of its moment, a colorfully wacky satire of web culture that doesn’t care whether it’s still relevant in five years or five days.
The new movie returns to the world of the video arcade and the friendship between former bad-guy bruiser Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and candy-coated racer Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman). Ralph thinks life couldn’t get any better, though Vanellope is feeling a little bored winning her races all the time.
Then the arcade’s owner introduces something new: a Wi-Fi router, allowing access to the unknown world of the internet. At the same time, a patron accidentally breaks the steering wheel on Vanellope’s racing game, and the only replacement available is on eBay. Ralph decides he and Vanellope should travel to the internet and buy it before the game console — Vanellope’s home — is sent to the junkyard.
As with any excursion through the internet, distractions abound. The pair realize they need money to buy things on eBay, and they find themselves falling prey to a pop-up ad scam, which leads them to a “Grand Theft Auto”-style racing game called “Slaughter Race.” The game terrifies Ralph, but Vanellope savors the adrenaline rush of trying to outrace the game’s alluring heroine, Shank (voiced by “Wonder Woman’s” Gal Gadot).
While Ralph gets some advice on going viral from a savvy algorithm named Yesss (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), Vanellope lands in the Oh My Disney web domain — where Disney, Marvel, Pixar and “Star Wars” franchise characters intermingle. The self-referential nods to Disney culture hit their peak when Vanellope falls in with the Disney Princesses and earns their respect when she answers yes to this question: “Do people assume all your problems got solved because a big, strong man showed up?” (Most of the princesses are voiced by the actors who performed them originally, which is a nice touch.)
Co-directors Rich Moore (who directed “Wreck-It Ralph”) and Phil Johnston (who co-wrote the first movie with Moore and makes his directing debut here) zero in on the oddities of internet culture — albeit in a family-friendly PG-rated sort of way — with a barrage of jokes and references, from the “Tron”-like synthesizer music to a search bar (voiced by Alan Tudyk) with an overly aggressive autofill. The movie even enlists some internet stars, including GloZell Green and Colleen Ballinger (aka Miranda Sings), for voice cameos. (Speaking of cameos, the recently departed Stan Lee makes one of his final screen appearances here.)
The talk of what’s viral and meme-worthy may make “Ralph Breaks the Internet” feel dated — something one usually doesn’t say about Disney animated movies in comparison to the short shelf lives of, say, the “Shrek” movies. But the underlying story – about Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship, and the need to let friendship grow without getting clingy — is an enduring one, told here with wit and heart.
‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’
- Where • Theaters everywhere
- When • Opens Wednesday, Nov. 21
- Rated • PG for some action and rude humor
- Running time • 112 minutes