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Ralph breaks the Internet; the Internet breaks humanity

What is troubling with this otherwise fun and often interesting film is how the filmmakers address one specific and obvious problem while completely glossing over others.

MPAA Rating: PG
USCCB Rating: A-II
Reel Rating: 2.5 out of 5 reels

Despite a surprisingly good first entry, few saw a need for a sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, but the internet—and its endless opportunity for meta-humor—proved to just be too tempting. To be sure, there are plenty of millennial-winking jokes in Ralph Breaks the Internet, but in the age of John Lasseter animation, even a movie like this will have a solid story behind it. What keeps this particular story from soaring, however, is the gnawing sense that the worst aspects of the internet are not only covered up but actively denied.

When the story begins, Ralph (John C. Reilly) seems to be in paradise. He has the respect of his peers, a best friend in Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), and a daily routine he would like to continue forever. Vanellope, however, feels bored and uninspired by the familiar and longs for something new and exciting. When her racing game breaks, she gets her wish by traveling to the internet in hope of finding a replacement part to save her home. Once they locate the part on eBay, our heroes discover—like so many before them—that turning digital wonder to physical cash is not as easy as it looks.

The internet is a difficult concept to visualize, and directors Phil Johnson and Rich Moore do a good job creating a world that is vast but not confusing. They present the internet as an endless city in which websites are represented by buildings. Internet users are portrayed as small, boxy avatars. This world provides endless humor, from “pop-up” street vendors to small blue “tweety” birds. It’s also nice to see that even Disney can gently mock itself, with references to Marvel, Star Wars, and an extended sequence with the Disney Princesses.

The benefits of the internet play center stage, and Vanellope is in awe at its possibilities. Goods and services are easy to find, and communication is instantaneous. (Even I, barely into my thirties, remember my mom scolding me for spending too much time on a long-distance phone call or for going to a physical store to rent a VHS tape.) Vanellope discovers an online game called Slaughter Race that will never grow old because users and developers alike are constantly creating new content, and she soon wonders if she even wants to go back home.

Despite these social advances, the internet still exists in a fallen world and can be used to prey on weaknesses, offers temptations, and feed destructive habits. The film does attempt to address this in one specific way. When Vanellope reveals to Ralph her desire to stay, he responds in the worst way possible by hiring a virus from the “deep web” to slow down Slaughter Race. This goes horribly awry, and Ralph realizes that his plan was selfish. Friendships inevitably change, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they go away.

What is troubling, however, is how the filmmakers address one specific and obvious problem while completely glossing over others. For example, to solve their money dilemma, Ralph visits an internet guru named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), who gets him to create a series of completely brainless videos to help him “go viral”. These include funny noises, physical pain, makeup tutorials, and —my wife’s least favorite—toy unboxing. One of the seven deadly sins is sloth, which is not simply “being lazy”, but the refusal to act in the world with joy and spiritual alertness. These videos are sloth incarnate. They have no real purpose beyond acquiring likes and advertising space, but they are the method through with Ralph saves Vanellope’s game. This is not only destructive but can become addictive. The film barely acknowledges these faults and implicitly supports them.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is fun and interesting enough to justify a view on DVD or streaming, but is not quite as good as it could have been. The filmmakers are too worried about challenging the subject matter to provide for something beyond just a “nice movie”. This is a shame because, due to these problems, I can’t honestly recommend it for kids, who make up the film’s target audience.

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About Nick Olszyk 205 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online and listen to his podcast at "Catholic Cinema Crusade".

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