Ralph Breaks the Internet is a bit of a misnomer. The eponymous hero doesn’t actually “break” the internet (and certainly not in the way a Kardashian might), and the long-awaited sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph isn’t necessarily about the internet, per se. What it is about is friendship — how we grow (up) together, and how sometimes that growing can unfortunately take us in separate directions. And while John C. Reilly’s Ralph is the big name in the title, this sequel is more about Sarah Silverman’s scrappy Vanellope von Schweetz, whose journey many viewers (especially the adults in the crowd) will find irresistibly relatable.
When Ralph Breaks the Internet begins, things are going pretty well for Ralph and Vanellope. The unlikely BFFs have settled into a comfortable routine: When the arcade opens in the morning, they live inside their respective games; when it closes at night, they grab dinner and a root beer and enjoy long, friendly chats until the sun comes up again. But things are growing tedious for Vanellope inside her home game, Sugar Rush. She knows every track by heart and is craving a new challenge. When Ralph tries to help her out by digging a new track, the game goes awry and the steering wheel breaks. It’s an older arcade game, and the parts aren’t easy to come by. Sugar Rush might be shut down. By coincidence, the arcade has just installed a strange new thing called “WiFi,” and so our heroes embark on a quest to find the replacement part so Vanellope and her Sugar Rush pals won’t be homeless.
As you might expect, the world of the internet is vast and overwhelming, an animated sensory overload reminiscent of Las Vegas. While there, Ralph and Vanellope encounter many new characters, like KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk), an eager search engine anxious to predict users’ needs, and JP Spamley (Bill Hader), a purveyor of archaic pop-up ads with offers that are too good to be true. After a hilarious misunderstanding at eBay, Ralph and Vanellope realize they need actual, real-world money to buy the part they need, and this is where their paths diverge.
While Ralph tries to earn some cash by remaking viral videos for the film’s version of YouTube, Vanellope discovers what might be her true calling: a gritty multiplayer online racing game called Slaughter Race, which features an impossibly cool antagonist named Shank (Gal Gadot). Confronted by the prospect of losing Sugar Rush and the thing that has defined her entire existence, Vanellope finds a silver lining in Slaughter Race, which offers the challenges she’s been craving. But this doesn’t sit well with Ralph, who fears that he’ll lose Vanellope — and their friendship — forever.
Ralph Breaks the Internet does spend some time exploring how the internet can be both a good place and a terrible one, and how it has the potential to bring out the worst in people (as when Ralph makes the dire mistake of reading the comments on his videos), but the primary focus of this film is something deeper and more meaningful: friendship. Rather than introduce a predictable big bad, co-writers Pamela Ribon and Phil Johnston come up with something novel: The real villain of this movie isn’t an internet troll or pop-up ads. It’s insecurity — specifically Ralph’s insecurities, which grow monstrous and take on a life of their own. And so it’s not Slaughter Race and Shank that threaten to destroy his friendship with Vanellope, but Ralph himself.
These are concepts that both young and older viewers alike will find familiar, which isn’t all that surprising for a Disney animated movie. Nor is it surprising when Ralph and Vanellope enter the Disney section of the internet, which is stacked with cameos from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (including a brief, very funny scene), Star Wars, and — as touted in the trailer — every Disney princess (most voiced by their original actors). That sequence in particular is quite charming, as it affectionately deconstructs the archetype while officially anointing Vanellope as a Disney princess. Later, Vanellope gets her very own princess song with music by Disney vet Alan Menken.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is filled with thoughtful themes about friendship, overcoming insecurity, and growing up. But it’s also just kind of … filled. Though incredibly sweet and ultimately poignant, the sequel is a bit overstuffed and somewhat long. Viewers will eventually be rewarded for their patience with a heartwarming ending — and an insanely hilarious post-credits scene.