Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, arrives in theaters this Thanksgiving weekend at a time when “the internet” has become a pervasive force in modern culture while simultaneously going through something of a public backlash. In the wake of dire concerns over political manipulation, privacy breaches and its role in the escalation of violent partisan rhetoric, a lot of people are deleting their social media apps or paying more attention to how much time they’re spending looking at a screen.
Almost on cue, then, Walt Disney Animation Studios offers up this well-timed sequel. Former sad sack video game character Ralph (John C. Reilly) has found happiness in being the bad guy (but not a bad guy), due in large part to his friendship with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a feisty racer from a neighboring video game. But the two are thrust into an adventure on the internet thanks to a MacGuffiny fetch quest involving a rare video game cabinet part only available through eBay.
The internet is represented as a bustling metropolis populated by large buildings adorned with the names and logos of websites both real and fake. After learning that the part they seek will cost real money, Ralph and Vanellope look for rare loot in online game Slaughter Race – an unsubtle nod to gritty franchises like Grand Theft Auto – helmed by the cool, edgy stunt driver Shank (Gal Gadot), who Vanellope idolizes. Ralph, on the other hand, ends up inadvertently becoming a viral meme, and teams up with the head of “Buzztube,” who’s-on-first-ishly named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), to capitalize on his brief taste of internet fame.
While the story that develops – centered around Ralph’s insecurity about Vanellope’s ambitions to grow out of their provincial life back home in the arcade they came from – is sweet, and briefly touches on real-world topics like cyberbullying, it serves primarily as a framing device in which to plug as many internet jokes and sight gags as possible. Thankfully, the humor is spot on, otherwise the rapidity of reference after reference would get exhausting. But everything from the overeager search bar text prediction to the highly anticipated Disney Princess reunion scenes hits its mark, making Ralph Breaks the Internet easily one of the funniest family films to come out of the Mouse House in years.
While Ralph may not make you want to reinstall Facebook, it will still put a smile on your face and maybe remind you of what we all thought the internet was going to be like back in its infancy. In the meantime, we can’t wait to see the animated GIFs start popping up in the comments.