An unspoken dialogue exists between the makers of modern animated films and the parents who haul their kids to see them: Buy tickets to our movie, and we will offer you 90 minutes of mollified, glassy-eyed silence. We will show them a whole new world–shining, shimmering, splendid. This exchange regards adults as hapless captives, stuck watching the same drivel, the same forgettable songs, over and over. The first Wreck-It Ralph exceeded all expectations by offering entertainment to parents and children alike. People who came of age in the era of 8-bit video games could soak in a marinade of warm, rich nostalgia, while their kids sat spellbound by the brilliant animation and ceaselessly watchable story. Its follow-up, Ralph Breaks the Internet, enjoys much of the same success, though the filmmakers wisely shift their pop culture focus toward the clichés of the Information Age.
This second verse of Ralph’s epic saga starts six years after we last left our heroes. Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) seems pretty content to play a Donkey Kong-style heel in an 80s arcade game. Meanwhile, his best buddy Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) finds herself in a mid-game crisis. She inhabits Sugar Rush, a cute Mario Kart knockoff where she dominates like a pint-sized Steve McQueen. Tired of living her own pixelated Groundhog Day and faced with possible extinction, Ralph and Vanellope board the arcade’s Wi-Fi and venture into the geometric jungle of the Internet.
The movie presents the Internet as a boundless, teeming Times Square of viral cat videos, trending tweets, and spam peddlers. Cyberspace is gently satirized as a feast of empty calories: If shallow cartoons serve as junk food diversion for children, then the Internet is a playground of unchecked chaos meant to deliver instant, fleeting gratification for adults. Moments will ring all too true for parents, such as when Ralph finds himself accosted with annoying pop-up ads, or stumbles into a scathing comment section. (“Never read the comments,” he is told.)
As in the first movie, Ralph Breaks the Internet benefits from an impeccable cast of voices. Few actors pull off the combo of vacant and lovable with the skill of John C. Reilly, and he anchors the film as the Lug with a Heart of Gold. Sarah Silverman infuses Vanellope with just the right balance of squeak and snark. A few newcomers add a little extra texture: Gal Gadot puts a little sultriness into her GTA-type heroine, while Bill Hader scores as a flummoxed pop-up salesman. The second brims with so many pop culture cameos that even the most skilled grownups will have fun trying to keep up.
Smarter and more incisive than you would expect, Ralph Breaks the Internet succeeds at both teasing its audience and making fun of itself. It’s a rare film that will divert young children with sound and fury, but might actually resonate more with adults. This sequel is not only as good as the original, it’s an animated movie you may not mind re-watching a few times.