REVIEW / ANIMATION FANTASY
RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 (PG)
113 minutes/Opens today/ 4 Stars
The story: Some years after the events of the first film (Wreck-It Ralph, 2012), Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman) has grown tired of racing the fixed tracks of her arcade game, Sugar Rush. But when an over-enthusiastic Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) tries to make her game more interesting, he causes a customer to break the Sugar Rush controller. The arcade's owner decides to retire the machine rather than fix it. Ralph and Vanellope must head into the wilds of the Internet to buy a replacement part before it is too late.
The first movie was such an endorphin rush, it is hard to imagine a sequel that could match it in sweet, rambunctious fun.
But this follow-up comes very close. It brings in all the elements that clicked in the 2012 original - the pixelated nostalgia, the ridiculous fun of seeing digital characters deal with banal human problems like racial profiling and early retirement - and updates it.
And by update, we mean more of the same, but on a vastly larger scale, one that takes in eBay, Google and social media likes and dislikes, online gaming and the curious practice of gold mining in role-playing games, in which repetitive exertion can be exchanged for real money, and vice versa.
By now, the premise of non-human creatures coping with mundane, sitcom-style problems might feel a little familiar. It is there in the Ralph series, but it is also in another Disney production, Zootopia (2016). Both have director Rich Moore in the credits.
Thankfully, Disney did not rush out the sequel after the success of the 2012 hit.
The long development time has given Moore, with co-director Phil Johnston, the space to ask the important questions.
What might happen if a race-crazy character like Vanellope were to be let loose in an open-world racing game? How would the smash-happy, impatient Ralph behave in an eBay auction? What sort of supporting characters should there be to allow both Vanellope and Ralph to grow?
In adventuring on the Internet, the two meet a stream of small visual delights - digital events like pop-up advertisements and viruses become characters, for example, each one more imaginative and charming than the last.
It is scarily easy to get the whole digital universe metaphor badly wrong - see the disaster that is Pixels (2015) or, worse, The Emoji Movie (2017).
Here, the care to drive all action with character, and never force the jokes, makes this movie a quality act, one that puts the Ralph franchise on track to a bright future.