Deftly defying expectation, Ralph Breaks the Internet, the inevitable sequel to 2012’s $189.4 million-grossing Wreck-It Ralph, absolutely crushes it.
A turbo-charged satire that swaps out Gen X video arcade nostalgia for our current, all-consuming social-media-fueled obsession, the endlessly inventive Walt Disney Studios Animation follow-up impressively levels up with laugh-out-loud consistency.
Cursors foiled again!
The sharply observed results — combined with a gamely attuned voice ensemble that finds the returning John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman (in an upgraded role) joined by newcomers Gal Gadot and Taraji P. Henson — should handily generate an all-ages load of likes when it connects with theaters a day before Thanksgiving.
By the studio’s own count just its third produced (non-Pixar) full-length sequel following 1990’s The Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000, this is also the first to be created by the original’s writing-directing team of Rich Moore and Phil Johnston — and that continuity comes through in both tone and character.
After an admittedly less than auspicious start, which finds kindred spirits Ralph (Reilly) and Vanellope (Silverman) putting in their time at Litwack’s Arcade, much to his contentment and her growing ennui, things begin to click into gear when the steering wheel is broken off from her aging Sugar Rush game.
Discovering that Litwack (Ed O’Neill) has finally installed Wi-Fi, Ralph and Vanellope hit the information superhighway on a quest for a replacement part and find themselves landing smack dab in the middle of a mind-blowing amusement park of flashy excess — and the product placement’s team’s dream gig — known as the World Wide Web.
They find their sought-after steering wheel over at eBay, but after inadvertently driving up their winning auction bid with no credit card to pay for it, they find some shady assistance in a persistent click-baiter, propelling them on a crazy scavenger hunt that lands them in the GTA-flavored Slaughter Race, presided over by Shank (Gal Gadot), a tough chick in a zip-up hoodie and leather jacket.
From there it’s on to BuzzzTube, a trend-making site presided over by hip and happening head algorithm Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), where Ralph becomes an instant viral sensation. Just when you fear the inspired scenario is going to run out of comic bandwidth, Johnston and Pamela Ribon’s screenplay proceeds to hit the production where it lives — with a fearless Magic Kingdom send-up complete with a hilarious gathering of Disney princesses that serves as the production’s satirical centerpiece.
While the film’s obligatory emotional beats (pertaining to the complexity of friendship) may not land here with the same acuity as the funny stuff, it’s hard to fault something that has the likes of Ariel and Moana coaching Vanellope in finding her personal desire song by looking into a body of water until inspiration strikes.
Lending the production a visual ambience and energy similar to that of Zootopia, which Moore directed along with Byron Howard, both he and Johnston keep things zipping along amusingly through a remarkably detailed virtual world packed with colorfully creative touches at every high-speed turn.
And although Reilly and Silverman again serve as the tender heart of the picture, they get some reliably take-charge voice assists from the aforementioned Gadot and Henson. Alan Tudyk summons Truman Capote as KnowsAll, the professorial personification of a search engine who comes on a little too strong in the autofill department.
Of course, the most delightful surprise comes from that tongue-in-cheek gathering of princesses, with the majority of the original voice talent reprising their roles to entertaining effect, culminating in the show-stopping musical number, the Alan Menken-penned “A Place Called Slaughter Race.”
Production company: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Dsitributor: Buena Vista
Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill
Directors: Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
Screenwriters: Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon
Producer: Clark Spencer
Executive producers: John Lasseter, Jennifer Lee, Chris Williams
Editor: Jeremy Milton
Music: Henry Jackman
Rated PG, 112 minutes