With apologies to animators, the real art in making a successful family film is to be able to entertain adults and children simultaneously without the elements aimed at one interfering with the enjoyment of the other. “Ralph Breaks the Internet” delivers this tricky twofer.
Full of energy and action for the young set, the sequel to “Wreck-It Ralph” is laced with jokes and visual references that only grown-ups will catch. These include a snarky put-down of the misogynistic portrayal of Disney princesses and tributes to recently deceased Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee and “happy trees” painter Bob Ross. While an overcharged climactic action sequence hinting at “King Kong” goes on a tad too long for most adult tastes — the same could be said about the first movie — there’s more than enough fun to make up for it.
For those who missed the 2012 original, it was set in the world of arcade video games, with characters coming to life much as they did in “Toy Story,” but in a universe of boundless images, sounds and actions. The sequel moves to the internet, where the filmmakers’ imaginations once again can run rampant.
Some background: Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is a Paul Bunyan-esque figure whose role in the video game is to punch holes in a building so the handyman hero can rush in and save the day. Ralph’s best friend is Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a driver in a racing game.
The sequel is set in motion when Vanellope’s game breaks and the owner of the arcade decides to junk it rather than try to fix it. Frantic that their friendship is doomed, Ralph and Vanellope learn of a place called “the internet” where they might find a replacement for the broken piece. They have no idea what the internet is, but that doesn’t stop them from finding a Wi-Fi link and climbing aboard.
Written and directed by Rich Moore and Minneapolis native Phil Johnston (the same team behind the original), the movie’s depiction of the internet is over-the-top fabulous. Websites (such as eBay, where our heroes are told they’ll find the part they need) are depicted as Space Age buildings, and the internet users are avatars that come in all shapes, sizes and designs.
Much of the adult-oriented humor comes from poking fun at the foibles of the internet. One of the first places Ralph and Vanellope visit is the information desk, where a professorial character named KnowsMore interrupts them after every word trying to guess what their next word is going to be — and is always wrong. And every time they turn around, a shady-looking huckster jumps in front of them, trying to sell them something.
As they wander the e-verse, they discover an online racing game and Vanellope strikes up a kinship with a driver named Shank (Gal Gadot). Meanwhile, Ralph is enticed by Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), the flamboyant head algorithm of a BuzzFeed-like site, who convinces him that with a little prudent marketing, he can cash in on his buffoonish appearance.
Jane Lynch is back from the first movie, but only for a couple of scenes. The same goes for Ed O’Neill. Many well-known voices make cameos, among them Vin Diesel, Brad Garrett, Kristen Bell and Mandy Moore.
Filmmakers Moore and Johnston aren’t afraid to take a little nip out of the Disney hand that feeds them. In one scene, Vanellope stumbles into a “Which Disney Princess Are You?” website, where she discovers the young women — everyone from Snow White to Ariel to Elsa — hanging out in a backroom between shows. They ask incredulously, “Do people think all your problems are solved because some big, strong man showed up?”
Having Ralph show up may not solve all our problems, but at least it makes us forget about them for a while. “Ralph Breaks the Internet” breaks us up.
Ralph Breaks the Internet
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG for action.