Ralph Breaks the Internet
Directed by Phil Johnston and Rich Moore
Back in the spring, when I called Ready Player One a "manipulative, pandering, nostalgic m'eh", I also wrote, "(f)or a crash course on how to balance pop culture 'oh, I remember that thing' moments with a story with emotional depth, turn to Wreck-It Ralph." I never considered then that 2018 would be bracketed by two trips down nostalgia lane, two films overloaded with pop culture touch points and references. And even if I had, I never would have considered that the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph would reach any of the heights of the first one. If you had asked me back in March how I felt about Ralph 2, I would have said something along the lines of "who cares about Ralph 2? The only film in November that's going to be any good is the Queen movie. That won't be controversial at all and it will tell the true story of one of the great bands of Ever and it won't cause me any distress and no-one will say anything mean in the comments. Ralph 2? That'll go over like Bambi 2." Spring of 2018 was a much more innocent time.
And here we are on the other end of 2018. The world has gotten a whole lot crazier, Steamboat Willie has turned ninety, and the folks at Disney have released a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph that can sit on the same shelf as the original.
In the six years since the original, Ralph and Vanellope have spent their off-time hanging out, drinking root beer at Tappers, and hanging out in other games. Ralph is content in the stability of sunrise, work, sunset, hang out with his best friend. He's more than content, he is genuinely happy and doesn't understand when Vanellope talks about how she wants more from life. She doesn't know what more means, just that she's bored with the same tracks, the same routine. Anyway, Sugar Rush breaks and a part is needed and Ralph and Vanellope go to the internet and stuff happens and I'm not going to spoil a thing.
Like the first movie, the settings in Ralph 2 are astounding, true works of entertainment and art. Fully realized by people who obviously feel great love and affection for the things that they are bringing to life.
An example. The internet in Ralph Breaks the Internet needs to be seen. The towers, wide spaces, avatars, pop-ups, click bait, file sharing, online shopping, memes, kernels and data transfers and probably a thousand other things I missed. They're all there. There are jokes and puns and jokes within jokes, visual and verbal, some that only serious tech heads will catch. There are things that will whiz by, things in the shadows, that will only be caught with multiple viewings. When a character ends up at the physical bottom of the internet we see that the whole thing is built on the foundations of what came before. In the background there are references to chat rooms and bulletin boards and Netscape. The attention to detail is breathtaking. Like how the Land of the Dead in Coco is built on a foundation of forgotten Aztec legends. Remember how the internet was portrayed in Johnny Mnemonic? Ralph Breaks the Internet is nothing like that.
The jokes, the humour, the puns, visual and verbal, in Ralph 2 aren't all tech, they aren't all jokes for the guy that sold you your computer and now won't answer why you suddenly have have embarrassing ads over to the right. That's just one of the many, many levels Ralph 2 works on. Like the original, there is humour for the wee ones, the middle ones, and the older ones. There is stuff that all will find funny, there is stuff that will leave most of the adults confused while the kids are trying to catch their breath.
And it's not just wall to wall jokes, there are real feelings in Ralph Breaks the Internet, real emotions.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is, really and honestly, great fun and a great film and a great way to spend a couple of hours. And it breaks so, so, so many rules. John August, writer of Big Fish and Corpse Bride and a lot of other Tim Burton films, has pointed out on Twitter the various rules Ralph 2's screenplay breaks. I won't go into them because, well, I'd be spoiling giant chunks of the film. But I can say that after seeing the movie it feels like a small miracle it was ever released, especially by a giant corporation like Disney. Ralph Breaks the Internet is weirder and more honest and has greater stakes than nearly any other Disney property that I can think of right now. The film flows organically, nothing feels forced. It is among the year's bravest mainstream films, if not the bravest.
I can't recommend Ralph Breaks the Internet enough. There aren't enough words. Sure, that spark of the unknown is missing. This is a sequel, the unknown will always be the missing quantity. But the surprises in Ralph Breaks the Internet are worth the price of admission. The story, the performances, the visuals, the nuances, everything comes together in an amazing piece of entertainment.
And a couple of sad notes. We lost Ricky Jay this weekend. Probably more famous for his magic and his card tricks and his ability to throw a playing card into a watermelon, Ricky Jay was also a great actor, a presence who brought an air of authenticity to his roles. Whether he was playing a magician or a con man or whatever, he was always a welcome presence no matter the project. Check out his work in House of Games, Boogie Nights, Magnolia or The Prestige. He was the best thing about Tomorrow Never Dies. And do yourself a favour and watch Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay.
And I still have to come to terms with the fact that Stan Lee is gone. My earliest memories of reading are Marvel comics. Trying to figure what "it's clobberin' time", or "'nuff said" meant, worrying about Peter Parker and Ben Grimm and Bruce Banner. Because of his belief that these characters should have real human drama, characters in tights have joined our pantheon of mythic heroes. His impact on our culture will be estimated at some future point. From where I'm sitting right now, I think it was pretty epic.