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Ralph Breaks the Internet

Year: 2018
Studio: Disney
Director: Phil Johnson/Rich Moore
Writer: Phil Johnston/Pamela Ribon/Rich Moore/Jim Reardon
Cast: John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P Henson, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O'Neill, John DiMaggio, Jason Mantzoukas, Tim Allen, Anthony Daniels, Vin Diesel, Kristen Bell, Auli'i Cravalho, Kelly Macdonald, Idina Menzel, Mandy Moore, Ming-Na Wen, Bill Hader

I'm still not sure what appealed to me about Wreck-It Ralph – maybe the tech- and geek-friendly conceit of classic videogame characters who come to life after hours bought me in, but it helped a great deal that the obligatory moral message (the adulation of a friend who really cares about you is worth a million anonymous plaudits) not only wasn't cloying, it was actually effective.

The flavoursome treats that carried you through that story were the funny jabs at video-game culture and how it intersects with real life (the minions support group with the zombie encouraging everyone not to live by labels was a standout), and Ralph Breaks the Internet promised even more of it, this time with the whole online world as its foil.

And it didn't disappoint. There's still the simplistic emotional backbone (we all have to follow our own paths, but it doesn't mean we can't still be connected), but the scattershot gags about everything form internet pop-ups to the dark web come thick and fast like the best work of Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

Ralph (John C Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) are happy in the arcade and their respective games, with the latter getting just a bit bored with racing the same track each day. One day however, a whole new universe is opened up to them when Mr Litwak (Ed O'Neill) gets the arcade online. When the steering wheel on Vanellope's game breaks and some young customers figure out how much a new one will cost in the internet, Litwak decides it's time to mothball the game, which will leave Vanellope homeless.

But when her and Ralph discover the world of the Internet – portrayed onscreen like a cross between Tron and The Axiom (the gigantic ship bearing the last of humanity from Wall.E), they realise they can find and buy the broken wheel on eBay if they raise the money.

They set about doing it by answering a pop up scam depicted by a shyster hawking a dodgy sounding scheme that's too good to be true, finding artifacts in online games. All Vanellope and Ralph need to acquire is a car belonging to Shank (Gal Gadot), the merciless leader of a crew of drivers in a Grand Theft Auto-style game. Ralph is horrified at how chaotic and dangerous it is, but Vanellope secretly loves the freedom and thrills the new game offer.

While they pursue the funds to pay for their steering wheel through various quests and Vanellope grows closer to Shank, wondering if she's outgrowing Ralph's friendship, the script takes any number of clever jabs at online life and culture from the vacuous content that distracts the masses for likes, favourites, etc to the endless memes that sweep the airwaves like wildfire.

Being a Disney movie it all ends neatly enough with lessons learned, arcs completed, etc. If (like me) you find that stuff all enough to gag on, it might be that the creative direction from on high at the company is trying to soften the traditional approach – or maybe I'm just getting old and soft – but it isn't as sickly sweet as it is in most family movies.

But the laughs at concepts and ideas you recognise from the digital realm given four dimensions and characterisations come thick and fast, and it's the very model of a successful sequel – bigger, better, maintaining the tone, and just similar enough to be different.

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