Ralph Breaks the Internet (Photo: Disney)

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Phil Johnston & Rich Moore
STARS John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman

Ralph may have saved the arcade game six years ago, but now Ralph Breaks the Internet in the latest animated adventure featuring the lovable lug with more brawn than brains.

A sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet first and foremost expands upon the relationship between the overgrown kid Ralph (again voiced by John C. Reilly), who toils as the antagonist in the arcade game Fix-It Felix Jr., and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), the star of the racing game Sugar Rush and, as it’s revealed late in the first picture, a bona fide princess. Now best friends, Ralph and Vanellope are put to the test when an attempted good deed on Ralph’s part results in the steering wheel control on the Sugar Rush game being irreparably damaged.

All seems lost for Vanellope and the other game denizens until Ralph learns of something called “wi-fi” – or, as he pronounces it, “wifey.” Wi-fi leads to a magical land called the Internet, which in turn leads to a place called eBay, which in turn leads to the possible acquisition of the only known Sugar Rush replacement steering wheel in existence. So off Ralph and Vanellope go, whisked onto the Internet and into a land of viral videos, eager-to-accommodate search engines, and, of course, mean-spirited user comments.

There’s no shortage of imagination on tap in Ralph Breaks the Internet, and while the film doesn’t quite reach the bar set by its predecessor, it’s propulsive enough to build up enough goodwill long before it reaches its rocky third act. For that, thank the five writers who know how to make the most out of their online milieu.

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Product placement in cinema is generally frowned upon, but how could one make a movie about the Internet and not include shout-outs to Amazon, Wikipedia and IMDb (to name but three of the logos occasionally popping up in the background)? And the name-dropping doesn’t end with the corporations — since this is a Disney picture, expect cameos from all manner of characters stationed under the Mouse House. Some are fleeting (Baymax), some are superfluous (oh, hi, C-3PO), some are poignant (R.I.P. Stan Lee), and some are clever (“I am Groot”). There’s even a bit in which Princess Vanellope meets the other Disney princesses for a lengthy chat – it’s easily the best sequence in the entire film.

The emotional content — and conflict — arrives when Vanellope befriends a hardcore racer named Shank (Gal Gadot), leading Ralph to worry that his BFF will abandon him in order to join forces with her new gal pal in a dangerous game known as Slaughter Race. While the bond between Ralph and Vanellope represents the heart of the film, it’s eventually played out in a manner that feels too familiar even by the dictates of the standard Disney life lessons. It also leads to a protracted, Kong-size climax that fails to match the innovation seen throughout the rest of the picture.

After all, when Al Gore’s name is the subject of clever word play, a visual grotesquerie is inspired by Total Recall, and a gross-out gag is successfully lifted from the Monty Python playbook, it’s clear that here’s a children’s movie that has its game on.

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