“Ralph Breaks the Internet” takes us back to the moment in our lives when everything went to hell: the first time we connected to wifi.
After his travails in “Wreck-It Ralph,” John C. Reilly’s title character is the most contented arcade game character you’ll ever meet — his dream is to do the same thing every day, and he does it.
His bestie, tween racer Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), feels trapped in her boring driving game, Sugar Rush, a relic that only has three different tracks. While Ralph wants to chug the same root beer every night, Vanellope seeks more variety in her adventures.
One day, a kid breaks the steering wheel on the Sugar Rush game and the arcade owner decides it’s not worth his money to replace it. Suddenly Vanellope and her tween racers are going to be gameless — homeless — unless they travel through the unfamiliar internet port and find eBay, where someone is selling a replacement steering wheel.
When Vanellope and, more reluctantly, Ralph hop online, they find a dizzying wonderland of visuals that resembles the opening credits of HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” They’re lost until they find KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk) a search bar who auto-completes characters’ queries syllable by syllable before answering their true question.
After finding the steering wheel, Ralph and Vanellope enter an eBay auction against themselves and end up owing $27,001 to the seller, which is a lot of cash for an animated character to supply. Luckily, they are already on the internet, so they can click-through on get-rich-quick ads, like the one offered by J.P. Spamley (Bill Hader).
First they try to boost a car from Slaughter Race, a Grand Theft Auto-style celebration of debauchery and lawlessness, where Shank (Gal Gadot) is the most feared rider, and soon an inspiration for Vanellope.
Ralph refashions himself as a viral video star on a YouTube-like site run by Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), an algorithm who makes or breaks the cat video du jour. Ralph gets stung in the face by bees and suffers other depravities for those hearts and views — and cash – they provide.
Directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston from a screenplay by Johnston and Pamela Ribon (who co-wrote “Moana”), “Ralph Breaks the Internet” puts more emphasis on female empowerment than its predecessor.
The film’s best scene occurs when Vanellope stumbles into a room full of Disney Princesses, from Snow White to Moana, who are initially territorial. Cinderella breaks her glass slipper and threatens to stab Vanellope with the jagged edges until our heroine stammers that she too is royalty, “of the Sugar Rush von Schweetzes.”
The gowned cohort peppers her with hilarious questions as they seek proof that she’s a proper princess: “Were you poisoned?” “Cursed?” “Kidnapped or enslaved???” “Do people assume all your problems got solved because a big strong man showed up?” “Yes!” Vanellope exclaims. Finally satisfied, they offer to assist the youngster in her quest, which takes her on a different path than the increasingly forlorn Ralph.
The princesses are circumventing tropes about their lack of agency in earlier films… and they do it so well you can bet on a feature-length follow-up with all the Princesses by 2020 — nobody monetizes empowerment better than Disney. The film is a send-up of brand saturation that also serves as a vivid, $200 million extension of the Disney empire and its subsidiaries, from ESPN to Eeyore.
‘Ralph Break the Internet’
‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG. Running time 1:56. Visit www.cinemawest.com.