Not every Disney film is going to be as massive a hit as “Frozen.” The only way to reach that level of excellence is to make sure every character, joke, background and line of dialogue is as close to perfect as possible from the moment the company logo flashes across the screen until the long list of credits finish.
“Ralph Breaks the Internet,” the sequel to 2012’s “Wreck-It Ralph,” accomplishes this only about two-thirds of the time. Of course, one can make an argument that a Disney film that only delivers two-thirds of the time is still better than when other studios are 100 percent great. That’s Disney’s curse and creative heritage.
The sequel, directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, picks up with Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) living a happy existence as characters in their respective video games. A crisis occurs when the driving wheel for Vanellope’s “Sugar Rush” game is broken, and if a replacement isn’t found, her game will be unplugged.
Ralph and Vanellope travel to the internet to find a replacement part. The problem is the pair must raise the funds to pay for the new driving wheel before their eBay purchase expires.
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This is where “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is at its best. Screenplay writers Johnston and Pamela Ribon create a visual and verbal assault on the internet tropes presented like high-speed data. Nothing is off limits as the film fires huge comic broadsides at the endless love for silly videos to a trip inside the Disney corner of the streaming world.
The movie’s crowning achievement comes when Vanellope stumbles into the green room for all the Disney princesses. This isn’t just a case of having the rights to use the characters. The directors went the extra vocal mile by bringing back the majority of voice talents who originated the roles, including Mandy Moore (“Tangled”), Jodi Benson (“Little Mermaid”), Idina Menzel (“Frozen”), Paige O’Hara (“Beauty and the Beast”), Anika Noni Rose (“The Princess and the Frog”) and others.
Technically, Vanellope qualifies as one of the princesses after starring in “Wreck-It Ralph,” but she’s missing the one thing that will seal the deal: a song. The tune Vanellope finally performs is a classic bit of composing by musical superstar Alan Menken that should be top of the list for an Oscar nomination.
Having all of the princesses from Snow White to Moana in the same room opens up the comedy doors for everything from the women griping about how they are always being saved by men to how so many of them are motherless. The segment is so amazing plans should be made to make a feature film starring the princesses.
The other big strength is the chemistry between Silverman and Reilly. It’s only their voices, but they play the roles with such love and concern for each other that the animated characters seem deeply connected.
Then “Ralph Breaks the Internet” hits the firewall.
Ralph’s efforts to use a computer virus to keep Vanellope from becoming part of a dangerous driving game infect the entire internet. At one point Vanellope is terrorized by a creature made up of thousands of wriggling and writhing Ralphs. The animation turns a fun tale into a sequence from Dante’s “Inferno” with lost-soul imagery.
To that point, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” would have been the perfect holiday movie. Other Disney animated films have had dark moments, but this is by far the most unsettling. A lot has to do with how light and fun the first two acts are presented. There are also some big problems with the conclusion that can’t be discussed without spoilers. Both are examples of how what could have been a great film ends up being merely good.
There are enough good moments in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” that you should not delete any ideas of seeing it. Just be ready to hit escape when things turn to the dark web.
‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’
Rated PG for some action and rude humor.