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Ralph Breaks the Internet has become something of an in-joke between my friends and I since we saw it on a whim over a month ago. We’d all grown up watching the weird, half-baked, direct-to-DVD Disney films, but I don’t remember ever seeing a sequel that gets as weird and meta as Ralph Breaks the Internet being released in cinemas. It reminds me of the weird and wonderful films and franchises we got about a decade ago that managed to sneak in adult humour that we weren’t able to understand when we first watched them, but see clearly now. It's a welcome antidote to how mundane and unambitious kids films can be—how did four live-action Alvin and the Chipmunks films get made? Sure, Pixar can deliver an emotional gut punch like they did with Coco and Inside Out, but ever since Toy Story 3, their track record has been inconsistent and I’m still not sure how Brave beat the original Wreck It Ralph for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. But Ralph Breaks the Internet really touches upon the weird days of the Robert Rodriguez family films like Spy Kids and Sharkboy and Lavagirl by being the next guilty pleasure family film that I hope will someday be as ingrained in meme culture as the live-action Scooby Doo films are now.
The film is admittedly a lot more unfocused than its predecessor, but that just adds to the bewildering experience you get watching the film. The frequent location jumping is unlike the original, which unfortunately only stuck to three of the arcade games in the film’s setting. This hyperactivity also makes some of the narrative beats awkwardly funny as some gambits either don’t pay off in the way the writer’s expected to or they come out of nowhere to deliver some of the biggest and most unexpected laughs. There’s even a very random cameo from an unexpected YouTube star who gets accidentally killed by Ralph with no consequence for him. This is perhaps a bit messed up for a kids film, but it just slides. The film can be very hit and miss, but some of the film’s missed opportunities manage to garner chuckles, like when Gal Gadot’s Shank says her final poorly written lines and awkwardly pauses as if she had something funnier to say. Everyone regardless of age will appreciate their parody of Disney Princess songs in Vannelope's spotlight showstopper "A Place Called Slaughter Race," which is definitely Oscar-worthy and is probably the best use of the meta commentary on Disney Princesses that they really pushed for in the trailers. Some elements are definitely shoehorned in like Felix and Calhoun’s purposely inaudible secret to great parenting—a pretty lame joke given to characters who get nothing interesting to do in the whole film. But when the film takes even more risky turns, it works out for the better because once you see Gord, the viral videos that Ralph makes and the puns they make about tumours and cysts, they get into the dark web, which left me speechless.
In all the confusing product placement and meta commentary on the internet—don’t look at the comments, Ralph—there is a heart to the plot and it gives us a look at changing friendship dynamics. It is pretty mature and genuinely emotional for a film that looked remarkably similar to The Emoji Movie. Although some of the lines are laughably tone deaf like when Vannelope screams, “Wow, Ralph, you destroyed all of your insecurities,” it does provide a mature message for children about letting your friends move on, respecting their new interests, and letting them follow their own path. Even though Ralph never gets any credit for fighting so hard to get the steering wheel for Vannelope’s broken game that she doesn't return to anyway, and which started their adventure on the internet in an admittedly flimsily plotted film, the journey is still worthwhile. They also never help out clickbait ad man JP Spamley who really helped both of them out, but ends up a forgotten plot hole, and they don’t return the favour, which is pretty rude. Overall, the film gives a fun and meaningful look at friendship that delivers some of Disney’s most inspired comedic writing, as well as some really unforgettable weird detours that will stick in your mind for some time.