“Ralph Breaks the Internet” follows the favorite format of family movies today: Let the kids lap it up, while the parents quietly sob into their sleeves at the emotional storylines.
Like “Toy Story 3,” “Inside Out” and “Up” before it, the touching “Wreck-it Ralph” sequel is filled with cute characters children will adore, but it’s also a sneaky therapy session for older folks. The latest tough topic: Growing apart from your friends.
I’m not crying — you’re crying!
This time we’re back at Litwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade where Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) are still holding court in their video games during the day and palling around with other characters at night. But Vanellope, looking to spice up her dusty racing routine, accidentally lets her driving game’s steering wheel get broken by a confused player.
Game-less and desperate, Vanellope is accompanied by Ralph into the wild World Wide Web in an attempt to buy a replacement part from — where else? — eBay! First though, how to infiltrate WiFi …
“Wifey?” Vanellope says. “It’s either Wiffle ball or an arranged marriage game.” Once inside the internet, beautifully envisioned as an endless Tokyo-like metropolis, the cleverness of “Ralph” comes out to play.
Technology can be tough to toss into kids’ movies. The way “The Emoji Movie” did it was cynical and cold. The web of “Ralph,” however, has smarts and soul.
The film’s most fabulous scene finds Vanellope stumbling into the green room of a “Which Disney Princess are You?” quiz, where she meets Ariel, Belle, Mulan and other cartoon royalty in street clothes. The whole satirical sequence is a hoot.
The movie’s main conflict comes from paying for the steering wheel, as video game characters don’t have salaries. So, the pair tries a series of get-rich-quick schemes that are familiar pop-ups on our browsers: playing games to make money and making viral videos.
In an effort to make a buck stealing a valuable car for a high-rolling user, Vanellope hops into the driver’s seat of a video game called “Slaughter Race,” which takes place in the most grotesque, violent and unlivable city you can imagine. She loves it in a sort of “the pavement is always grimier on the other side” way.
That’s when cracks start to appear in this friendship — and the film, itself.
The climactic scene, in both story concept and design, is too complicated and peculiar for my tastes. But until that short blip, co-directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore’s (“Zootopia”) film is supremely intelligent, and Reilly and Silverman once again give deep-feeling vocal performances.