Ralph Breaks the Internet (Moore & Johnston, 2018)

There is a lot going on in Ralph Breaks the Internet outside of its family-friendly messaging about learning to let go of your insecurities and, by extension, the people you’re close to when it’s time for them to move on. In and of itself, that messaging is astute and worth championing in a film like this. The fact that it ends without some kind of last-minute reversal is also laudable. It made me appreciate this a smidgen more than I was going to—and then it we got that brilliant “Pancakes and Milkshakes” bit from the original teaser during the mid-credits, and I couldn’t help but like it. I gave in and said “Fine, you win, I’ll allow it.” Because some of the gags in this one are actually quite good? If only the entire film were smoother and less concerned with trying to drag out this thin story to be nearly two hours in length!

The reason I’m not entirely sold on this is that, like others before me, I feel this comes off as slyly consumerist propaganda targeted to children and young adults, and that Disney is merely hawking its assets under the guise of a lovable ol’ adventure tale. Everything in this is corporatized and branded up the wazoo, and the underlying subtext here is that we must passively accept the Internet’s cornucopia because it has simplified our lives to such a great extent that we can never go back to the “Before” of it all. And while writing this I’m wondering if Vanellope’s decision to abandon Sugar Rush(i.e. that very same “Before”) for Slaughter Race (i.e. the unlimited stimulation of an Internet-based existence) is not an insidious allegory encouraging kids to stay as connected as possible. Because then, guess what, they can enjoy all the perks that Disney’s online existence has to offer! It’s no wonder casual Internet users are portrayed here as sheep-like avatars blithely being moved hither and tither to this brand and that, as though their agency was almost nonexistent.

I’m sorry to be cynical about this, because on its own, its cuteness is contagious, and the animation work splendid. I’d be remiss if I ignored its rampant pro-consumerist bent, which looms so largely over everything that I’d be skeptical of any review that didn’t highlight it. I liked the first film well enough, so if there is a third one, I hope it stops being a corporate jumble and more, you know, heartfelt and sincere about friendships and kindness and all that good stuff.