In "Ralph Breaks the Internet," the 8-bit giant and his bestie Vanellope are living a predictable arcade life of Tron and root beer. When a broken steering wheel and an overpriced replacement put Vanellope's racing game on a permanent hiatus, the two transport to the Internet to get that wheel.
The animated sequel to 2012's "Wreck-It Ralph" doesn't disappoint in its themes or laughs through a bubbly and satirical look at cyberspace, its blockheaded user-avatars, an Ask Jeeves facsimile. You wouldn't expect less from the people behind "Zootopia," directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore (whose credits include "The Simpsons" and "Futurama").
John C. Reilly's wide and low vocal range is perfect for Ralph, a former villain with huge hands, whose go-to fix is to ram through it. Comic Sarah Silverman voices Vanellope in a sweet, semi-screechy tone, perfect for her character. Knowing Silverman's work adds an on-point edge to this thrill-seeking racer princess with hard candies in her hair.
Gal Gadot ("Wonder Woman," y'all) zooms in as Shank, the main character of an online game, who helps steer the pair in the right direction. Her voice is vaguely raspy, warm and authoritative, also the perfect fit.
Screenwriters Johnston and Pamela Ribon ("Moana") turn some stereotypes on their heads when Ralph and Vanellope meet Shank and her crew. More laughs and mind-boggling come when Vanellope visits Oh My Disney land and stumbles upon iconic princesses Ariel, Elsa, Moana, more. (Spoiler alert: Cinderella makes a shiv out of her glass slipper.)
Hearing "Disney" may summon the slimy feels due to its past harmful (albeit improving) portrayals of women, romance, Stockholm syndrome. It seems the Mickey Mouse mogul is making amends, and light fun of themselves, as the Disney ladies quiz Vanellope on past princess standards. (“Were you kidnapped or enslaved?”)
As the pair travel through the Interwebs, though, you get the unlimited yet limiting sense of the cyberworld, and it seems a grim self-reflection with a silver lining. This film does start to feel like an ad for Amazon, Google, Snapchat. (You wonder what sparked the mashup of BuzzTube vs. the real thing.)
In this, "Ralph Breaks the Internet" is very much of its time, as the awareness and dialogue around toxic masculinity is front and center. And it reinforces openness and a remedy with lines like "I respect your wonderful display of vulnerability," "Losing builds character," and positive self-talk when a man comforts himself after failing, "You still have value, Butcher Boy."
Like animated "Inside Out" or Netflix's "Big Mouth," "Ralph Breaks the Internet" impressively conceptualizes intangible realms. Its predecessor was nominated for an Oscar; its sequel is no doubt worth one, too.
And with filmmakers like these adding to the collective consciousness, the future's looking up.
"Ralph Breaks the Internet"
Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot
Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Screenwriters: Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon
Rating: Rated PG for some action and rude humor
Now showing: Premiere, Duluth 10, Lakes 10