While the film feels overstuffed at points and a little too preoccupied with making every internet reference it can think of, the core story between Ralph and Vanellope is touching and shows what can happen when love curdles into possession.
Sequels are always hard, especially when the originals are beloved. But Wreck It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks The Internet manages to stick the landing with a new but complementary story and a touching, kid-friendly message about how friendships grow and change.
In Ralph Breaks The Internet, Vanellope has become disenchanted with the repetitiveness of her game Sugar Rush. With her rightful status as the game’s leader restored, she has grown intimately familiar with the game’s nooks and crannies and longs for something new and fresh. Ralph on the other hand finally has a life that satisfies him; a best friend who shares his passions and a community that appreciates the work he does to make their game popular and fun. In an order to satisfy Vanellope’s growing discontent, Ralph builds her a new track, but their hijinks lead to the destruction of the console’s steering wheel, putting the game and all its characters in danger. The game is too old to justify the expense of replacing the part.
In steps the internet, and eBay specifically; the internet superhighway leads them to the needed part. But after Ralph’s viral fame earns them the money they need, Vanellope’s curiosity and wanderlust lead her to a newer, more dangerous online racing game. There she finds Shank, who helps her realize that it’s okay to want more and that the internet can provide it. But Ralph sees this a threat to his perfect life, and selfishly tries to manipulate Vanellope into returning to the arcade with him by setting a virus loose in Shank’s game that eventually escapes and infects the entire internet.
While the film feels overstuffed at points and a little too preoccupied with making every internet reference it can think of, the core story between Ralph and Vanellope is touching and shows what can happen when love curdles into possession. Vanellope is about her desire to expand her horizons but doesn’t feel she can share them with her best friend for fear of letting him down. Ralph is so determined to preserve what he sees as the perfect balance in his life that he doesn’t see that his best friend is unhappy.
Ralph’s manipulation is a great demonstration of how men routinely exercise their will over the women in their lives. While this relationship isn’t romantic, it layers perfectly over controlling relationships that disadvantage women in order to coddle men’s egos. To have the final big bad be Ralph’s insecurity about his changing relationship with Vanellope was a clever way to indicate to young viewers that friendships must be allowed to change and grow as the people within them do the same. A differently oriented relationship does not necessarily mean a worse one.
In typical Ralph fashion, lots of destruction comes before any reckoning occurs, but his and Vanellope’s touching decision to part ways knowing they can always come back to each other. As they enter a new phase in their relationship to each other, they find a new way to relate, keeping the best parts and discarding the things that make them feel limited. It is a wonderful way to reduce such a fundamental message down into byte-sized pieces so that they are digestible to young audiences. The film is funny and entertaining, and ultimately a worthy sequel.