Everybody used to think of Wreck-It Ralph as a bad guy, the big, lumbering fellow who always destroyed everybody’s arcade-gaming fun. But when he became best buds with Vanellope, a feisty little cutie from the racing game Sugar Rush, it changed everything.
Since then, life as a video game character in Mr. Litwak’s Family Fun Center has been good. Well, for Ralph, anyway. I mean, he would be satisfied if things just trundled along like they always have ‘til the end of time. You do your job in your own arcade game by day, and you meet your pals for a cheery root beer at Tappers by night.
Vanellope, however, isn’t so content. Maybe it’s her sugar-fueled lifestyle. She loves Ralph and the gang and all, but … she sure wishes there could be something new in her racing game once in a while. She knows every track, she’s mastered every turn. If only there could be more.
Of course, when your BFF tells you she wants something new, naturally, you wanna help. So Ralph takes his big old sledge hammer fists into Sugar Rush to mix things up a bit. And … things don’t go so well. In fact, his actions end up breaking the game.
And a broken arcade game will get unplugged.
And an unplugged game means really bad things for that games’ racing residents.
And there’s only so much time before a glitching Vanellope might just glitch her way out of existence.
Ralph has to fix this problem, pronto. Fortunately, Mr. Litwak recently installed something called WiFi in the arcade. That may sound like a game about arranged marriage—it did to Ralph—but it’s really an open door to a fantastic place called the internet. And Ralph has heard that you can get anything in there, even an old part for an ancient arcade game. How hard can it possibly be?
Soon, he and Vanellope set off together for this virtual utopia, in search of the proper part. All they have to do along the way is figure out how to get their hands on something called money.
That shouldn’t be too hard in a wondiferous, wish-fulfilling wonderland like the World Wide Web.
Ralph Breaks the Internet focuses on the theme of how friendships evolve over time. And it suggests that sometimes you have to step back and give friends space to make their own choices—even choices you don’t agree with. Vanellope, for instance, decides that she wants to race in an online game that’s dangerous and destructive. Ralph hates the idea, but after several attempts to change her mind, he steps aside. “We gotta trust her,” Ralph suggests. “Because that’s what best friends do.” “All friendships change,” someone else adds, “but the good ones, they get stronger because of it.”
As this movie’s title suggests, it’s not long before Wreck-It Ralph “breaks” the internet, setting off a digitally destructive chain of events. After he realizes what he’s done, Ralph puts his own existence on the line to save Vanellope. She does the same. Ralph and Vanellope eventually express their platonic love for each other as dear friends.
When the Sugar Rush game goes down, Felix and his wife, Calhoun, (two “married” characters from two other games) decide to adopt all of that broken game’s young racers and give them a solid home. Another game character warns, “I know that you’ve been married six months, and you want to spice things up. But adopting 15 kids is not the right spice.” However, we later see that all of those rambunctious kid racers have become better and more caring people because of their adoptive family environment.
The movie also suggests, in a cautionary way, that internet users can easily waste far too many hours watching nonsensical detritus online. Ralph, in fact, even tries to monetize that human desire for silly stuff (as he’s in need of money to buy that coveted part) and makes some videos of his own. But when Ralph checks the comment feed on his videos, he sees many negative and hurtful comments that internet trolls have left—calling him a “worthless bum” and the like. “This place can bring out the worst in some people,” Ralph is told.
After adopting those 15 racers, Felix nervously says, “Now I’m the father of 15 kids … isn’t that a blessing?” When heading off to the internet, Ralph tells Vanellope, “Put on your church shoes, Little Sister.”
Ralph and Vanellope find their way into a racing game called Slaughter Race, and the big boss there is a female character named Shank who wears a formfitting leather outfit.
Shank, who’s tough as nails, ushers Vanellope into a gritty game that’s set in a dark-‘n’-dirty urban underworld. It’s a trash-strewn place where racers crash their cars, vehicles explode, rubbish burns in heaps and a shark pops out of a manhole to swallow a fierce-looking dog. Two avatars get crisped by flamethrowers (off-screen). Those visuals, though, are all still pretty cartoony, and the “dying” characters return for another try. Still, Ralph shares his negative opinion of Shank’s races saying, “Those games rot your brains.”
Apart from that game in particular, we see an ongoing carousel of thumping, tumbling, swirling violence centered around Ralph and Vanellope. They fall into and over things in the internet, and they’re sent stumbling about or racing through that fast-paced world. When a computer virus multiplies Ralph’s insecurities into an army of bumbling, destructive Ralphs, things get a little perilous for the friends.
A cute video game character eats so much that it explodes (off-screen), causing a human child who’s playing the game on a tablet to cry out in fear.
Along with a couple exclamations of “good lord,” we also hear uses of “what the heck,” “gosh dang it,” “oh my gosh” and “Mother Hubbard!”
Ralph and a friend drink mugs of root beer in a pub-like game called Tappers.
We hear a number of poop and butt jokes, as well as phrases such as, “Farting is such sweet sorrow,” and, “See ya, stink brain.”
Movies are at their best when, instead of telling you what you should be thinking or feeling about something, they ask you to consider certain ideas instead. And that’s definitely where Ralph Breaks the Internet gets it right.
At the end of the first film in this Disney franchise, Wreck-It Ralph, the titular hero/bad guy walked away convinced that he didn’t have to be defined by his job (i.e., being a building-crushing villain in a video game). Instead he was defined by the self-sacrificial choices he made and the friendships he formed.
But is that enough? this sequel asks. It then prompts us to ponder several other parallel questions:
What do you do when your friendships change?
What if you discover that your “friends” aren’t really all that nice?
Where do you fit? When do you walk away?
What makes you … you?
Those are solid questions for kids to chew over with parents and pals on the ride home from the theater. And as it asks questions like those, this pic also takes a couple humor-packed swings at issues such as cyberbullying and being consumed by a viral-video world. Even the Disney princesses—all 11 of them—get into the act of comically challenging convention. (And I, for one, would love to see a Disney princess team-up pic in the very near future.)
That said, there’s Ralph’s other mega-sized muddy boot to be aware of, too. He and Vanellope are constantly tag-teaming potty puns, butt jokes and all manner of name-calling giggles while on their adventure through the internet.
And those things, no doubt, will likely be the first things your kids talk about on the ride home.
For more ideas on how to help your kids build solid friendships, check out these resources:
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.