“RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET” — 3 stars — John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson; PG (some mild crude humor and some intense animated action sequences); general release; running time: 112 minutes
Set six years after the events of 2012’s “Wreck-It Ralph,” Disney’s similarly fun and creative “Ralph Breaks the Internet” follows the titular, good-natured, digital lunk on a dangerous journey into cyberspace.
As the film opens, Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is living his perfect life in Litwak's Arcade. When he isn’t on the clock at his native game, he’s visiting neighbor games like Tron or Madden Football, grabbing a digital root beer at Tapper's, or best of all, hanging out with his best friend Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who has been tearing things up in the Sugar Rush racing game.
This ideal life is shattered when Sugar Rush breaks down, threatening to leave Vanellope “homeless.” Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill) doesn’t want to buy a new steering wheel for the console, and if the game gets retired, Vanellope and her fellow racers will have to find new homes, where video game “death” is permanent.
Salvation — or at least hope for it — arrives when Litwak installs a mysterious new game called “Wi-Fi.” Once they figure out what has plugged itself into the arcade, Ralph and Vanellope deduce that some quality time on the information superhighway might land Sugar Rush a new steering wheel, setting all things right in their own little corner of the universe.
So Ralph and Vanellope head off into cyberspace, where popular sites like Twitter become colorful, animated virtual realities. An easy score at eBay turns into a harsh lesson about the nature of bidding wars. A run-in with a sexy, savvy drag racer named Shank (Gal Gadot) suggests the grass may be greener on the other side of the Ethernet cable. An algorithm named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) may be able to help set everything straight, but nothing is guaranteed on the wild, wild web.
Directed by Phil Johnston and Rich Moore, who helmed the first film, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is a creative critique of our tech-heavy culture, as Ralph and Vanellope’s adventures take them to mainstream sites, the seedy world of pop-up get-rich-quick scams and even into the seedy underbelly of the dark web. (There’s also a Disney-themed encounter that is pretty much the highlight of the film.)
At the same time, the film’s use of familiar franchises puts “Ralph Breaks the Internet” on the same spectrum with “The Lego Movie” and “The Emoji Movie” in terms of obvious product placement. (This seems especially apparent when certain websites are presented clearly, while others — BuzzTube? — are more ambiguous.)
Fortunately, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” leans more on “The Lego Movie” end of the spectrum, blending incisive wit and humor with some excellent animation and a thoughtful story. Some great animation really brings the cyberspace world to life — look for an especially haunting creation in the third act — and best of all, they don’t cast Sir Patrick Stewart as a pile of doo-doo.
The result is a creative family-friendly adventure that's a clear step above most of the other animated options currently vying for families' attention. It may be a little strange that a sequel is preaching the “get out of your comfort zone” theme — the dive into cyberspace is especially daring — but the sequel has also reloaded the “Wreck-it Ralph” series with a purpose especially relevant this Thanksgiving season: a reminder to never take for granted a good friendship.
Rating explained: "Ralph Breaks the Internet" draws a PG rating for some mild crude humor and some intense animated action sequences.