Wreck-It Ralph’s sequel decides to show us that sometimes one person’s happily-ever-after is another person’s doldrums.
It’s been six years since Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) took down King Candy (Alan “I love this man” Tudyk) and returned Vanellope to being the princess of the game Sugar Rush. The pair are now best friends, hanging out at Litwak’s Family Fun Center and Arcade together every night. Ralph is happy with his life, but Vanellope is getting bored of the limited tracks available in her racing game. Ralph attempts to make a new one, but ends up breaking the game. The pair head to the internet to try and find a new part before the game gets unplugged. Along the way, they run into a tough female racer named Shank (Gal Gadot) from the internet game Slaughter Race, the algorithm from a video streaming site named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), a search engine named KnowsMore (Alan “I really love this man” Tudyk), and every single Disney princess.
Wreck-It Ralph had several themes, but the focus of Ralph’s and Vanellope’s arcs were on how they were being defined by others. Ralph was constantly looked down upon, because he IS the villain of his game, but he was still a nice guy who just wanted people to like him. Vanellope is looked down upon because she is regarded as a “glitch.” Neither of them had any choice in these traits, but they both are burdened with the consequences of them. Throughout the movie, Ralph manages to come to terms with his situation by realizing that it doesn’t matter if all of the other characters in his game think of him as a hero, because he’s a hero to Vanellope and knows he’s doing the right thing. Vanellope, similarly, refuses to be regarded just as a glitch and, in fact, manages to turn her glitching into a superpower. At the end of the film, both of them now have moved beyond caring what anyone else thinks and have defined themselves both on their own terms and also in the terms of their friendship: Ralph’s the Hero, Vanellope’s the Racer.
Their major arcs in the first film arise from existential crises where they are both trying to avoid being forced to adopt the values that society has placed upon them, a concept that Sartre referred to as “Bad Faith.” Ralph ends up mostly avoiding acting in bad faith because at the end of the movie, he doesn’t need the medal that he was seeking the whole film, he just needs to act like the hero he knew he could be. He even says one of the ultimate existential lines “there is no one I’d rather be than me.” He is now living authentically, in existential terms, which leads him to a place where he feels truly happy with the role he now plays of his own volition.
That’s where this movie picks up the ball and runs with it in a pretty solid way. Ralph is happy at this point. He’s never had friends or been a hero, so having Vanellope as a friend and being her hero has made him satisfied. However, Vanellope is a racer. She lives for the challenge and now she doesn’t have it anymore, because she’s just too much better than any of the other racers. The core conflict of the movie arises from the fact that she and Ralph care about each other, but she no longer is happy just spending time with him. She needs fulfillment. When her game is in danger of being unplugged, she still agrees with Ralph’s plans to try and save it, but she knows that deep down she really doesn’t want to return to it. The rest of her arc in the movie is trying to find fulfillment in her life. Ralph’s arc, in response, is to learn how to deal with her leaving. Having never had a friend before, he is afraid of being alone again. Rather than just authenticity, she’s seeking self-actualization and he’s seeking self-determination. It’s a great way to progress their story after the end of the last film.
But, boring thematic stuff aside, this movie does for the internet what Inside Out did for the human brain: Comes up with a clever way to represent the structure of it that’s intuitive and not particularly inaccurate. It has an insane number of references and sight gags, particularly if you were on the internet in the early days of AOL through now. The movie addresses social media, e-commerce, viral marketing, and even internet comment threads (though the lack of racial slurs makes it unrealistic).
However, Disney really saved up the big shot for when it’s representing OhMyDisney where they manage to cram in more references, callbacks, in-jokes, and just flat-out nostalgia bombs in about 5 minutes than I would have thought possible. Then, they bring in the princesses. Yes, every Disney princess is in this movie, and they’re all amazing. Almost all of them are portrayed by their original voice actresses. They even get a scene in which they work together to subvert the damsel-in-distress trope. It’s contrived, to be sure, but watching all of them use all of their skills in tandem and play off of each other ends up making it less corny and more awesome.
Overall, this is a great sequel, a great movie, has a lot of solid gags, and a message that actually is pretty unique for the genre. Oh, and it has the best mid-credits and after-credits meta-gags I’ve ever seen. Do not leave.
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