As our art begins to react to the world of the Internet, we come across a fundamental problem: how do we talk about the Internet? When TV came into homes, film, radio, and print media all reacted to it in different ways. There was a visible and clear reaction to TV and for good reason. TV was a huge deal that changed the world for better or worse. As the Internet takes over our lives more and more with each passing second it seems, how exactly do we discuss this? Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to the surprise hit Wreck-It Ralph, follows a flurry of cinema that has begun to try to approach talking about the Internet ‘problem’. Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade attempted to explore the societal anxieties and pressures social media brings to youth, Searching, Slender Man, and the Unfriended franchise try and explore through a lens of horror.
Where Ralph Breaks the Internet attempts to venture is how the Internet impacts our personal real world relationships. It does this in a few key emotional moments, but largely, the film fails to seriously wrestle with anything real for too long. It dives momentarily into realms of drama, or it will explore an issue with real weight but pull out soon enough before things get too serious. Of course, this is the product of the film, meaning, no Disney film will venture far enough into topics of the Internet and the real world consequences of it, enough to actually be considered controversial.
The brief scene where Ralph discovers the dreaded comment section was as far as the film managed to get before things got too dirty. Ralph Breaks the Internet is an admirable attempt at exploring some real social issues, but more often than not, fails to genuinely acknowledge them long enough to provoke any meaningful conversation.
Ralph Breaks the Internet, however, may still be one of the boldest Disney films to have been released in the past decade, but it is hard to accomplish or grasp something as grand, intangible, or mysterious as the Internet. If anything the film showed that the only thing more complicated in our world than the Internet may just be trying to talk about it.
The film’s saving grace, its sharp humor, and dynamic world all work excellently. Where it fails in properly exploring the Internet, it does execute in character arcs and growing the two main characters. Vanellope is a woman who isn’t sure where she wants to end up. She doesn’t want to go home after seeing the worlds she can be in, where Ralph just can’t let go. These two characters are excellent foils and counterpoints to reactions to the Internet. Excitement and wide eyes, then hesitation and fear.
Additionally, its animation is stunning. Each website world is beautiful and lush. The films that Disney is consistently putting out are grand and beautiful without question, but all of that is expected at this point. We know Disney has and will push the envelope for animation.
Finally, having seen this over the Thanksgiving break with my niece and nephew I can’t not talk about the scene. The Princess scene and the whole Disney world were morbid unsettling self-nods. To see just how much content and properties Disney owns is appalling, and to see it portrayed in a Disney film was even more unsettling. We, as a society, are fully in the grasp of their creative fist, and there seems to be no escape from the mouse’s glove.
Ralph Breaks the Internet isn’t short of solid humor for the whole family, expected plot and characters, but you will have to keep looking if you hoped to find a fresh or successful exploration of the Internet.
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