Wreck-It Ralph is a special film. Not only does it have the distinction of being the 50th feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios, but it also features all the qualities that have made the company's legacy so strong in the last 80-plus years, from its wonderfully-drawn characters and dynamic animation, to its hilarious script and miles of heart. Because of this, it was always going to be tough for a follow-up to match or exceed its predecessor -- and while Ralph Breaks The Internet doesn't quite clear that bar, it's absolutely spectacular to watch it try.
Expanding the world-building first movie by constructing a whole new universe of its own, the second chapter skillfully avoids all of the tropes and traps of typical sequels in magnificent fashion. It's a story that serves as a fantastic extension of the original, constructing a narrative that is a natural evolution from where the last one left off, and is packed to the brim with surprises, meta references and immense creativity that will keep you smiling and laughing throughout.
Directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, Ralph Breaks The Internet picks up a few years after its predecessor and finds heroes Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) in two very different places emotionally. Knowing that he has his diminutive friend by his side, Ralph has become immensely satisfied with his life and has no interest in it changing; however, Vanellope has grown bored of her racing game, Sugar Rush, and is desperate for a new challenge in her life.
This is a situation that becomes all the more serious when the steering wheel on Sugar Rush is broken, leading to the cabinet being unplugged -- but fortunately a solution is also introduced in the form of a router being hooked up in the arcade.
Understanding that a new steering wheel can be purchased online, Ralph takes Vanellope on an adventure to the internet, but they quickly find themselves in trouble when they accidentally purchase the Sugar Rush part for a whopping $27,001 -- leaving them only 24 hours to come up with the money. They begin a search for avenues towards profit, with Ralph becoming a massive viral video star thanks to the influence of an algorithm named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), but the experience also sees Vanellope beginning an obsession with an online game called Slaughter Race, and the titular hero's insecurities go haywire as he imagines the possibility of a life separated from his best friend.
The narrative doesn't quite have the same tight structure/organization that the first film did, doing a lot more bouncing around from place to place, road movie-style, but it remains solid on the immense strength of its character development. And while there might be some objections to how it changes perceptions of its predecessor, it's hard to argue with the truth. Ralph may have been content at the end of his first feature, but the reality is that your entire self-esteem should not balance on one individual's opinion, no matter how important they may be. On the opposite side of things for Vanellope, there's a growing understanding that it's equally unhealthy to sacrifice your own happiness for someone else's stability. These are deep, adult lessons that Ralph Breaks The Internet treats seriously and impressively while still being family-friendly, making a perfect foundation for the story.
The powerful protagonist progressions alone help the film avoid the worst sequel trap of them all, repetition, but that's obviously further enforced by giving the characters a whole new playground to explore -- and what a playground it is. Between his work on Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia, and now this, co-director Rich Moore has quickly established himself as the world building master of Walt Disney Animation, and the vision of the internet here is breathtaking, intricate, and (if we're being honest) far more delightful than the internet of reality. There is wonderful creativity at play used to explain the mechanics of the online experience in the context of a giant bustling city, and while not everything translates perfectly, you can't help but appreciate both what does work and the level of detail. It's a vivid, beautiful, and expansive world, and the film somehow manages to deeply explore while still leave you feeling like they only scratched the surface of possibilities.
Ralph Breaks The Internet is a rare treat. There is not a long legacy of theatrically-released Walt Disney Animation Studios sequels, with the list limited to Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000, and so there was never any guarantee that the movie would come together. As such, the film exists as a gamble, potentially taking the company into a new era, and fortunately it's one that has paid off. It's not only an often-hilarious romp through a fantastical new world, but what feels like a beautiful and emotional reunion with old friends. If you found yourself struck by the end credits of Wreck-It Ralph and asking the same questions in the Owl City song "When Can I See You Again?" you should prepare for an immensely satisfying experience.