Ralph Breaks the Internet ★★★★

I expected this to be The Emoji Movie 2.0. The trailers were frankly pretty terrible, the Disney brand-milking was super obvious, and even as a massive fan of the first movie (it's my favorite modern Disney film) I couldn't imagine a world where this would be even close to as good.

Turns out, Ralph Breaks the Internet is just as hilarious, emotional, smart, and overall charming as its predecessor. Easily one of the most entertaining and heartwarming theater experiences I've had all year, and my whole family had an awesome time.

My biggest fear for this movie was that the vision of the internet it showed in the trailers would be nonsensical and underdeveloped. One of the things I loved most about the first movie was how well-fleshed-out and rich the world of the arcade was; at least on every level it needed to, it made total sense. From the looks of the trailers, the internet wasn't gonna be that way; it looked a whole lot more gimmicky and shallow than it should be.

All that said...I'm happy to report that I was dead wrong. I love everything about the vision of the internet presented here. Some things definitely had to be played up for the sake of plot and character (worthy causes, to be sure) but as a whole, the world the film presents makes a good amount of sense and it's also just a joy to watch onscreen. And beyond the intelligent logistical/visual presentation of the internet world - I really liked the depictions of Pop-Up ads and ad-blockers, btw - the thematic commentaries intertwined with it are really what make the whole film work. We're talking toxic masculinity, we're talking hate comments, we're talking viral video lifecycles, algorithms, and online personas vs. real life personas. Lots of this stuff is played for laughs, and it totally lands, but there's a good amount that really has some important things to say beneath the surface too. And best of all: the film doesn't feel out of touch. There's just enough brand recognition and IPs to keep it feeling like this is the *real* internet, but not so many that it feels like product placement. Even the fact that we're using knockoff Google instead of real Google is explained. I'd wager, actually, that this is Disney's most self-aware (and even humorously self-deprecating) movie to date. Stay all the way through the credits, you'll see what I mean.

More than anything, this film works because it's so anchored in the emotional dynamic between Ralph and Vanellope - a relationship covered with fart jokes but layered with insecurities and self-doubt. Everything in the film feels like the natural evolution of their relationship from the first film; nothing is tacked-on for the sake of a sequel. And ultimately, the resolution we end on is surprisingly bittersweet (as was the first movie's ending) and very sincere. As a huge fan of the first Wreck-it Ralph, this followup may not have quite hit the perfection of the original, but about as energetic and emotionally consistent as a sequel can get.