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MOVIES: Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 - Review

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Five years after the events of Wreck-It Ralph, the videogame bad-guy-turned-hero (John C. Reilly) has settled into a comforting routine with his best pal, Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). But while Ralph is perfectly content to clock out at the end of the day and head over to Tapper's for a couple of root beers, the lack of excitement and variety is wearing on Vanellope.

When Ralph tries to liven things up by altering one of the race tracks in Sugar Rush, the plan backfires spectacularly, resulting in the machine's steering wheel being broken - and with the game's manufacturer no longer in business, a replacement part is far too costly. With the game unplugged and its inhabitants left without a home, Ralph and Vanellope venture out of the arcade and onto the internet in hopes of procuring a suitable replacement part before the arcade proprietor (Ed O'Neill) elects to sell the machine for parts.

This time around, the constant parade of videogame characters, references and in-jokes takes a backseat - with the exception of brief sequences that bookend the film, characters like Street Fighter's Ryu and Zangief, or even returning favorite like Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Calhoun (Jane Lynch) are barely given any screentime. Instead, Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 is stuffed to the gills with major online brands (Snapchat, Fandango and Amazon are prominently featured) and jokes about everything from an aggressive auto-complete function to annoying pop-up ads that seem to follow users from site to site.

There's also an ultra-violent online multiplayer game called Slaughter Race, whose souped-up cars, white-knuckle races and bevy of baddies - including Shank (Gal Gadot), Felony (Ali Wong) and Butcher Boy (Timothy Simons) - capture Vanellope's imagination, a helpful algorithm named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) who tries to educate Ralph about the fine art of becoming a viral video sensation, and a sleazy spam provider with connections to the dark web.

There's even a cheeky reference to Disney's own real-life fansite, Oh My Disney, which finds Vanellope encountering First Order stormtroopers and Marvel heroes before wandering into a dressing room where she comes face to face with nearly every princess in the studio's history, most of whom are portrayed by their original voice actors. In the film's funniest moment, which admittedly may come across as a bit too meta for some viewers, Vanellope and her new friends trade gowns for pajamas while acknowledging - and poking fun at - many of the stereotypes about the princesses, and even some of the criticisms levied against them.

Ralph Breaks the Internet takes a surprisingly dark turn in its latter half, featuring a tone that feels at odds with the first two acts and a climax that clearly draws influence from World War Z and King Kong. While the overall allegory, about a father figure coming to grips with the idea of his child heading out into the world on their own, is a powerful and resonant message, the uneven storytelling muddies the waters a bit. There's fun to be had, especially with some of the clever internet humor, but the sequel doesn't quite measure up to its predecessor.

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