It’s been about six years since Disney’s favourite force-of-nature smashed his way onto screens and reminded everyone why the pre-2K era arguably continues to stand as the Golden Age of Gaming. With countless cameos from beloved retro arcade and console classics, a bunch of snappy dialogue, and lovable characters, it was easy for us to get behind Ralph as he awkwardly rampaged throughout Litwak’s Arcade on his long-overdue journey of self-discovery.
The second installment doesn’t waste much time picking up where it left off, albeit with the same six-year timeframe as the one we’ve waited out. Wreck-It-Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and our hyped-up heroine Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) are still pretty much joined at the hip, as is the perpetually-perky Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) and his ‘dynamite gal’-turned-bride Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch.)
Ralph has now well settled into his role as villain-by-day and resigned to the comfort of hanging with his buddy Vanellope every spare minute, whereas the latter has become disillusioned by the monotony of having mastered the Sugar Rush realm she’s presided over since the pair conquered the crooked Turbo/King Candy in the first flick.
When a well-intentioned but disastrous accident forces the populace to evacuate Sugar Rush under the threat of permanent shut-down, Ralph and Vanellope manage to infiltrate the recently-installed “Wiffy” network introduced by arcade owner Mr. Litwak (voiced by veteran Ed O’Neill) in search of a part needed to set things straight again. This launches the duo into the newly-imagined Internet and as you’d expect, sets the stage for the bulk of the story thereafter. The ‘net itself is a vibrant, sprawling metropolis teeming with a host of clever nuances, likeable characters, and a logical shift of tone from the original. From there however, bar a couple exceptions, is where the positives generally hit the brakes.
Despite golden opportunities to introduce them; we’re not presented with any ‘real’ villains, convincing side-character development, or subplots (although they probably had a shot with Felix and Calhoun’s fix-up family) to balance things out. Throw in some hit-and-miss humour and it can get tedious trying to dig for redeeming qualities.
They did my boy Ralph dirty too. I’d hoped after his heroic transformation and years of peaceful co-existence amongst his pixelated posse, that the writers could’ve afforded him some shred of emotional growth in that time. Instead, he seems reduced to little more than a whiny, clingy mess that in tandem with Vanellope’s constant yearning to spread her wings, becomes the defining backbone for the rest of the film. Ralph’s social ineptitude seems more about having the “big, strong man” emotionally pale in comparison to his female counterparts, than ever really being about evolving the character himself. I get the moral they pushed for in the closing act, but when the bulk of the movie aims for how many synonyms for “insecure” they can label him with, it’s hard not to wonder what they really wanted to achieve with Ralph to begin with.
The fact is, we shouldn’t need to disparage or discredit male heroes to give our female characters their well-deserved shine; there’s room for both. Our young boys need constructive, multi-dimensional male role models as much as our daughters are worthy of strong, self-empowered female leads. The Princesses’ appearance is a cool highlight though.
Probably the nail-in-the-coffin however is the shameless glorification of today’s social media epidemic and constant brand campaign plastered throughout most scenes. I couldn’t help but be concerned for my own impressionable kids as we collectively witnessed the highly-coordinated, systematic dumbing-down of the representative online community unfold. Why work hard, sacrifice, foster patience, discipline, and any other qualities synonymous with striving towards your life goals, when you can shortcut to prosperity by posting a bunch of brainless viral videos? Having fun’s fine, but the movie does such a good job of holding a mirror to our society’s zombie-esque behaviour (where even Vanellope smirks “this is almost too easy” while luring some hapless users to surrendering their prized ‘Likes’) that any hope of moral reflection to balance it out is only wishful thinking.
‘Yesss’ (voiced by Taraji P. Henson) is the cool, charismatic ringleader of social media platform BuzzzTube; who swans through the organised chaos while casually narrating the normality of the online world’s apparent lack of independent thought. It’s hard not to watch these scenes develop and imagine millions of wide-eyed kids worldwide becoming even more desensitised to the wave and eagerly buy into the whole façade. Again, Ralph is painted as the town idiot at its centre, Pied Piper-ing its proverbial rats. Overall, imagine if everyone in Wall-E stayed overweight, immobile and subservient with no consequence or ethical epiphany, and you’ve probably got the premise for one of the film’s core plotlines.
Wreck-It Ralph 2 is unfortunately far from the sequel I hoped for, failing to capitalise on the enormous potential it had in favour of settling for an unmemorable cash-grab for the franchise. In consulting with my esteemed panel of my own kids, none scored it above 6/10 (and without Dad’s sway!). With one calling it “disappointing” and another claiming it was easily the worst of the four blockbusters he’s seen this summer (alongside Bumblebee, Into the Spider-Verse, and How to Train Your Dragon), the younger ones thankfully aren’t too sucked in just yet. Don’t break your bank for it.