Very few people were ready for what Wreck-It Ralph was serving when the 2012 film hit theaters. The popular story of a villain becoming the hero felt rather fresh and original back then, making the love letter to video games a surprise hit for the House of Mouse. However, few would have expected Wreck-It Ralph to become just the second film from the Disney Animation Studio to receive a sequel. Yet the masses will turn out this weekend for Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2. The exploration into the internet ultimately falls short of the joys that made the first film so compelling. At the same time, it will be a fun romp that should bring joy to the family.

Ralph Breaks the Internet picks up six years after the first film as Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) have become great friends. However, Vanellope is growing bored of her game Sugar Rush. She’s mastered every turn, driven every path, unlocked every level, and feels the monotony of her life set in. When Ralph tries to liven things up for her, Vanellope finds some new joy but breaks the game in the process. With Sugar Rush unplugged, the two must journey to the internet so they can buy a new part for the game. However, a new driving game, “Slaughter Race” introduces Vanellope to driving guru Shank (Gal Gadot). Soon, Vanellope begins to question her place in the arcade, wondering what she actually wants from her life.

The film features a lot of laughs, Reilly and Silverman do an excellent job at bringing Ralph and Vanellope to life. Their chemistry drives the film, as the characters from the first film are left on the sidelines for the majority of the film. Both Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch return, but they are completely wasted this time out. Instead, the new world is populated by Gadot’s Shank, Alan Tudyk in a new role as KnowsMore, Taraji P. Henson as Yesss, and Bill Hader as JP Spamley. Overall, the new characters are fun additions, but other than Henson, none get the ability to really be as fun as the characters from the first film.

The biggest drawback to this film is that it doesn’t really have a central villain. This causes a cohesive narrative to disappear, for the most part, instead of turning it into a semi-character study of Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship. Opting to go for this emotional turn feels like a Pixar-inspired move, and also harkens back to Moana at times. However, the individual set pieces are not as interesting as Moana, outside of a trip to Oh My Disney. There, we get an amazingly meta take on the princesses, with many of the original voices reprising their roles.

The other problem with unfolding the narrative this way is that it feels like a step back for Ralph. A character who spent the entire last film learning to love himself, independent of what others think of him, has now become co-dependent. This not only feels out of character, but it also throws out all the friends he built from the last adventure. The point of the new movie is to demonize toxic relationships, especially one-sided ones, and it works on those terms. However, it does feel a bit contrived to try to evoke tears in a Pixar kind of way.

Furthermore, the rules established by the first film are almost entirely thrown out. Characters from the games don’t stay in character while people play, instead actively watching events in the real world. At the same time, Ralph not being in the Fix-It Felix game seems to have no repercussions, despite a multi-day absence. The new feature knowingly throws away the world-building from the first film in order to tell a new story, but that story doesn’t really track with what made us fall in love with the characters in the first place.

Still, the movie has some really fun moments that will surely entertain audiences. The trip to “Slaughter Race” is hilarious, and brings visual humor in bunches. Cuts to the “real world” also provide room for comedy, with the kids being just as annoying as you’d think they’d be. The character design of sending little avatars into different areas of the internet was a clever touch.  Some of the internet humor is funny, but there’s nothing groundbreaking there. It’s not Emoji Movie bad with some of the jokes, but it gets a little close at times. The Dark Web excursion is a highlight, but sadly we spend too little time there. Ralph Breaks the Internet never really gets into the actual issues of the internet (other than literally a 3-minute scene about ignoring comments), but that is inherently a problem for any narrative trying to examine an ever-changing and living creature like the internet.

The new adventures of Ralph and Vanellope feel like a retread. However, there are fun moments that make this one an enjoyable ride. Having Reilly and Silverman banter will make you laugh throughout. It’s a fun theater-going experience for the family, and the movie doesn’t really push to be much more. At the same time, not everything can be a heartbreaking story. Still, while it would have been fun to have a film closer in quality to the original film, Ralph Breaks the Internet allows us to hang out with Ralph and Vanellope in an enjoyable romp. Sometimes, that’s all we can ask for.

GRADE: (★)

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