All the bonkers things Disney stuffed into Ralph Breaks the Internet
Ralph Breaks the Internet, the official title for Wreck-It Ralph 2, is now in theaters. One of the strangest films released by Disney Animation — and that includes Brother Bear and the Chicken Little adaptation starring Zach Braff — Ralph Breaks the Internet trades the original movie’s video game nostalgia for a gauntlet of internet references.
Your family or friends might convince you to join them on a trip to the theater to see this oddity. Odds are, you will have some questions about what exactly you witnessed. What follows is an FAQ for questions you might have — before or after. And yes, we’ll talk about that end credits scene.
[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for Ralph Breaks the Internet.]
Is the title Ralph Breaks the Internet a reference to an internet thing?
Jokes about “breaking the internet” are as old as the internet itself, but the title specifically parodies a controversial Paper magazine cover from late 2014 in which Kim Kardashian shows her nude tuchus above the words “BREAK THE INTERNET.”
The goof is predicated on the idea that publishing nude photos of arguably the biggest celebrity in the U.S. will clog social media and web servers to the point of being unusable. The term has become a meme and is used to both earnestly and ironically describe the cultural impact of a big news reveal. If the pee tape existed and were published online, it would “break the internet.”
Does Ralph show his naked bum?
Does Ralph “break the internet”?
Ralph does in fact break the internet, though to discuss how, I need to briefly explain DDoS attacks.
A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack usually occurs when someone interrupts the connection between an online service and its users. Here’s Wikipedia: “Denial of service is typically accomplished by flooding the targeted machine or resource with superfluous requests in an attempt to overload systems and prevent some or all legitimate requests from being fulfilled.” Imagine going to the grocery store, only to find it has been flooded with thousands of people clogging the aisles, preventing you from even getting into the front door. It’s sort of like that!
Does Ralph launch a DDoS attack?
Ralph is the DDoS attack.
Late in the film, Ralph acquires a black market “insecurity” virus, a Matrix-like creature that scans nearby people for their “insecurities,” then replicates those anxieties in the environment. When Ralph first unleashes the virus, it spots Vanellope’s anxiety about her glitch, then rapidly zaps glitches into the world of Vanellope’s favorite online racing game, causing it to phase in and out of existence.
When the insecurity virus escapes that game, it discovers Ralph and his neediness for companionship and validation, then spews that desperation into the world of the internet, converting the materials of the world into tens of thousands of lurching, red Ralph clones that murmur mindlessly about abandonment and how nobody loves them.
So the Ralph clones break the internet by … crowding it like a bunch of sad kids at a My Chemical Romance concert?
All the Ralph clones quickly combine into a single, undulating Ralph the size of a skyscraper. I think the film’s creators want a King Kong vibe, except King Ralph is roughly as big as the Empire State Building. In the internet, of course, a Google tower replaces the Empire State.
Mega Ralph lumbers through the internet, toppling various companies’ office complexes, causing DDoS attacks on their corresponding sites. You can actually spot the impact of Mega Ralph on the real world in the film’s trailer, when Miranda Sings loses her internet connection.
Does Ralph defeat Mega Ralph with the power of love?
I won’t spoil that, but I will say that Ralph fights this giant version of himself formed by thousands of groaning, squirming Ralph clones by stabbing at it with a giant Pinterest pin.
You’ve mentioned a magazine cover from 2014, a Miranda Sings cameo and the Pinterest pin. Does this movie take place in 2018, or is it a mid-2010s period piece?
Disney put itself at a disadvantage making a film entirely about the internet, because the internet changes week to week, not just year to year. Making a movie about the internet is like trying to paint a picture of a plane from inside the plane while it’s taking off.
How would they even make a family-friendly movie about the internet in 2018?
I’m not sure it’s possible.
Ralph Breaks the Internet depicts internet brands the way a nephew gives a funeral elegy for his racist uncle: focusing on the one or two good times, leaving out the penchant for slurs. In the film, Twitter isn’t an echo chamber for hate; it’s just a bunch of folks harmlessly sharing pet pics! YouTube isn’t a distribution channel for extremist views; it’s just an interactive expansion of America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Sure, it’s a kids movie, so the world’s ails will get sandpapered into oblivion. But Ralph Breaks the Internet betrays the truth that few places online are more absurd and unsettling than “kid internet,” home of algorithmic nursery rhymes and the Paul brothers. The closest the film intentionally gets to the internet of today, as seen by a modern tween, is a wink at Fortnite, which, while culturally inescapable, has already had its moment.
So who is this movie for?
The film is too disconnected with the actual internet to appeal to millenials, and too oblivious to kid internet to target children. Ralph Breaks the Internet doesn’t depict the internet as it actually is, rather as how an out-of-touch adult perceives it to be through the eyes of their teenage daughter or son.
Disney filled the movie with parental pun humor and references to long-dead web brands like GeoCities and Friendster. It might spend more time on eBay jokes than The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a film that IMDb tells me was released in 2005.
I suppose the audience is Gen-Xers, many of whom experience the internet via a handful of apps, and perhaps their children, for whom a dozen jokes about pop-up ads spark a certain nostalgia for teaching Mom and Dad how to delete cookies off the home computer.
The film culminates with an unexpected and sentimental tug on the heartstrings for parents who have recently sent their children off to college, so whether or not the film was made for Gen-Xers, it was certainly made by them.
Can you give me an example of a joke intended for Gen-X parents?
Early in the film, Ralph overhears a conversation about eBay from a group of teens in the arcade. Shortly thereafter, he and his friend Fix-It Felix Jr. visit the Tapper bar to drink away their troubles. Ralph vents about the broken wheel on Vanellope’s arcade cabinet. Felix takes a sip of root beer and exhales, “Eeee-boy!” Ralph basically replies, “eBay! That’s it! We’ll buy the part off eBay!”
That’s Ralph Breaks the Internet in a nutshell: a bit that triples as sort of a reference, sort of a joke, and absolutely a narrative redirect toward the next zany set-piece full of its own allusions, puns and plot pivots.
[Ed. note: The rest of this article contains major spoilers for Ralph Breaks the Internet.]
You can’t end this without talking about the Disney princesses scene!
One of the most maddening traits of the film is how the writers shift Ralph’s mission every few scenes. First, he and Vanellope need to travel to eBay to buy the arcade wheel part. Then they need to make money for the purchase. He tries to win special content in an online game that can be sold in a digital marketplace. He flirts with being a YouTube star. Vanellope tries life as a pop-up ad. Eventually, this leads them into the Disney corners of the internet.
So it’s not just the princesses that get a guest appearance?
Correct. We get some Star Wars, some Groot, along with all of the princesses. And here’s the thing: It’s the most memorable moment of the film!
It’s not too meta?
It’s not meta enough.
Finally, the writers have something they really want to say. I never got the sense that Ralph Breaks the Internet’s creators had a genuine take on the internet, but they have Hot Takes on the problematic depictions of Disney princesses. We get to hear all of them delivered directly from those very princesses to an enraptured Vanellope, an honorary princess of her own.
The rest of Ralph Breaks the Internet has the regretful ability to make two of the decade’s most maligned movies appear, by comparison, not so bad. Its aimless, joyless plot dislodges Cars 2 from the bottom spot on rankings of modern Disney animated films, while its relentless and vapid references to dated internet culture had me yearning to suffocate beneath Ready Player One’s pop-culture avalanche.
But the Disney princess scene feels … if not fresh, then purposeful and even collaborative. The princesses are more than a Family Guy-esque referential punchline. They have clear wants and personalities. And they highlight the trouble with the rest of the film, which focuses on the internet as a collection of corporate entities and services, rather than a place where people engage with both real people and fictional characters in a way similar to, well, video games.
The Disney princess scene works because it spurs a dialogue with online fans, those who have used the internet to both call out the problematic nature of the Disney princesses and re-envision them with greater personality and depth. The film acts as if we’re seeing Disney’s take on the princesses, but that’s not right — these are the princesses as imagined by Tumblr artists, DeviantArt profiles and fan fiction publishers. Disney sees Ariel with hipster glasses, and seems to agree that when it comes to constantly updating its characters for an ever-changing present, the fans do it best.
Once Ralph Breaks the Internet finally locks onto its plot, it becomes the story of a grown man fumbling his way through the web, perplexed by his surrogate daughter figure’s desire for a life online. It’s fitting that in the one moment in which we see the world from her perspective, the internet (and the film) don’t feel so broken.