Wreck-It Ralph broke a lot of the rules of the traditional Disney structure: a story from the viewpoint of a supposed villain, a Disney princess not looking for true love, and a celebration of contemporary culture instead of a yearning back to a bygone historical period. Ralph Breaks the Internet continues these trends and presenting an entirely different worldview than most Disney films.
For starters, Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) remain good friends. It’s basically unheard of for Disney to pair two leads of the opposite sex who are peers and not make them romantically involved. Wreck-It Ralph still clung on with a subplot romance with its supporting characters, but here there’s not a romance plot to be found in the entire film.
Disney barrages kids from a young age with the idea that romance is the be-all end-all of existence and that happiness in life must be achieved by finding that true love. Ralph Breaks the Internet shows how people can be happy without romance. A good career and hobbies you enjoy with people you enjoy being with can be enough to make for the good life.
There’s also a typical call to adventure that Disney trots out as the means by which the hero is taken out of boring life into an extraordinary life. While the Internet certainly is an exciting place in the story, Ralph and Vanellope fundamentally disagree about it. Ralph thinks it’s big and scary and just wants to do what it takes to bring things back to the way they were because he was happy then. Vanellope wants excitement, risk and adventure, which she can get plenty of in the new online game Slaughter Race she discovers.
And the film doesn’t condemn either one of them for wanting either life. While it creates conflict between the two, neither of them is wrong to desire the his/her different pace of life. Some people are thrill-seekers while others prefer the predictable. To call one boring and unsatisfying and the other more desirable is to deny the desires of many people who may not see themselves as the adventure-seeking type.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is also refreshing because it doesn’t look to shove in an easy antagonist. I believe it’s essential to make children’s stories without simple villains because much of life is dealing with people who aren’t villains in the way we conceive but often filled with people who misbehave and try to control out of insecurities or good intentions gone bad.
Ralph Breaks the Internet looks at the world that way, a world in which the people holding us back are not evil stepmothers or wicked witches, but the people who do care, but just don’t know how to cope with the pain of having to let go or are unable to get past their own insecurities
The older I get, the more I think about the stories we tell our children. Kids often obsess over the latest Disney films and I think it’s important for us to think about what they tell kids about the world. You get older and find out that a lot of what Disney tries to sell is an unrealistic fantasy where you can easily pick out the good and bad in the world. People are messy. You hurt people you love, you try to control situations when you should listen instead. You find that you have different desires in life than the people you want to be friends with.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is impressive because it goes against so much of what children’s entertainment is today and expresses a story more about growing up than fulfilling a childlike fantasy. What if there is no prince? What if the people you love don’t understand the world you want to be a part of? When can our love of someone manifest itself as a bad thing? These are the more difficult and mature questions this film ponders and it results in the kind of stories more children should be absorbing.
© James Blake Ewing 2018