Wreck-It Ralph 2: Electric Boogaloo is, as films go, above passable, which is to say it's a breath of fresh air. Aside from the occasional flat joke and a ham-fisted moral to the story, the movie presents a surprisingly consistent story that portrays and addresses internet culture in a way that hasn't been done before—or at least in a way that hasn't been done well before.
Looking at you, Emoji Movie.
The cyber world of Wreck-It Ralph 2 sets a beautifully creative background for the action of the plot. Twitter as a tree full of bluebirds, eBay as an enormous auction house, Wikipedia as an enormous book on a pedestal, popup ads as huckster salesmen, the dark web as a seedy underground—all of these make up a uniquely fun portrait of the internet as a bustling metropolis. The sharp edges have been rounded off (no 4Chan or Rule 34 to be found), but that's okay! Internet culture isn't exclusively about its edgier sections, which is, appropriately enough, the point of the film. Sometimes the use of made-up sites is jarring—not sure why Knowsmore is the searchbar or BuzzTube is the video platform when Google and YouTube both made appearances in the film. I'm sure it has something to do with the protecting the image of both sites, but still. Disney has the leverage to do what they want.
But the flashy spectacle of its world-building isn't all the movie has to offer: Wreck-It Ralph also comments on issues in meme culture, online toxicity, and virtual friendship. Memes enter the plot when a video of Ralph kicks off a trend of viral videos relating to him—that is to say, Ralph becomes Shrek. He makes money off these videos with the help of BuzzTube's CEO, who constantly changes her hairstyle and attire. This is clever, if in an obvious sort of way. It becomes insightful, however, when Ralph takes to heart the slovenly troll comments on his videos. Ralph's Shreklike career is not just about fame but burnout. Internet toxicity stops him in his tracks.
As it appears again and again in the narrative, toxicity itself becomes a motif of the film. It pops up when a Slaughter Race player is shown ragequitting in his bedroom after losing a round—the kid's unfettered anger contrasts the in-game characters' calmer methods of dealing with failure. A particularly gruff-looking racer reminds himself after a crash that his failure does not define him (to some comic effect). Later in the narrative, the central threat becomes a giant Ralph built out of smaller, insecure Ralphs. It is an enormous, Kong-like manifestation of his clinginess and toxicity—the only way to defeat it is for Ralph to let go of his feelings an allow Vanellope to pursue her dream outside the arcade. This is what I meant earlier when I said the moral is ham-fisted. But it's good. It acknowledges the extreme anger and insecurity stirred up among online communities while presenting a healthier means of dealing with such feelings than ragequitting. That's smart, and it's something younger audiences need to hear.
Thus, I name Wreck-It Ralph 2 best animated movie of the year—that is, until Into the Spiderverse blows us all away next weekend. Peace.