Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet highlights the challenges in crafting a sequel (contains spoilers)
Written by Megan Chan
Can good movies be bad sequels?
The general regard to movie sequels (or other variants such as prequels) is that they never seem to match the quality of their predecessors, or in the most infamous cases, tend to be insultingly worse than those that came before. A “bad sequel” has become almost interchangeable with a “bad movie”. Of course, inherent challenges are always presented when crafting a sequel, especially to a well-beloved film, and failure to overcome these obstacles results in consequences.
Sequels come along with their own plethora of struggles, and crafting Ralph Breaks The Internet must have been no walk in the park. But considering the standards set for Disney Animation, the final product was disappointingly underwhelming.
The movie’s predecessor, Wreck-It Ralph, followed the story of arcade game bad-guy Ralph (John C. Reilly) and aspiring car racer Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), both on quests to find their rightful place in their respective games, Fix-It-Felix Jr. and Sugar Rush. At its core, it was a film about acceptance, about accepting dutiful responsibility and knowing that it does not define who you are.
Ralph Breaks the Internet delves deeper into the concept of video games and reconstructs the internet into a fictitious utopia of sorts (or so it seems - the internet is not always that paradisal). Ralph and Vanellope enter this world in hopes to fix the broken Sugar Rush game by buying a new steering wheel for it, but after spending some time in the more adrenaline-packed variant, Slaughter Race, Vanellope decides that she would rather stay on the internet instead.
Disney continues to impress with its animation, presenting us a creative, rich, and fascinating visualisation of the internet, depicting the likes of a highly functional and systematic Ebay to the vibrant and busy ‘Buzztube’, and even to the murky depths of the dark web. Considering the wide scope of the internet, it was quite the achievement for the film to have been able to attach both a conceptual and visual appeal to the world, combining unique and beautiful designs with an internal logic built into a world easy and intriguing to navigate.
Navigating this world is enjoyable for the most part, allow its audience to pick up its many gags regarding online culture. However, there were times when it became overbearing and like a product-endorsement advertisement, or carried out as an obligation, rather than something meant to serve the narrative, characters, and worldbuilding . This exemplifies the unnatural and forced atmosphere the film enforces at times, an atmosphere that digs deep into the core of film and plots something subtle but disconcerting.
The ending has Vanellope deciding to stay in Slaughter Race after concluding that Sugar Rush does not serve the same amount of unpredictability and excitement. Contrast this to the first film, where Vanellope strives and succeeds in finding her place in her game, one where she can do what she loves. Where King Candy, or “Turbo”, is framed as not only the villain, but is the originating cause of all conflicts due to him being in games he doesn’t belong. Where Vanellope is the princess (or president, as she calls it), of Sugar Rush and is an essential part of its coding and appeal. It is a messy meddling of both worlds, two contradictory endings that only serve to inevitably break down the other.
The first ending is no longer of much meaning because we realise it is no longer significant nor true, and that we are being presented with a temporary facade. Similarly, watching the second film reminds of such, and the ending does not feel true to her character and the source material.
The movie is good as a standalone. It has its flaws, but it is enjoyable for the most part and features likeable characters, creative world building and design, and a decent story. But the way it contradicts the first instalment is unsettling; it is an alternative ending to the first, they contradict one another, yet both will always exist within the same story.
If the characters, worlds, and narratives were a wrapped gift, the first ending tied off the bow perfectly. Then the second movie came along, unraveled the bow, and tied it back together again. The bow is now wrinkled, creased, and a bit of a mess.
So, to answer the question posed: can good movies be bad sequels? Ralph Breaks the Internet answers with a resounding “yes”.