Now that Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 is here in a more solid than hypothetical form, I’m underwhelmed. Via Wikipedia, here’s the premise…
Taking place six years after the events of the first film, the story will center on Ralph's adventures in the Internet data space when a Wi-Fi router gets plugged into the arcade as he must find a replacement part to fix Sugar Rush. Along the way, Ralph and his best friend Vanellope von Schweetz encounter new customs, worlds, and characters, such as the trendy algorithm Yesss and the Disney Princesses.
In addition to Ariel, Merida, and other Disney characters, we’re getting some Star Wars and Marvel cameos, as well as a long-running rumor that Mario might finally make it back onto the big screen. It’s both a who’s-who and a blunt reminder that Disney is in charge of an alarming amount of properties. Memes are clearly the goal, and that just makes me sad.
I’m not going to blame a costly major studio animated feature for not being able to turn on a dime. These films steer like the Titanic with a drunk monkey (dronkey?) at the wheel, and that’s not their fault. I also don’t blame Disney for going the safe route and goosing their brand marketing at every turn. I might not think it’s good art, but it is, theoretically, good business.
Wreck-It Ralph came out in 2012, and that was the year video games, especially video games in the online space, changed forever. Ralph’s commentary on both the ideas of nostalgia in the medium as well as commentary on the evolution of gaming was perfectly-aimed for the moment it came out. If I had to pick one reason this is my favorite Disney film, it’s because so few films can harness the tropes of a culture and yet not rely on them to sand the edges off a bad script. Wreck-It Ralph did that.
But it’s not 2012 anymore. It’s 2018. The idea of Ralph in the internet terrifies me.
We recently got a national news story on the death of a man from SWATing, the practice of making a false report about a hostage situation so that police will raid someone’s home. This happens a lot in the online gaming community. Until now it’s been non-fatal, but some gamers abuse the ability to communicate with others for these dangerous pranks. It was only a matter of time until someone died.
That’s not even addressing the world of online harassment, threats and bullying. Two years after Wreck-It Ralph was released we got GamerGate, a bigoted, sexist and highly-organized wave of game-centric hate targeting women and minorities. I had friends driven from their homes, and my own daughter was a target. Nothing was done, even when people confessed to what is actually a federal crime.
The internet is us, so I don’t think I’m blowing anyone’s minds by telling you that parts of it suck dirty ditch water and are infested with scum. I’m just deeply ambivalent about what part of the gaming internet Ralph is going to “break” exactly. Is it all the Nazis on Steam? Is it the ongoing legal debate about whether loot boxes are turning players into gambling addicts?
Part of the appeal of Wreck-It Ralph is that it was a world out of time just at a moment when the idea of unplugging from Matrix was soothing. Now, it seems they want to take us back into the Matrix and pretend it’s all comforting ad algorithms and crossover fan fic. I can literally think of no worse idea to put into the heads of kids at the age they’re beginning to venture into the online space.
Nothing I’m saying here has even the slightest chance to change Ralph Wreck the Internet. That movie is done. It was supposed to have Wrinkle in Time’s Spring release slot. And, hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Ralph will punch edgelording-harassment dingoes with one enormous hand while choking greedy, shady developers with the other as Vanellope von Schweetz kicks 'em in the noots.
I don’t think I am wrong, though. Disney seems to be laboring under the impression that having Ralph, Judy Hops, C-3PO, and Gamora in one scene will “break” the internet. That’s a weird premise for a video game film released nearly two decades after Super Smash Bros. became a thing. I mean, I know we’re just coming off a year where freakin’ EMOJIS got their own feature, but come on!
Ralph’s not going to break the internet. Ralph’s going to sell tickets and toys and T-shirts. That’s not a bad thing, but it makes me realize that no one at Disney actually cares about video games, the internet or what either does to people who dive into those experiences. Instead of a heartwarming story set in the confines of games, I’m probably going to get a reminder that no one with money and power knows what the heck they’re talking about.