Where do you go once you’ve plundered an entire arcade’s worth of games for gags in your first outing? Why, into the big wide world of the internet, dummy!

Yes, the title kind of comes as a really big spoiler, but as with anything it’s how you get there that matters – and Ralph Breaks the Internet gets there with charm, smarm and a whole lot of cheek.

Just like in the real world, it’s six years since the events of Wreck-It Ralph, and the big lug Ralph and racing princess extraordinaire Vanellope Von Schweetz are the best of buddies, just hangin’ out and, you know, just hangin’ out. Ralph loves it without question, but Vanellope is starting to wonder what the point is going around and around the same tracks all the time. Then the steering wheel on her classic Sugar Rush arcade machine is broken and, as with many vintage items, getting parts isn’t the easiest ask. Mr Litwak may have to retire her machine!

Ah, but the good proprietor of Litwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade has just installed a new-fangled device that causes oohs and aahs as it inveigles its way into the power grid. It’s a router, and upon hearing that you can basically get everything on the internet, Ralph and Vanellope take the plunge online in search of a new wheel.

It’s quite the culture shock, as they encounter all the joys – and the many pitfalls – of the ‘net. While Vanellope falls in love with the somewhat more up-to-date car game Slaughter Race, and impresses its queen Shank with her mad driving skills, Ralph has to raise funds to pay for a certain novice eBay purchase, and ends up doing everything from becoming a ‘BuzzzTube’ meme to plunging into the depths of the – dramatic music – dark web in order to make things good for Vanellope.

However, our little racer has seen a whole new world and is enamoured of the broader horizons that it teases – will our best buddies remain best buddies?

Ralph Breaks the Internet

When you head into the world of the internet in a movie such as this you have two choices: you can hold a mirror up to its many idiosyncrasies and have a ball as you go, or you can just use it as an unclever excuse to peddle product placement (not looking at anybody, The Emoji Movie). While the likes of the aforementioned online auction site and other real online entities do appear here, everything is an open target for a level of sharpness and satire that is gradually – and most welcomingly – creeping into more recent Disney animated fare, including the likes of Ralph’s first outing and Zootopia. So, we get the much talked-about Disney princesses scene, but instead of playing out as a tired plug, it delivers genuine, joyous humour – including one of the most hilarious meta gags that you’ll hear this year. Shout out to Princess Merida, och!

This humour pervades the entire look at the metropolis-like world of the internet, from its popup ads and mindlessly dumb videos right through to the witless trolls that post BuzzzTube comments. Never read the comments!

It’s not just a gag-fest though, as the amount of pure but non-mawkish heart jammed in here is astonishing at times. We get a musical number that both works as a classic Disney piece AND keeps the laughs coming, plus genuinely emotional stuff, especially regarding the adjustments to Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship as their horizons broaden. On top of this there are enough Easter eggs for fans of pop culture to induce instant diabetes in the Easter Bunny. Poor EB! Oh yeah, speaking of bunnies… Make sure to stay once the credits start rolling.

Meanwhile, don’t worry if you’re in it for the video game in-jokes, as they’re still rife throughout, along with a whole bunch more cameos to spot.

The skill and inventiveness with which the humour/heart balance continually hits shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering two of the greatest minds to have ever worked on The Simpsons in its golden days of the 1990s are on-board here. Rich Moore (Lisa’s Substitute, Bart the Murderer, Monorail!) returns as co-director and co-writer, while the great Jim Reardon’s writing touches are gloriously smeared all over the script like he was impersonating another Ralph – Wiggum – let loose in the paint box.

There’s only really one moment that some might say drags a bit, although we thought it more just a slice of almost incongruous darkness. It’s a somewhat clunky change of tone, but ultimately serves to get us to where we need to get. Little ones might be a bit freaked out by it though.

Wreck-It Ralph was a very hard act to follow, yet Ralph Breaks the Internet does so with aplomb and is, in almost every way, an even better animated treat for kids and adults. Yes, this one’s totally worth logging into.

star 4 and a halfIn cinemas: December 26, 2018
Starring: The voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot
Directed by: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore