As Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet continues to bring in solid box office returns after its second week in theaters, it has broken a surprising record: It’s the most successful Disney animated sequel of all time. But why is it doing so well? Part of it is competition, but word-of-mouth on Wreck-It Ralph 2 is positive. And that’s because the movie is actually tender and smart. One reason why it’s worth your family’s time — and probably why it’s resonating with so many people — is because the movie has a great message about toxic friendships.
(Mild spoilers for Ralph Breaks the Internet)
The movie revisits Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) six years after the events of Wreck-It Ralph. Now, in Ralph Breaks the Internet, the unlikely duo are basically inseparable. During the day, they go work in their respective games of Fix-It Felix Jr. and Sugar Rush, but every night they go to Tapper’s for a cold glass of root beer. Vanellope starts to get bored with her life in the arcade. When she finds a new place in the Internet she decides to call home, Ralph doesn’t take it well and his crippling insecurity and jealousy manifests in a way that could destroy not just his friendship with Vanellope, but the entire Internet.
Kids (and even some adults) need to see toxic friendships, like Ralph and Vanellope’s, on the big screen. Over the past 15 years or so, social media has created a culture of insecurity. Social media preys on our biggest fears and vulnerabilities through targeted ads. People feel the need to be their own brand, which Ralph essentially becomes when his videos start to go viral on BuzzTube. In addition to all this pressure to get the most likes or hearts, kids and teens see their best friend hanging out without them and experience FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), which isn’t just a silly acronym. Kids and teens can feel rejected by their friends when those friends decide to widen their friend circle as they age and develop other hobbies or interests. Ralph gets possessive of Vanellope when she makes new friends at the intense and violent racing game SlaughterRace. As the Internet begins to locate and take advantage of Ralph’s insecurities, he makes a horrible decision that he selfishly believes is in Vanellope’s best interest. Spoiler alert: It’s in Ralph’s interest.
The Internet has brought out the worst in Ralph. Ralph Breaks the Internet slyly points out that it usually brings out the worst in us as well. Disney maneuvers through this difficult topic expertly and teaches viewers how to navigate a changing friendship, which is something everyone goes through. This issue isn’t talked about or is swept over entirely in stories with sentences like “and they drifted apart slowly over the years.” Sure, that happens sometimes. Often though, friendships change suddenly. Someone moves. Someone goes to another school. Someone gets married. It could even be as simple as someone gets a new hobby and spends much less time with that friend. The double-edged sword of the Internet comes into play here. You can be in touch digitally, basically whenever you want, but that can make you even more needy, which is exactly what happens to Ralph. It’s so important that Disney used Ralph and Vanellope to remind viewers that friendships need to be healthy and balanced and not codependent and full of jealousy.
Ralph Breaks the Internet is in theaters now.