The year was 1996. After several years of using the ridiculously expensive Microsoft Network to get emails and browse online groups, somehow my dad got a JARING account. I still remember breathlessly waiting for the modem handshake to complete, and then for the tiny icon in the task bar to flash green, showing that the US Robotics 28.8 kbps modem was indeed working.
I opened up Internet Explorer, and called my dad into the room.
“Look!” I gasped. “We’re on the Internet!”
Fast forward 22 years later, and I find myself grinning like an idiot throughout my viewing of Ralph Breaks the Internet. My two boys, raised on YouTube and Internet animation subculture (if you know what Tote Life is and can sing along to the intro song for Steven Universe, you belong) are enjoying themselves, calling out the references they see as they flash on the screen.
It’s amazing, on so many levels. Ralph Breaks The Internet succeeds not only as a metacommentary on the Internet, our dependency and attachment on attention-hungry social media culture networks, but also as a savage indictment of male entitlement and toxic masculinity.
I await the inevitable backlash of Gab-dwellers and /b/ denizens gnashing their teeth over what they see as the emasculation of Ralph as a hero, but no doubt they feel that way because the movie tells us in no unclear terms that no, men, white knights and heroes are not entitled to anything indefinitely, least of all the attention and time of whoever is the object of your affections.
It’s also an effective showcase of just how much of the properties we enjoy belong to Disney. It flaunts everything in the second act, throwing us references to Star Wars, the MCU, and other Disney-owned characters in a colorful whirlwind, reminding us once again that you’re enjoying all of this thanks to their ownership and largesse.
RBTI’s version of the Internet is also probably one of the best depictions in cinema of what many people still think of as a series of tubes. There’s several levels to unpack and it’s all brilliantly described by anthropomorphic versions of users and services. Disney really did their homework, and the end credits reveal quite a few well-known names in tech, acting as advisors.
In the end, like anything else from the House of Mouse, this is a movie that tells you change is good, and growing as a good person requires you to be able to accept it. There’s also an important bit about relationships in there, with the climax of the movie subverting what we expect should be a massive, explosive, final battle into an illumination about maturity. Brilliantly done, intensely funny, and fun for everyone.
What a ride.