An animated feature that is much more than a candy-coated sequel; Ralph Breaks the Internet is a lesson in relationships.
The premise in Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet, the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph (2012), is just as playful and overwhelming as the trailer suggests, as Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) set out on a journey across the world wide web to find a replacement part for the “Sugar Rush” game. While in cyberspace, they explore eBay auctions, the off-brand version of YouTube, and even a claustrophobic version of the Disney universe.
The film’s portrayal of the internet as a glistening, bustling metropolis is like an animated sugar high but serves as a rather distracting backdrop to the overarching narrative: A rambunctious racer eager to leave the arcade world in her rear-view mirror, a big-handed, thick-headed protector hanging on to her for dear life, and a codependent friendship in disarray.
By day, Ralph smashes building windows in “Fix-It Felix” and Vanellope steals first place every race in “Sugar Rush.” But when the doors of Litwak’s Arcade are closed for the night, the two spend evenings with long-standing traditions of frothy root beers at “Tapers” and stealing motorcycles in “Tron.”
While Ralph is content with their predictable after-work routine, Vanellope is restless and yearns for challenges beyond her gum balls and a-la-mode upgrades. She has mastered every level, bonus track and sugar-coated shortcut in her game, and now she’s looking for a new challenge. Despite Ralph’s efforts to reassure Vanellope that life is just as it should be, Vanellope can’t shake the feeling of wanting more.
Through their internet escapades, they meet a gang of gritty, bad-ass street-racers lead by charismatic leader Shank (voiced by Gal Gadot) in the explosive, dangerous game “Slaughter Race.” The multiplayer world mesmerizes Vanellope but Ralph fears the game is too dangerous for his sweet little speed-racer. Ralph’s fear is only partially about Vanellope’s physical safety; he truly feels their friendship is in danger. He’s always been her hero and now with Shank and her crew swerving in, Ralph senses he may be replaced, or worse…forgotten.
Codependency Takes Root in Ralph Breaks the Internet
Here, we meet the true antagonist and most vicious, unforgiving villain of Ralph Breaks the Internet: Insecurity. Ralph desperately clings to Vanellope because she believed he was a hero when everyone else saw him as a villain. His fear of losing the one relationship that gives him purpose blinds him to Vanellope’s existential crisis. She is clearly struggling with who she wants to be versus who everyone says she needs to be.
Ralph tries to affirm her identify, saying “You’re my best friend,” but that isn’t enough for Vanellope. She wants to be more than a friend, more than a racer, more than a player in a game. Even though she’s not considered a Disney princess, we watch Vanellope come to want what they all do: Adventure in the great wide somewhere.
While Vanellope romanticizes life beyond the arcade walls, Ralph is content with his routine: Playing the role of villain by day and the hero of Vanellope’s dreams by night. Ralph’s life completely revolves around one person and codependency is born.
Codependent relationships are often one-sided and emotionally destructive, stemming from deeply rooted insecurities and low self-esteem. Both Ralph and Vanellope are insecure and don’t have a concrete sense of self, causing them to rely on each other for purpose and meaning: “If I don’t have them, then what am I?”
They were outcasts before they met and since have helped each other find a sense of belonging. But as Vanellope searches for her “calling,” Ralph feels threatened, and he does what many of us do when the thing we love most pulls away — hang on for dear life.
Insecurity poses a huge threat to a relationship, be it friendly or romantic. Insecurity can make you cling to what makes you feel whole and purposeful: Your partner. It also has a nasty way of manipulating our sound-minded intentions and we come off as hysterical, bottom-feeding monsters gobbling up every last shred of pleasantness to satisfy the deprecation furnace burning in our bellies. Dramatic or accurate, insecurity latches on to the most stable thing in range and holds steady, unconsciously draining the life force out of it.
What’s worse is we don’t admit our insecurities until it’s often too late. We deny and cover up and ignore until the damage is done, and in Ralph’s case, thousands of tiny, insecure versions of himself have crashed the internet and are holding Vanellope captive.
However, I’m not letting Vanellope off the hook. While Ralph is hesitant to share his insecurities, Vanellope bottles her dreams. She feels trapped by Ralph’s incessant need to be together, but it takes a slew of plot lines, setbacks, and an ultimate betrayal for her to finally voice her emotional suffocation.
Disney and the Best Friend Relationship
Disney/Pixar classically portrays best friendships as having their struggles; Woody and Buzz’s power dynamic, Aladdin and Genie’s trust issues, and Joy and Sadness’ struggle with control. While no Disney friendship has ever been perfect, Ralph Breaks the Internet delves into new territory with toxic codependency and its taxing strain on even the best of buds.
The positive in this: Screenwriters Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon acknowledge the unhealthy codependent relationship that exists between Ralph and Vanellope and fix it.
Ralph and Vanellope prove codependency can be overcome, and you can’t let the fear of losing your best friend keep you from helping them realize their potential. Vanellope isn’t a damsel in distress that needs saving and Ralph doesn’t have to be her hero to have purpose. Ralph is also an exemplary testament to not needing friends to define your identity. As cheesy as it sounds, you are who you are for the simple fact of existing.
Ralph Breaks the Internet isn’t just another kid’s movie; it’s a film that blends clever humor with a solid message about the relationships we form and the dangers we bring to them without knowing. Codependence is an affliction that can touch any relationship and test the strength and love of the bond. It’s up to you if you let them snap under the weight of uncertainty or grip the reigns and steer your friendship yourself.
If you need guidance, Ralph and Vanellope are here to help in Ralph Breaks the Internet.