So before I begin, no, this won't be a review of the movie in general, just basically me enumerating my surprise at how good it was in its overall message. Don't get me wrong, I loved the first one. One of my favourite Disney movies of all time. But as I've grown older I've found myself becoming ever warier of sequels to anything.
That being said, spoilers ahead.
Whilst the first movie fixated on the struggle to break out of assigned roles, with a clear villain with a clear motive, the second movie doesn't follow this mold, and I'm thrilled that it didn't. There's no villain to really speak of in the context of an ultimate antagonist directly threatening the heroes. There's the virus which ultimately becomes the thrusting power behind the film's resolution, but it's not the next King Candy; in fact it's directly a result of Ralph. Ralph released the virus, having been given clear information about what it would do and about what might happen.
The movie is a coming-of-age story, a tale of both Ralph and Vanellope becoming older and wiser, Vanellope eagerly and Ralph reluctantly. Ralph is content with his life, no longer hated or ignored by those around him like in the first movie, and being friends with Vanellope is perfectly content with his lot, but Vanellope is bored with her circumstances and longing for bigger and better things. This leads to the initial conflict (sort of) between Ralph and Vanellope. Ralph attempts to help by modifying Sugar Rush, leading to the game physically breaking and being shut-down. Ralph and Vanellope head to the internet via a recently connected wi-fi router in an attempt to find a replacement part.
Whilst on the internet, Vanellope discovers an open-world MMORP racing game which, as the film progresses (and with a little help from the Disney Princesses™), she discovers is the solution to her dreams of expanding her life. Ralph on the other hand simply wants to fix her game so things can go back to how things used to be.
It's at this point that a clear division of views leads to the eventual conflict of the film. Ralph discovers Vanellope's desire to remain and be a part of the internet game and attempts to sabotage it in order to make her wish to return home.
As most of us who watched the first movie know, the Fix-it Felix Jr. characters are a little... homely. None of them are particularly mature or developed into the modern day, with their outdated modes of speech and unfamiliarity with modern ideas and concepts. Ralph himself is quite childish in his personality, very open with his feelings and prone to overreacting to things. I wouldn't call him a manchild, he's simply unworldly and fairly gullible. His world is small and his curiosity is relegated to temporary bursts of minor interest before becoming instantly wary of anything that takes an interest back. Ralph is constantly told throughout the film that he is insecure and clingy, and it's frankly not surprising that he is.
Vanellope on the other hand is an actual child, but in some ways is more mature and experienced than Ralph is, and possesses far more aggressive curiosity and wonder. Being from a newer game she's not as outmoded as Ralph or Felix, and her impetuousness and forthright attitude make her relatable and endearing. Whilst similar enough to be complimentary, Ralph and Vanellope contrast each other.
Ralph's solution leads both to a larger problem when his virus breaks out of the game and proceeds to create an army of Ralph zombies all created in the image of his deepest insecurities. Vanellope, finding out what he'd tried to do, rejects him temporarily, angry that he'd try to hold her back from her dreams whilst Ralph laments that his attempt to bring her back to him has backfired.
Whilst trying to escape from the Ralph zombies, who for whatever reason amalgamate into a giant Ralph monster, Ralph comes to realise that even though he and Vanellope are friends, he can't hold her back from her life for the sake of preserving the friendship in the form that they had. He has to allow their friendship to change and evolve as they both grow up and move on to different interests.
Vanellope goes on to join the MMO as a permanent player whilst Ralph returns to Litwak's arcade. There's a moment where they reconcile properly, and Ralph gives Vanellope half of his medal that had been broken during their fight, and they share a moment where they both wave prolongedly at each other in a goofy way, signifying their divergence but their fundamental friendship remaining intact. It seems a little silly on the surface, but it really was quite a clever device to remind us that these two goofs were still friends like they always had been. Their friendship had simply evolved.
They remain in contact with each other, but Ralph has visibly matured in his personality. He's far more comfortable with himself and views the world anew. Also he's taken up a book club with Zangief. So yeah, there's that.
All-in-all, it was a pleasant surprise to find the movie delivering a relevant life lesson that, even if you find your loved ones moving on with their lives, that doesn't mean you have to drift apart. Your connections don't have to crumble just because of distance, whether physical or coincidental.
Couple of other points I found pleasantly surprising:
The Disney Princesses did actually appear, like in the adverts, and turned out not to be a pointless throw-in. They actually contribute to the story somewhat. Go figure.
I've heard some people complaining about the vast amounts of advertising put into movies like this that feature the internet, but none of them were overly obtrusive, and frankly it was satisfying seeing social media being deluged by a rabid horde of mindless zombies.
Oh no, wait, they're always like that.
The after-trailer scene trolled us hard. Young-Moana from the trailer appears, and tells us that scenes from adverts not appearing in the movie makes her sad.
Felix and Calhoun become parents. They adopt the Sugar Rush Racers, and Felix turns to drinking. Beer. Root Beer.
Then it turns out that F&C are actually really great parents and make the Sugar Tots responsible young adults. Which was terrifying. It was worth it just to give Surge a bigger presence than in the first movie.