New horizons strain BFF bonds in Ralph Breaks the Internet
Want to evoke a Hollywood era in your audience with Pavlovian reliability and a minimum expenditure of screentime? Spare no expense on your backdrop graphic designers. A time will likely arrive, a few decades down the pop-culture road, when the densely vertical cityscapes depicted in animated films such as Zootopia, Coco and now Ralph Breaks the Internet become emblematic of the cinematic “look” of the twenty-teens in the same way that Blade Runner’s dark, grimy urban-dystopian sets have come to encapsulate post-Apocalyptic science fiction movies of the ’80s. Live-action superhero romps these days tend to feature these metallic eyries as well (usually in the process of being smashed to bits by monsters or aliens). It’s tough to predict what may trend next, once the fascination with what wonders can be done with state-of-the-art CGI starts to wear off; but for now, those towering, visually busy mazes are the places to be, virtually speaking, when you’re watching a movie.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that, once it dawns on audiences that the setting they’re seeing onscreen is becoming a visual trope – or a meme, in the original sense of that word – and careening headlong toward cliché, maybe it’s time for filmmakers to move onto something else. It is in a spirit of admiration and affection that I propose that the tall, overwhelmingly detailed city that represents the Internet in the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph is the epitome, the apex, the zenith of what can be visually achieved along this line of attack. It’s cleverly executed, delivering nonstop giggles of recognition as our heroes Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) encounter one Web brand-name after another in their quest to find a discontinued part to replace the broken steering wheel that is threatening the existence of Vanellope’s home arcade game, Sugar Rush. But after this, I’m not sure that I want to see a flurry of imitators. Perhaps it’s best for the movie industry to declare victory now, go home and figure out what the 2020s could look like.
That about exhausts my quibbles with Ralph Breaks the Internet, directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, which is every ounce as fun a ride as its predecessor was in 2012. Nostalgia for the simplicity of eight-bit videogames has been replaced by awe at the complexity of the Internet, where the lead characters’ technical naïveté gets them into a lot of trouble when they have to raise too much bitcoin too quickly to complete their eBay purchase. They are helped and hindered along the way by new characters representing search engines (Alan Tudyk), pop-up ads (Bill Hader), trending algorithms (Taraji P. Henson) and the like – not to mention a gaggle of Disney princesses who are persuaded to accept Vanellope (technically a princess in the Sugar Rush game world) as one of their number, in one of the movie’s best set pieces.
But what makes this story work, ultimately, is the amount of heart put into it. The narrative through-line and core conflict are propelled by the challenges that exposure to this new world places on Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship. All that doofy Ralph wants is to get the part, save Vanellope’s homeworld and go home to his comfortable routine ASAP. But his feisty young friend, grown bored with the limited tracks available in her racing game, discovers broader horizons in a Grand Theft Auto-esque MMORPG called Slaughter Race, where she makes a supportive new friend in hotshot driver Shank (Gal Gadot). Insecure Ralph feels betrayed and makes some bad, stalkery choices in an effort to reclaim the center of Vanellope’s social universe – with Internet-wrecking results, after a rogue computer virus zeroes in on his character flaws.
There are plot turns that, in a wholesome Disney movie, are predictable enough; but the questions that Ralph Breaks the Internet raises about the nature of friendship and the need for it to evolve are fairly profound, for a movie aimed primarily at kids. Parents and teachers could use this conflict to provoke productive discussion at many age levels – particularly in helping tender minds learn to identify controlling behavior and how to defuse it without being self-sacrificial. The film’s take on gender roles and stereotypes is admirably “woke” for a Disney product; when was the last time you heard the word “needy” used to describe a male character in a movie? (Not to mention that he doesn’t feel particularly threatened when he wakes up after a battle inexplicably clad in princess garb.) Better yet, Ralph learns how to be a better man, of his own volition, while Vanellope learns to have confidence in her own choices. There’s humanistic meat on the flashy high-tech bones of this story.
Then again, it might be enough for you just to spot the late Stan Lee in a brief animated cameo, or the references to Star Wars and King Kong, or to wallow in Vanellope’s obligatory Alan Menken-scored Disney-princess power ballad, “A Place Called Slaughter Race,” which is choreographed with characters dancing atop hotrods to evoke the opening number of La La Land. As with the Internet, there’s ample distracting fun to be found wherever you turn. Just make sure you stick around for both of the post-credits Easter eggs – especially if you know what it means to be “Rick-rolled.”
– Frances Marion Platt
Holiday Open House in “WoodstockLand” this Saturday
Fun for young children will be the focus of WoodstockLand, the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce & Arts’ annual Holiday Open House event, which returns this Saturday, December 1 from noon to 8 p.m. Costumed characters including Santa, Ms. Claus and their elves, Frosty and the Grinch will stroll around downtown, greeting the kids and posing for pictures. Interactive activities will include face-painting, a contest to gather stickers from participating stores that they can place on a town map to receive prizes and, in the evening, a bonfire for making s’mores.
The Woodstock Artists Association & Museum at 28 Tinker Street will host a special reception for “Sea Stories,” an exhibition of prints made by fifth-graders at Bennett Elementary School. There also will be an Ugly Sweater Contest, open to all ages. Stores and restaurants will offer specials, and visitors are invited to vote in the annual Holiday Store Window Contest.
Holiday Open House. Saturday, December 1, Noon-8 p.m., Free, Downtown Woodstock, https://bit.ly/2SfnuAy
Frosty the Snowman/A Charlie Brown Christmas to feature ice-skating onstage at Woodstock Playhouse
The Woodstock Playhouse will present the Christmas classics Frosty the Snowman and A Charlie Brown Christmas in performances that feature onstage skating. The productions will also include complimentary cookies and cider, family picture opportunities with characters from the show and carolers. Shows run Friday through Sunday from November 30 through December 9. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7 p.m., Sunday matinées at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and students.
Frosty the Snowman and A Charlie Brown Christmas
Friday-Sunday, Nov. 30-Dec. 9
7 p.m./2 p.m.
103 Mill Hill Rd.
Ulster Ballet’s A Christmas Carol at UPAC in Kingston
’Tis the season for dance troupes large and small all across the nation to focus their sugarplum-fueled energies on mounting productions of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker – with one exception, in our region. The Ulster Ballet Company decided to buck the trend 24 years ago and offer audiences an alternative, bringing to life in dance a timeless and seasonally relevant tale of how greed can stunt the human spirit. UBC’s original balletic version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was choreographed by New York City Ballet veteran Sara Miot, and nowadays often features principal dancers who grew up in the troupe performing small roles.
The curtain goes up on Ulster Ballet Company’s annual production of A Christmas Carol at the Ulster Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, November 30, at 4 p.m. on Saturday, December 1 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 2. Tickets cost $25 general admission, $22 for seniors and UPAC/Bardavon members and $18 for children aged 12 and under. To order, call the box office at (845) 339-6088 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
A Christmas Carol
Friday, Nov. 30, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 1, 4 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 2, 2 p.m.
Ulster Performing Arts Center
Sinterklaas comes to Rhinebeck
Oh no! Did you miss the arrival of Sinterklaas in Kingston amidst the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving weekend? Fret not; the patron saint of children and sailors has been keeping a low profile this past week, enshrouded in the mists of the Hudson River. But he will come ashore again at Rhinecliff on Saturday, December 1 to make his stately progress to downtown Rhinebeck for the second half of this annual multi-community festival.
The Opening Ceremony at the Beekman Arms, from noon to 2 p.m., will feature Sinterklaas festival creator Jeanne Fleming and introduce this year’s “Honored Animal,” the butterfly. Julia Haines will give voice to the butterfly on her harp, and storyteller Jonathan Kruk will share tales of the butterfly, St. Nicholas and Hanukkah. The Migrating Monarch and Her Caterpillar, the Pocket Lady, the Polar Bear and Mother Holly will all be on hand.
The afternoon is given over to a bewildering array of performances in venues all over town: various forms of theater and puppetry at the Methodist Parish Hall; the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus at Upstate Films and Foster’s Parking; the Vanaver Caravan’s Into the Light at the Church of the Messiah; music in traditions from Cajun to rock, gospel to gamelan, plus innumerable brass bands. From 2 p.m. on, music and street performances fill East Market Street between Route 9 and Center Street as it closes to traffic and becomes a parade ground called the Thorough Fair. You’ll find jugglers and jesters, Morris dancers and Mexican folkloric troupes, all manner of buskers and costumed characters galore. At 3 p.m., Oblong Books will host a reading and book-signing with Bear and Wolf author/illustrator Daniel Salmieri.
The Hudson Valley version of Sinterklaas being conceived as a nondenominational festival, despite being presided over by a Christian saint, a Living Nativity will get underway at 5 p.m. at the Reformed Church, followed by a celebration of the imminent arrival of Hanukkah 2018 with a Havdalah Candle-Lighting at the Dapson-Chestney Parking Lot at 5:30 p.m. All of these festivities culminate with the Children’s Starlight Parade, commencing at 6 p.m. at West Market Street and proceeding to the Municipal Lot for the Star Ceremony and Pageant. Bring your crowns and branches, stars and flags, and be prepared to do homage to children, who are all deemed kings and queens for the day!
For much more detail on Sinterklaas 2018, including a parade-route map and full schedules for all the participating Rhinebeck venues, visit www.sinterklaashudsonvalley.com.
Sinterklaas, Saturday, Dec. 1, 12-7 p.m., Free, Downtown Rhinebeck, www.sinterklaashudsonvalley.com
Welcome Winter Expo in New Paltz
Join the New Paltz Climate Action Coalition and the Interfaith Earth Action for family festivities to help prepare your mind, body and home for cold weather on Thursday, November 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. There will be kids’ activities, snacks, music and lots of green-living information at the Welcome Winter Expo at St. Joseph’s Parish Hall, located at 34 South Chestnut Street in New Paltz. Learn about recent updates for recycling, composting food waste, how to stop junk mail and robocalls, and carbon offsets for travel. There will also be demonstrations on easy and affordable ways to winterize your home. Find out about free energy audits and securing grant funding for energy upgrades. There will be a holiday ornament craft table for kids, and for adults there will be a make-your-own-tea table with healing herbs for all of winter’s ailments. All ages are invited to bring an old tee-shirt that can be turned into a reusable shopping bag.
For more information, contact New Paltz Climate Action Coalition coordinator Jess Mullen at (215) 303-7468 or e-mail her at email@example.com.
Celebration of Lights parade, movie & fireworks in Poughkeepsie
Poughkeepsie’s favorite holiday-season kickoff event, the Celebration of Lights Parade, marks its silver anniversary on Friday, November 30. The parade commences at 6:30 p.m. at the corner of Main and Garden Streets, near Civic Center Plaza, and heads toward the Hudson River, with dignitaries stopping for a couple of tree-lightings along the way. At 7:15 p.m., the Poughkeepsie River District Business Association and Legion Fireworks will present the area’s only winter fireworks display.
A new addition to the parade will be a float replica of the steamboat Mary Powell, created by Cocoon Theatre artistic director Andres San Millan. The line of march will also include the Amerscott Highland Pipers, Redwing Blackbird Theater, Poughkeepsie High School Jazz Ensemble, Spackenkill High School Marching Band, Brasskill marching band, McClearns Majoretts, Dutchess Jeep & Dodge with Mrs. Dutchess County Dr. Jackie Berry, Mid-Hudson Rowing Association, Vassar Warner Home float, Red Knights Motorcycle Club, Roaring Thunder Car Club, Arlington Auto and Tire, Arm-of-the-Sea Theatre, Vanaver Caravan, Nego Gato African Drumming & Dance and 200 children from the Warring, Morse, Clinton and Kreiger Elementary Schools. Santa Claus brings up the rear astride a City of Poughkeepsie Fire Engine.
After the parade and fireworks, the Bardavon Opera House will present an 8 p.m. screening of John Hughes and Chris Columbus’ family-friendly comedy Home Alone (1990), starring the young Macaulay Culkin. Tickets cost $6. For more info, call the Bardavon at (845) 473-2072 or visit www.bardavon.org or www.pokriverdistrict.org.
Celebration of Lights
Friday, Nov. 30, 6:30 p.m.
Civic Center Plaza-Dongan Square Park
Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072
Winter Walk in Hudson
Touted as the City of Hudson’s “largest, liveliest and most colorful event of the year,” the Winter Walk returns for its 22nd outing on Saturday, December 1 from 5 to 8 p.m. The event begins outside Hudson Hall with the arrival of Santa, welcomed by young Harmony Project Hudson choristers. Once settled inside, Santa’s elves will distribute a free gift-wrapped book to every child who pays him a visit. Onstage at Hudson Hall, choreographer Adam H. Weinert presents Rip the Nut, a pantomime-style, Hudson Valley-inspired mash-up of the Rip Van Winkle story and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
Out on Warren Street, musicians and dancers entertain holiday shoppers with in-store performances, while roving performers delight crowds taking in the decorated storefronts or enjoying locally made food and drinks. Returning to the Below Third district is the stunning eight-foot-tall traditional Ukrainian Winter Star sculpture by Ukrainian-born, Hudson-based artist Maryna Bilak. The Seventh Street Park will offer free horse-drawn carriage rides and the return of Santa’s Village. At 8 p.m., fireworks light up the winter sky from Promenade Hill, but many businesses remain open late for food, drink and entertainment.
Festivities continue throughout the month at Hudson Hall, including a Kwanzaa celebration at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 15, a free performance by the Blithewood Ensemble at 3 p.m. on Sunday, December 16 and a free, holiday-themed concert at 7 p.m. on Friday, December 21 by The Orchestra Now. For more information, visit https://hudsonhall.org.
Winter Walk, Saturday, Dec. 1, 5-8 p.m., Hudson Hall (& vicinity), 327 Warren St., Hudson, (518) 822-1438, www.hudsonhall.org.