When we last spent some time with Ralph and Vanellope, in “Wreck-It Ralph,” Ralph, the big lug, had gone through a change of life. The former violence-prone “bad guy” (he wasn’t really bad, just lonely and misunderstood) had softened his edges. He still demolished buildings in the arcade game Wreck-It Ralph, but he was now a happy fellow, due to meeting up with spunky little Vanellope, who drove racing cars in the brightly colored arcade game Sugar Rush. Vanellope didn’t realize it, but she was lonely, too. The unlikely best-of-friends relationship that developed in that delightful film proved that opposites do, indeed, attract.

Six years have passed since the 2012 release of “Wreck-It Ralph,” and the friendship between Ralph and Vanellope (John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman) in the story is also six years old. They both still put in a full day as video game characters, and they both hang out together after work. Life is good for Ralph. But Vanellope could use a little change from the repetitiveness of her game world. Happy to help out, Ralph puts some extra oomph into the action of Sugar Rush. But there’s a mishap, and an accident, and the game’s steering wheel is broken, resulting in two options: Close the game down and end life as Vanellope knows it, or get a new steering wheel on eBay which, Ralph and Vanellope discover, exists on this thing called the internet.

But how do video game characters acquire real-world cash that will allow them to make an eBay purchase? Hold on … even before that, how do they figure out a way to maneuver through the unwieldy internet? Vanellope may be a sharp cookie, but Ralph, though well-meaning, could have difficulty counting his toes.

No worries. This is a Disney film, and the writers at Disney know what it takes to concoct a strong, imaginative, entertaining story that’s filled with characters to care about. And so we get two innocent, fish-out-of-water protagonists who are soon way over their heads in trouble — and debt — and are surrounded by people and situations they don’t understand.

As in so many other Disney films, there’s pathos — we feel for these characters — and though that never goes away, there’s comedy, some of it silly, some of it hilarious. It could come from Ralph’s actions or Vanellope’s reactions to them, or from the fast-paced wordplay of an internet search character named KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk). There will be chuckles caused by the internet world — presented as a huge shopping mall — on display here, but laughs will emanate from the belly when Vanellope is introduced to some characters from previous Disney animated films, each of whom happens to be a princess (voiced by most of the original voice actors). That lengthy segment also gives audiences something that I can’t recall experiencing before: A heady dose of self-deprecating Disney humor.

But the film heads off in many more directions. Ralph discovers what it means to gets hits on the internet, and the way he goes about earning them makes the film erupt into sheer goofiness. Then things get all creepy when the storyline introduces a virus that could destroy everyone and everything. Of course, it soon gets funny again. Another story thread has Vanellope discovering a new video game called Slaughter Race. That game, set in an apocalyptic world where there are no rules, along with its tough, vibrant heroine Shank (Gal Gadot), calls to her, lets her see that the raw excitement here would be much more to her adventurous taste than the safe and predictable Sugar Rush. But it would also prove to be a challenge to her friendship with Ralph.

As in the first film, Reilly and Silverman give it their all. Their characters are real and believable and we really do care about what happens to them. The essence of all of this is the importance of friendship. Despite the zaniness and heart-tugging going on around it, that’s what people are going to be thinking about afterward, and that’s what’s going to make this film a huge hit. One last thing: Stay for the credits.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet”
Written by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon; directed by Phil Johnston and Rich Moore
With voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson
Rated PG