Ralph Breaks the Internet is the Disney Animation Studio sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph. In it, Ralph (John C. Reilly) must venture to a world where no arcade game sprite has been before, the Internet. With the help of the always energetic Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), the two must search for a rare Sugar Rush game replacement part or risk losing the machine, entirely. Along their journey, they will come across new technological advances like Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), an algorithm that determines what’s popular. But the Internet is so much bigger than they originally thought, and they will be thrust into a larger than life world that may or may not survive Ralph’s wrecking.
We got a chance to join our fellow journalists to talk to directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, and producer Clark Spencer. During the Q&A portion of the early preview, they talked about some of the inspiration behind the film, Ralph and Vanellope’s new journey, and what obstacles they must overcome. There may be some slight spoilers ahead, but nothing too revealing. Check out what they had to say below.
Can you talk the process of creating a sequence from start to finish?
Phil Johnston: It starts with storyboards. So the very first idea of the princess scene, for instance, would have been just hand-drawn images that we cut together in the roughest of forms. So it would be the people who work here doing all of the voices and rough hand-drawn images.
Once the scene gets into a place where it feels like “Okay it’s ready to get into production,” and we are ready to start employing more people to work on the movie, it then goes into something called layout which is where it’s technically blocking of the scenes, so you are seeing versions of the characters that look sort of like they will in the final cut but it’s very robotic moving. Sort of something like you would see in a live-action film.
Only then after that works that it starts being animated. It’s a period of years; honestly, from A to Z. Different scenes go into production at different times. This particular one, we had going about a year ago into animation, because we showed it at D23 Expo. But from start to finish it’s often three years.
When the first teaser image of the sequel came out, it teased plenty of play on words for real-world sites like Gügle (Google), Amazing (Amazon), Jiffy (Giphy), and Buzzaholic (Buzzfeed). But in the trailers and the film, we see that the film will use the official name. Can you talk about getting approved to use the licensing and IPs for the film?
Clark Spencer: So we had lots of debate and certain things you see early on we said to ourselves, “Well maybe we will actually go down the path of not having the actual names in the film.” So early imagery did not have plays on names. But over the course of making the film, we said to ourselves, “We are creating the Internet, and all of us use it every day, so we should populate it with actual websites we go to.”
And because of copyright, we can put them into the film without actually having to go to the company. So we didn’t approach them, we actually said to ourselves, “Let’s make the Internet be the Internet we know and put in everything we know about it,” and that included going to our different parts of our company around the world and saying to them “Give us brands from your own parts of the world.” We wanted the web to feel like the World Wide Web.
So there is a little bit of everything and not a case where somebody said they did not want to participate because we did not actually have to go and ask for permission.
How did you come up with the princess dressing room scene and how did you pitch it to them?
Moore: We did the scene with temp voices. So we knew what the scene was all about when we went to them. We sent them the sides so everyone knew what the scene was like and I thought, “Well I hope everyone is game to do something that’s part irreverent but respectful of their characters at the same time.”
Every single actress that we went to loved the idea and when they came in, helped elevate the comedy, as an actor does, or scene, as an actor does. They would point out, “Well my character wouldn’t say it like that, she would say it a little bit like that.” It added a little bit of that extra layer of authenticity to the princesses because as we get to work with each one of them, it became apparent to us that they really embody to characters. Just beyond the voice obviously.
So much of the character was embodied their personality. It was amazing. After each recording session, we set a part of a little time where the actress would sit without the animation department to kind of talk about their characters and the approach they have when playing the characters.
It was great to watch this new crop of animators who were inspired by The Little Mermaid or the movies from the ’90s to meet these actors who provided the voices. These were the characters that inspired them to become animators. So it was a great thing to facilitate.
Where did the idea to make fun of the Disney princesses come from?
Moore: It felt like if everyone else does it, why shouldn’t we? We could do it better than other places because those are our characters and we know them intimately. It started with this idea because we were kicking around the idea of where they could go and what they could do around the Internet? It started as this idea of wouldn’t it be funny if somehow, Ralph was taking one of those quizzes or tests of like “Are you an Anna or an Elsa?” And Vanellope getting into an argument over it.
So wouldn’t it be funny if somehow Anna and Elsa were there, and that started us kind of thinking, “Well how could we do something like that.” And then realized, “Well there is that Disney fan site and “Oh my god,” wouldn’t it be great to do a set piece that was all Disney? Why not have fun at our own expense of the characters that are foibles, and what makes them weird and what’s kind of crazy about them?” The fact that, even within the Disney pantheon, Ralph and Vanellope feel like misfits. Just the idea of putting Vanellope in that world and what she would think of it was kind of the emphasis of the whole thing.
Can you talk about putting that princess scene together?
Spencer: The scene we sort of talked about, and the team went off and wrote it, and we started to see it on boards we said to ourselves, “This is one of the great things about animation, we get to test our idea multiple times over the years, so let’s just go for it. Let’s go for the scene itself. Let’s not at all inhibit what we think is going to work for the storytelling and the comedy and screen it. It will live or die in that screening.” And it played huge.
From that moment in time, everyone was fully behind it. I think it’s because Rich really threads that line where we would be satirical and funny about ourselves and when we would be respectful of the characters. It really is an integrated scene in the story. It feels out of context when you show a moment where we are just going to stop and enjoy this Disney website. But it is really integral to the development of the story and I think that’s where everybody supported that we get to have fun with the characters but put Vanellope on a journey.
Moore: It’s one of those things where if we show it and get a good response by it, that’s what like Clark said, “It’s either going to make it live or die.” If we were to go and talk to people and say, “We are thinking of doing a scene where we make fun of the Disney princesses.” That could be met with a little bit of resistance. But to actually do an animatic one of it and to be able to show it that this is what it’s going to be and it’s funny, it’s respectful, it’s irreverent, all at the same time, then it’s hard to argue that isn’t working. It was something that once they saw it, everyone, you know.
Do you ever worry about a gag or bit that a member of the audience will not understand?
Moore: That’s like a two-percenter. Two percent of the audience won’t get that. We are allowed two or three of those per movie. We kind of use our two-percent on some scenes. But you would be surprised. We screened the movie for the audience in Arizona, and that moment got a huge response from a show that is 60 years old. It’s in the culture and people know what that is.
While the sequel may be about Ralph and Vanellope, will we see Felix and Calhoun in this?
Johnston: Felix and Calhoun have a role. When Sugar Rush breaks and all those other candy racers are also left game-less, they need a place to stay, and they may need parental figures and that may be Felix and Calhoun’s role. Because how hard can parenting be?
Going back to the princess dressing room scene, we noticed that Leia is not there. Is there a reason that you did not include her despite the fact that C-3PO is the coordinator?
Moore: There’s a lot of princesses that are from Disney movies that are not a part of the canonized Disney princesses. I don’t know how they are chosen or how it goes on. I think its kind of like the Vatican where smoke comes out of the chimney and Moana is now a princess. So we decided we are going to use the canonized group of Disney princesses. Not that we don’t love Princess Leia, Kida, Meg, or Esmeralda, but we decided we were going to go with the official princesses.
What about the Marvel representation? Will Avengers: Infinity War have an impact on the Ralph Breaks The Internet?
Moore: A lot of the characters we wanted don’t exist anymore. I guess they were vaporized. They are represented pretty well as both characters from the Oh My Disney scene and little avatars that are cosplaying Marvel characters.
Can you talk about the genesis of the film and how close did it become to being something else?
Johnston: These films always come close to being something else as they evolve over the years. The idea came fairly early after we finished the first Ralph, where we talked about would we want to do a sequel and why. Because the first movie wraps up pretty nicely with Ralph’s line which is, “If that kid likes me, how bad can I be?” Which at the time it felt like a very sweet sentiment. However, when we started poking around with that idea, it’s a little bit dysfunctional as Ralph is defining himself on based on how another person feels about him. So we were like, “Well Ralph still has some work to do.”
Moore: And where is the worst place you can put a person who defines himself by how other people think of him?
Johnston: The Internet. The idea of the Internet was the big idea like, “What if a router got plugged in, oooh that could be cool?” Just in terms of expanding the universe and the world, they come from. So that idea came first like if we are going to do this, it should be bigger and crazier than the arcade, and the Internet is that. And that idea of Ralph, who isn’t quite finished with his journey, neither is Vanellope frankly, we’ve known her for an hour of screen time from the first movie. So she has a lot more life to live, a lot more stories, and a lot more growth. Just the idea wasn’t finished and we weren’t done with them is what drove it.
In developing the sequel, what did you discover about the Internet and how did you decide to make this film about online bullying?
Moore: We knew when we first started working on the movie that the tropes of the Internet would not be the same that day as when the movie came out. There could be moments where people would come up to us and say, “You know what you got to put in there is Ken Bone. He’s huge on the Internet. This guy is big.” And I was like, “No one remembers Ken Bone today.” It’s so fleeting. So we decided we need to concentrate on the pillars of the Internet. Social media. Shopping. Entertainment.
Johnston: Online gaming, which you didn’t see, will play a huge part in the movie. There is a lot of online gaming.
Moore: So we kept our vision pretty raw as we began. And as we started to narrow in, over those four years, the Internet has become a more hostile place, and that is what inspired that comments room. Because we felt like we can’t do a movie about the Internet and paint it as it’s all roses and sunshine. We have to give due to the darker side of it. We have a scene that involves the dark net that Ralph goes to at one point in the story.
So we approached in this way, like Zootopia with the theme of racism, it would be bad on our part to say, “Well Judy Hopps is going to solve racism.” That’s just not how the world works. But she can experience it and she can practice it and she can learn from it. That was our goal with this movie, that Ralph can encounter these things and he can embody them and fall prey to them but ultimately we want for him is not to solve it because that would be disingenuous of us and the last thing we want to do is lecture the audience and preach to them. But we can show a character who encounters what we encounter on the Internet, and how he goes to rise above it.
Ralph Breaks the Internet opens in theaters on November 21, 2018. Click right here for more on the movie, including trailers, an interview with the story team, much more info on the film, and more.