A version of this article about “Ralph Breaks the Internet” first appeared in the TheWrap magazine’s Oscar Nominations Preview issue.
Rich Moore and Phil Johnston took a detour between making the Oscar-nominated “Wreck-It Ralph” in 2012 and its sequel, “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” this year — and that detour, the Oscar-winning 2016 film “Zootopia,” turned out to be instrumental in determining the new adventures of the lunkish, good-hearted Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and his fiery pint-sized sidekick Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman).
“Zootopia,” it seems, had brought the team some newfound respect for the way that film’s story of an animal society learning to embrace its differences echoed the currents of intolerance in the real world. And in its aftermath, the new “Ralph,” in which the lead characters venture into the vast landscape of the internet, needed to have something serious to say as well about how the bonds of friendship can be tested by the hostilities that lurk online.
“It’s the balance of a very, very simple story between two friends, a very emotional story in this huge crazy house of a place that is the internet,” said Moore, who directed “Wreck-It Ralph,” co-directed “Zootopia” with Byron Howard and co-directed the new film with Johnston.
“We were very emboldened by our experience on ‘Zootopia,'” he added. “That experience really made us think about how deep we can take this thing emotionally. If the audience was that hungry for deeper themes and deeper subject matter in ‘Zootopia,’ it would be a disservice to them to not plumb as deep in this movie.”
Added Johnston, who co-wrote the first “Ralph” and “Zootopia” before writing and co-directing the new one, “The simple emotional story was the hardest nut to crack, given the circus nature of the internet. It’s hard to create an antagonist based on Ralph’s insecurity, and to capture how the internet can turn friendship toxic.”
But the internet can also house virtually everything, which led to the delirious sequence in which Vanellope discovers her inner Disney princess after encountering all of her predecessors. “The internet can be anything, so therefore you can meet anyone,” Johnston said. “We realized that Vanellope is technically a princess, so she could meet the Disney princesses there — and it became really integral to our story that she did meet them.”
Of course, the Disney princesses all come from different movies with different styles of animation, which meant that putting them all in the same room was tricky. “When we lined them up all together, we found they had wildly different body scales,” Moore said. “Some were very tall with small heads, some were short. They didn’t really look as though they existed in the same universe.
“So we redesigned them in the ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ style, in the style of the Disney website, so they had a cohesiveness to them. We wanted them to feel exactly like the princesses we know, but also look as if they can exist in the same room together.”
But not only do they exist together, they all joke about the particular oddities of Disney princess-hood, notably the fact that few of them have mothers. “Once we landed on the idea of all of them poking a little bit of fun at their own tropes, it was easy,” Johnston said. “Every single one of them is a little weird — you can go down the list and say, ‘That’s a little messed up, that’s a little messed up … ‘”
To read more of the Oscars Nomination Preview issue, click here.