Interview: 'Ralph Breaks the Internet' Directors on Disney Princesses, Cat Videos and Making a Movie About the Internet

Interview: 'Ralph Breaks the Internet' Directors on Disney Princesses, Cat Videos and Making a Movie About the Internet

Note: we discuss a few of the film's plot points in this interview, so here's your potential spoiler warning - read at your own risk!

When Ralph Breaks the Internet hits theaters on November 21 (tickets officially on sale now here at Fandango), it will make Disney history as the extremely rare theatrical sequel to a Disney Animation movie. Prior to Ralph Breaks the Internet -- a sequel to the 2012 hit, Wreck-It Ralph -- the last intentional theatrical sequel from the Disney toon house was 1999's Fantasia 2000. Before that, it was 1990's The Rescuers Down Under.

With tickets now officially on sale for Ralph Breaks the Internet, Fandango caught up with its directors, Phil Johnston and Rich Moore, to talk about the film, how it evolves the central characters of Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), and why they felt like Wreck-It Ralph needed a sequel in the first place. Also, we talk more about Gal Gadot's mysterious character and their version of the Internet, including a cameo from, well, Fandango.

But first! check out an exclusive featurette below. You can snag tickets right now here at Fandango.

 

Fandango: This is the first theatrical sequel for a Disney animated movie in over two decades. Why is that? Why did Wreck-It Ralph need a sequel?

Phil Johnston: Well, it really wasn't until we studied the first movie, and specifically the last line of the first movie, when we decided this sequel needs to happen. Because the last line of the first one, Ralph says, "If that kid likes me, how bad can I be?" Which in the moment it felt very sweet and a nice grace note on the film.

But the more we looked at it, the more we realized it's actually quite dysfunctional, because this is a character who's still defining his self worth based on the way someone else feels about him. So, that's a character that still has some growing to do, and Vanellope we'd only known for 40 minutes or something in the first movie, and she's a kid with a lot of growth to do herself. So, honestly, the idea that their stories weren't done is when we got excited about the sequel. And it got to me, knowing, wow, we didn't land Ralph in a safe spot. It's like I want to feel like if we're committing these characters to the ages, and I want to feel like they're an authentic human, that they got to their highest ground. And it felt like these characters had more growing to do.

 

Fandango: How do you evolve the characters of Ralph and Vanellope in the sequel?

Rich Moore: Well, we concentrated on their friendship, and said, "The first movie was about this guy with no friends, who finally gets one. What are the lengths that he would go to keep that one friend?" Because as we come into it we see that, yeah, Ralph is in a much better place now, but like Phil says, he's putting all his eggs in the Vanellope basket. It's like he's defined by what she thinks of him.

And we thought, "Well, what if we put that to the test?" What If we take two kids from a small town that go to the big city, the Internet, and what if one of those kids begins to really like the Internet? What if they get to a point in their relationship where they discover that they are not always of the same mind, and can a friendship survive a big difference of opinion in these two characters?

 

Fandango: Gal Gadot plays a new character in the film. Can you talk about who she is playing and how she fits into the story?

Phil Johnston: She plays a character named Shank, and Shank is the boss character in this online racing game called Slaughter Race. She's the best racer in that game, and Vanellope and Ralph will end up in that game and very nearly die in there. Out of that will come this friendship between Vanellope and Shank. If Ralph is the big brother figure to Vanellope, Shank is a big sister type character and a good friend, and someone that takes Vanellope under her wing and will actually form a wedge between Ralph and Vanellope, because Ralph is Ralph, and therefore jealous of her and anyone who likes Vanellope.

So I think she's a really great character and a voice of reason in some of the chaos of the Internet, and also was just an extraordinary actor to work with. Rich and I had such a good close relationship with Gal, and she was completely open to trying all kinds of things, and she's just one of the best collaborators I've ever worked with.

Fandango: Now, speaking of the Internet, you took a trip to research the internet, is that right?

Phil Johnston: Oh, man.

Rich Moore: Not so much a trip, but a jaunt.

Phil Johnston: Yeah. All these other movies, including Zootopia, where they went to Africa, and Moana, where they went to the South Pacific. We left Burbank and drove on the 5 to downtown L.A. Very exotic. But there's this building at One Wilshire Boulevard downtown that is ... It's a skyscraper that is essentially the home to the Internet for the West Coast of the United States.

So, it's twenty-something floors and every floor is just jam packed with servers of the different websites. Like, Siri lives there, YouTube lives there, and essentially you have cables running under the ocean that come up under Santa Monica Boulevard, jog over at Wilshire and plug in, literally, to One Wilshire, which just becomes the hub for all of the West Coast. I think there might be another one in Seattle, then one in Chicago, then a couple in New York. The Internet is ... I think it was ... Everyone made fun of that senator from Alaska, I think it was Ted Stevens, who said, "Well, the Internet's just wires and boxes." But it kind of is.

Rich Moore: There’s a lot of truth in what Mr. Stevens said.

 

Fandango: I heard something about cat videos also having an impact on creating the film, is that true?

Rich Moore: It's really funny because when we start these films, we're in development. And that's what we call a blue sky kind of period, where it's just. the sky's the limit. Let's play around with some ideas and explore the topic that we're making the movie about.

And our animation team, we said, "If we're going to have a sequence that is about video sharing and social media, we're probably going to need a lot of videos to populate that part of the world. So, why don't you just take a crack at little Vine videos, or YouTube videos, just snippets of what people watch on the Internet." The animators then went off, and they came back a few weeks or months later, and we reviewed a plethora of little videos that they made. And I would say 80% of them were related to cats.

Phil Johnston: Yeah, let's say there were a hundred videos, because that's probably about what we got, maybe 80 to 100. I would say, 75 were cats, 10 were babies, and the rest was human suffering in some form. Like, people getting smacked in the face, violent skateboard accidents...

Rich Moore: Falling on their faces.

Phil Johnston: That’s how our animators saw the internet.

Fandango: And then how did you go about deciding which sites you could and should use in your version of the Internet?

Phil Johnston: There are a couple of factors there. One is that we wanted the Internet to feel like the real-world Internet. So, as Ralph and Vanellope are flying through the Internet, you'll see things like Google and Facebook and Twitter, and then things like Webo, and foreign sites that are not in English, just because if you go onto the Internet, that's what it looks like.

So, we made a very conscious choice to show real brands and real sites, so it felt like the real Internet. But then, as far as where we spend most of our time, we created websites to support our story. So, there's a search engine that's called knowsmore.com. There's an online racing game called Slaughter Race, that's sort of like Grand Theft Auto. We do go to eBay, because it felt like that one is relevant to our story, so we didn't want to make up an online auctioning site, because eBay was the best representation of that.

But all of the choices we made with the story were very specific to the story, which, like Rich said, is about two friends whose friendship starts to split, because of the way the Internet has divided them in a way. So, every site is in support of that story, or a force of antagonism within that story.

 

Fandango: Yeah, everybody at Fandango wants to know why Fandango isn't in the movie.

Phil Johnston: It’s in the movie!

Fandango: No way! 

Rich Moore: Oh, it’s in there!

Fandango: The office will be so excited to hear this!

Phil Johnston: Yeah, we don’t go there, but it’s in the movie.

Rich Moore: We wanted free tickets, so let me just give you my email… [laughs]

 

Fandango: How did you navigate the seedier parts of online interaction, like trolls, cyber bullying, and that kind of stuff?

Rich Moore: We definitely wanted to portray the Internet as simply great. We wanted it to feel honest. We also didn't want to say that everything about it is negative. So we wanted to paint it like a big city. Not everything about L.A. is great, but it's not all bad either.

So we took that approach to it. Again, it comes out of the story of how we're going to weave those things in. There comes a point in their quest where Ralph needs to double down on his friendship with Vanellope, and that's the point where we get into a comments room and a cyber bullying moment happens. A guy like Ralph discovering that anonymous strangers are saying bad things about him really hits that insecure spot in him, that really makes him decide, like, "I need to put every last ounce of attention I have into holding onto this person." 

And it leads to him making some really big mistakes. And that literally leads him to the location of the Dark Net, where he thinks he's doing the right thing in procuring a virus to try and change Vanellope's opinion of a certain website. But again, it's coming out of this deep sense of insecurity that he has in himself. So, in answer to your question, again, we use those areas in service to the story and to what needs to happen to the characters at that point, and trying to be very authentic to what the real Internet is.

 

Fandango: These kinds of movies take years to make, so how did you go about creating a film that still feels incredibly relevant and timely when the Internet is changing so rapidly by the day?

Phil Johnston: Literally, probably from when we started this conversation it already changed. We were very aware of that, and a lot of the references that have anything to do with the contemporary Internet, we held off on until, really, the last couple of months, and then decided to drop a few in. But we didn't want it to be just inside jokes, or Internet specific jokes. So, as Rich was saying, everything in our approach is based on the characters and where they are emotionally.

And because this is a story about an insecure guy who will do anything to hold onto his friendship and ends up almost destroying the friendship as a result, we just use that as our core. And then inside baseball Internet references ... we made a few of them here and there, but that story of a friendship that's breaking apart and how to save it is the universal story that will hopefully last forever.

So, if you look at this movie in 20 or 30 years, hopefully that story of this friendship, and their saying goodbye and figuring out their life, will still feel relevant, even if some of the Internet references feel a little dated. It's like, we talk about Taxi Driver for instance. That's not what New York City looks like now, but that movie still holds up because of the storytelling.

Rich Moore: It was funny that about a little more than two years ago someone on the crew said, "Oh, we got to make a Ken Bone reference." And we would have to say, "Guys, no one's gonna remember Ken Bone in two years, except maybe his family. But it was a crazy mindset to be in, knowing that anything that we thought was funny two years ago would have no relevance in the movie when it came out in 2018. So, it's an interesting state of mind that we have to put ourselves in, knowing that this is a marathon, and that we need to be nimble with the comedy.

Fandango: Yeah, and I know it's a Disney movie. You have Disney properties in there. Star Wars is in there. Obviously, the princesses are in there. Was it open season on any Disney property? Was there a Disney property you wanted in there, but you couldn't use it for some reason?

Rich Moore: When we first conceived of the idea with the princess dressing room, it got a great response from our colleagues here at the studio. We always share what we're working on with the other directors and pretty much the whole studio here, just do a sounding board as we make the film. And we felt like we really have something here. Let's go share it with the powers that be across the street, with Bob [Iger] and Alan [Horn], and get a gauge on what they think of this too. And right off the bat, it's like they saw what we saw in it, too, and loved that it was funny, and that we're poking fun at ourselves, but in a way that respects the legacy of the characters.

So, there was never any pushback of like, "Well, no, you can't do that." There were no sacred cows, that's the simple way to put, that no one said "Nope. You can do something with that one, but that one, no, you don't touch that." Everyone was very inclusive and wanted to be in on the fun, is how it felt.

 

Fandango: Well, when they inevitably want to make the animated Princess movie with all the Princesses, hopefully you’ll be brought on for that…

Rich Moore: Good God, what have we done? What have we wrought? Well, they’re running out of animated movies to turn into live action, so maybe we found a new avenue!

 

Ralph Breaks the Internet crashes into theaters on November 21. You can snag tickets right now here at Fandango.

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