Read the Comments: Cast and crew take you inside 'Ralph Breaks the Internet'
It was six years ago that audiences were first introduced to John C. Reilly’s Wreck-It Ralph, an 8-bit video game villain who, tired of feeling like the bad guy, set out to prove himself a hero. On his journey, Ralph wound up making a best friend in Sarah Silverman‘s glitchy young racecar driver, Vanellope Von Schweetz.
“We looked at the very last line of the first movie where Ralph says, after going friendless for the whole movie and then finally making a friend, ‘If that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?'” explains Rich Moore, who, having helmed the original, co-directed “Ralph Breaks the Internet” with Phil Johnston. “It seemed at the time so sweet. It’s a wonderful sentiment. But then, as we continued to kind of pick at it, we said, ‘That’s really, really dysfunctional. That this guy is defining himself by what his best friend thinks. She’s a great best friend, but what if she were not to like him someday? What would that lead to?”
“So knowing that he still had quite a bit of insecurity, he still had farther to go in his journey,” adds Johnston. “Then we had only known Vanellope for like 35 or 40 minutes. So she has a whole other story. We had to keep going with these characters.”
In building the world of the internet, the filmmakers were determined to create a world that embraced the magic and wonder of the world wide web, but that also did not shy away from some of the darker aspects of being online.
“[T]he internet is the central issue of our time,” says Reilly. “Our relationship to this technology, its power, and its effect on us [is something that] we don’t even quite understand yet. It’s as powerful as a nuclear bomb, but it uses other means. So it was really exciting in the context of an entertaining Disney film to be able to talk about some of these issues in a really, really real way. Its effect on people. Why do we crave the anonymous acceptance of people we don’t know?”
“It is a gateway drug,” admits Silverman. “For a comedian, it’s a great place to try out jokes or like places where you just have a funny thought and you want to put it out there or whatever. But then it became the place where I take in my news… But I think there’s a lot of good in the Internet. It’s brought the world a lot closer. It’s made it a lot smaller. Then, of course, there are terrible things about it. A lot outside misinformation. This new world of chaos and a lack of knowing what is true that I would attribute to the internet. But there’s also learning truths about other people that I would have never known. Culturally. Like waking up to my own white privilege had a lot to do with the Internet for what it’s worth.”
“There are a lot of really fun metaphors that we’re also playing with in the film,” adds Reilly. “And this idea that the arcade is like the childhood kind of arena of their friendship and the Internet represents the sort of larger world beyond as they grow and mature.”
One scene in the film finds Ralph thinking that he has done something positive only to read the comments and sink into despair. That’s when he has a meaningful conversation with a new character, an algorithm named Yesss, voiced by Taraji P. Henson.
“First of all, voicing a character in a Disney animated film. Check. Bucket List. Thank you,” laughs Henson. “I just thought she was incredible. I mean, when Rich and Phil brought her to me and explained her, I was like, ‘This is a no brainer!’ She’s a go getter. She’s the head of a company. She’s no nonsense. She has heart.”
The comments section scene wound up becoming Henson’s favorite in the entire film.
“She comes in and she tells him, ‘It’s not you,'” says the star. “‘It’s them. They’re mean. They’re hurt, so they’re hurting you.’ It grounded the film for me and it grounded the character for me.”
Fans of the original “Wreck-It Ralph” supporting cast should be thrilled to learn that Jack McBrayer’s Fix-It Felix and Jane Lynch‘s Sergeant Calhoun have their own subplot in the new movie. When the “Sugar Rush” racing game breaks, the couple take it upon themselves to look after all the little girl racers.
“We bit off way more than we could chew,” laughs McBrayer. “Just due to the circumstances, Calhoun and Felix do bring in all of the kids from the racing game. And after a few years of marriage, they’ve experienced some tension and perhaps some stagnation. So now they’re thrust into these new circumstances that really force them to not only evaluate how they feel about each other, but what their preconception of what parenthood could be is reality.”
“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is in rare company as a theatrically released Walt Disney Animation sequel. “The Rescuers Down Under” was the first, back in 1990. Since then, the list has only added two quasi-sequels, “Fantasia 2000” and 2011’s “Winnie-the-Pooh”. Although the studio does have plans to return to Arendelle for next year’s “Frozen 2,” Moore stresses that Ralph and Vanellope’s big screen adventures are likely at an end.
“We’re at that point where we feel like it’s all buttoned up nice and clean,” he says. “That there cannot possibly be another story after this one. That’s what we thought on the first one, though. So unless we start digging at this and find that there is some sort of opportunity to be mined… I think that right now, it feels as if they’re great companion pieces and it kinda ends here.”
“I always liked, when I was a kid, films that made me realize I’m not the only one that does these kind of things or feels this way,” says Moore. “Because I think like with depression, like with anxiety, with a lot of these issues, even bullying, there is a component that it’s shameful and that we shouldn’t talk about it. I’ve got to keep it to myself. As a kid, when I would see a movie where I saw a character going through the same things that I was, it made me feel like okay, I’m not alone. I’m not crazy. I’m not a freak, the only person on earth feeling these things.”
“One of the things I hope they think about is when you have to start a new school or your friendships change and you move into a new place, that fear that you have,” explains screenwriter Pamela Ribon. “That everything will be different and you’ll never know those friends again. We really thought about that, that shift in life. Because it keeps happening. No matter how old you get, you move into a new place and you meet new friends. And you don’t have to lose your old ones.”
“Among many things, I hope kids are entertained and feel like this story relates to them,” says Reilly. “And that they recognize some of their own friendships in these characters. You know when you do something unhealthy or something that makes you unhappy and you just do it in a kind of mindless way? You get caught in these patterns of behavior. And then, at some point, if you make a move towards being more healthy, you say, ‘Why am I doing that? Why am I doing that?’ I think this idea of chasing after anonymous love — these hearts in our movie. Or this idea that kids are reaching out for acceptance from people they don’t know and how that’s ultimately kind of an empty feeling.”
“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is now playing in theaters everywhere.
(Photos by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)
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