Sit down with the masterminds behind 'Ralph Breaks the Internet'
Next week, Walt Disney Animation Studios invites audiences to experience the internet from a brand new perspective: the inside out. “Ralph Breaks the Internet” marks Disney’s 57th animated feature, continuing a legacy that started with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” all the way back in 1938. It’s appropriate, then, that the new adventure includes not just Ralph, Vanellope and all your favorites from 2012’s “Wreck-It Ralph,” but even Snow White herself and quite a few additional Disney princesses!
Returning from “Wreck-It Ralph” is director Rich Moore, who this time co-directs with Phil Johnston. Johnston was heavily involved in the original film as a writer and also worked with Moore scripting “Zootopia”. Both talents recently joined producer Clark Spencer for an exclusive conversation with Moviebill about how “Ralph Breaks the Internet” moved from its initial concept to a major motion picture opening in theaters everywhere next week.
Moviebill: Rewatching “Wreck-It Ralph,” I’m astonished by how effortlessly the exposition is relayed. Is there a specific process to achieving that?
Phil Johnston: That’s a good question. There was so much research that went in. I’m sort of a blockhead. I don’t know anything about anything. It was learning about how the internet actually worked and going to One Wilshire. That was so fascinating to me. We wanted to over-explain and go, “There are actual cables and they need to go leave the building and go through an optical terminal and into the fiber optics. Here’s how the fiber optics work. And we must show One Wilshire!” You kind of over explain things and over write and then pull back when you realize that you’re either boring the audience or doing too much. If you saw earlier screenings of the first “Ralph” or of this, you would go, “Oh, good lord. The exposition is pathetic. You’re hammering it over the head.” But we tend to over-explain and oversimplify in the earlier iterations. But when we realize that the audience gets it because of the visuals — when you’re seeing them travel through the fiber optics and Ralph explodes into the internet, the visuals are telling it. Really just “over-write and pull back” is my philosophy.
Moviebill: A big part of the fun in the original “Wreck-It Ralph” is the crossover of various properties, but the film ultimately moves into worlds like “Sugar Rush” that are wholly original. Is there a similar balance in “Ralph Breaks the Internet”?
Rich Moore: That was by design. We knew that we couldn’t be traveling from game to game all through the story. It had to land somewhere and we wanted it to be a world that we really liked and that is fun and interesting to look at. But this one, as Bill was saying earlier, is more of a road picture. More so than the first one. We’re seeing a lot of different places in this one. We’re building a lot of different websites. I think audiences are going to love the way we travel around.
Clark Spencer: Most of the storytelling takes place in original locations. KnowsMore is a location. BuzzzTube is a location. There’s an online gaming part of the film that is an original location. Just like with “Sugar Rush,” the biggest parts of the story happen in original worlds.
Phil Johnston: eBay was the one place where we debated making up a site that evokes an online auction site. It just felt like everyone knows eBay. It’s gonna be more fun if we go there. We didn’t get their permission. We didn’t have to. It just felt like the right thing for the story, so we just did it. But we don’t have them going to Google. We have them going to KnowsMore. We don’t have them going to YouTube. It’s BuzzzTube. Like Clark said, there’s an online game that we invented to give us creative liberties.
Moviebill: At the end of the first film, Ralph says, “Because if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?” It was mentioned that part of the inspiration for “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is the idea that, as positive a thought as that is, Ralph is still letting himself be defined by someone else. Was that the origin of the sequel or was it something that developed as you broke the story?
Rich Moore: It was part of it and the idea that Vanellope has one opinion of it and Ralph has a different one. Even when we just talked about a sequel — beyond the internet or anything like that — we did realize that the first one wraps up so nice. How do you build off of that? That’s what we do. We pick at things. It’s like, “I love that sentiment, but there is a dysfunctional aspect to it.” That’s where my interest starts to pique. It’s like, “Oh boy. He’s still flawed.” There is still a way that we can needle him. He’s not perfectly fixed.
Phil Johnston: But the internet came first, just in terms of, “What could it be? How about they go to the internet?” That was the first thing. Then it was figuring out emotionally how we care about that. It came back to the emotions of the character and the friendship, really.
Moviebill: There’s something about the world building in both “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Zootopia” that approaches a genuine science fiction level of verisimilitude. It seems like that’s something that’s definitely continuing in “Ralph Breaks the Internet”.
Rich Moore: This one even more, I think.
Phil Johnsston: Yeah, and [Rich] is a huge sci-fi fan. I’m not the biggest sci-fi fan, but I think that our production design team — Mathias Lechner in particular — is so meticulous. There has to be logic behind everything.
Rich Moore: It has to work.
Phil Johnston: And it does! It functions like a city. You see the cars that are traveling along those beams of light and that all makes sense. Then it’s like, “What if we just make the car fly?” And [Mathias] goes, “No! No! No! That breaks all the rules!” And we’re like, “I think we’re just going to make it fly.”
Rich Moore: Poor Mathias. “But I worked out this perfect transportation system!” “Well, Mathias, what if the Netizens have their own transportation system?” “But it’s not part of the logic!” We have fun.
Moviebill: Are you all voicing characters again this time?
Rich Moore: Sour Bill has a few lines in this one.
Phil Johnston: And I’m back as Surge Protector. Also, there’s Zangief.
Rich Moore: Yeah, I do Zangief again. We’re kind of reluctant actors. I mean, on this movie Phil and I, Pam Ribon and Josie Trinidad, our head of story, did all the scratch voices for the entire movie when did the early iterations of it. I think that’s what made the production pretty nimble.
Phil Johnston: Yeah, in the edit room, we would change lines. I would do Ralph. Rich would do whoever. Rich would do Knowsmore or whoever.
Rich Moore: Because there’s just no way that our production actors could come in as much as we’d need them to in making these different iterations of the film. They would get burned out by the end. On the first movie, we had a whole different set of actors that came in for the scratch. But then you’re kind of waiting on their schedule as you need to get them in to do the dialogue. On this one, though, we decided to just do it ourselves.
Moviebill: It sounds like the story changed pretty dramatically as it developed.
Phil Johnston: Yeah, nothing as radical as on “Zootopia,” but it evolves. Each screening, it gets better and better. But we never felt like we needed to scrap everything. There was never a moment where we said, “It’s not working! He can’t go to the internet. It should be ‘Ralph Goes to Texas’!”
Rich Moore: That’s something that I think a lot of people don’t realize. These movies always evolve over the course of the production. You’re hoping that they continue to be elevated. The problem is when they elevate and then slam down and you have to start at zero. This one had a pretty reasonable trajectory, though, kind of like the first one.
Moviebill: I do have one quick “Zootopia” question. In Gazelle’s hit single “Try Everything,” there’s a lyric that goes, “Birds don’t just fly“. What is a ‘bird’?
Rich Moore: That’s a good question!
Phil Johnston: There might a whole island of birds.
Rich Moore: And reptiles!
Looking for more “Ralph Breaks the Internet?” be sure to check out these other behind the scenes looks and catch the the film in theaters beginning Wednesday, November 21st!