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‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ Preview: From Online Trolling to Disney Princesses

Disney's latest animated Oscar contender explores internet culture as social satire and legacy building, says director Rich Moore.

NAVIGATING THE NET – In “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” video-game bad guy Ralph and fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz venture to the internet for a replacement part for her game, Sugar Rush. The world wide web is expansive and exciting with an elaborate transportation system Ralph and Vanellope find themselves squeezing into en route to one of their first internet destinations. Featuring the voices of John C. Reilly as the voice of Ralph, and Sarah Silverman as the voice of Vanellope, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 21, 2018. ©Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet”

©2018 Disney. All Rights Reserv

Animation

Turns out that Disney’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (November 21)  has as much in common with “Zootopia” as its predecessor, “Wreck-It Ralph,” in addressing inclusion, diversity, and change.

After Ralph (John C. Reilly) bonds with fellow misfit Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) at the end of “Wreck-It Ralph,” their friendship nearly breaks when plugging into the internet in the first Disney Animation sequel since the studio regained its prowess more than a decade ago.

“It’s friendship affected by change,” said director Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “Zootopia”). “Change is constant, which you can count on. Nothing stays the same forever. But doesn’t mean that a friendship can’t resolve because of different points of view or different dreams. In fact, good friendships can become better because of change.”

PAYING THEIR DUES – In “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” video game bad guy Ralph and fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz venture into the expansive and thrilling world of the internet. In an effort to find a replacement part for Vanellope’s arcade game, Sugar Rush, Ralph and Vanellope successfully bid at eBay, only to learn they’ll actually have to pay for their purchase. Featuring the voices of John C. Reilly as Ralph, Sarah Silverman as Vanellope, and Rebecca Wisocky as eBay Elayne, the cashier, the follow-up to 2012’s “Wreck It Ralph” opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 21, 2018. ©2018 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet”

Disney

Six years after altering his role from villain to hero, Ralph and Vanellope must save her arcade game, “Sugar Rush,” from being shut down when its obsolete steering wheel breaks. They plug in to the internet to find a replacement, which sets them on different paths. Ralph becomes a social media star with his trending videos, and Vanellope joins the more thrilling online game, “Slaughter Race.” And they each hook up with new friends: Yesss (Taraji Penda Henson), a sexy, trend-setting algorithm from BuzzTube, and Shank (Gal Gadot), the badass star of “Slaughter Race.”

But first Moore and first-time director Phil Johnston (who scripted “Wreck-it Ralph” and “Zootopia”) had to tackle the World Wide Web with their design and animation teams. After researching computers at Wilshire One in L.A., they scaled patterns of motherboards into an immense vertical 3D city grid (Rome meets Constantinople with a dark web underground).

Then they populated it with avatar forms for online users along with hundreds of online characters called Netizens and hundreds of thousands of signage (mostly real brands and forgoing licensing rights because it’s a satire). The world building task dwarfed “Zootopia” and wrecked Disney’s Hyperion renderer until they broke the buildings apart and generated pieces with different looks and scales.

THE RACE IS ON – When video-game bad guy Ralph and Vanellope head to the internet in search of a replacement part for her game, Sugar Rush, they find themselves in the middle of Slaughter Race, an online racing game set in an apocalyptic world that’s populated by first-person players and gaming characters. As a racer herself, Vanellope is immediately drawn to this fierce and fun crew of racers who, unlike in other racing games, are much more multidimensional than at first glance. Among the core team of game characters in Slaughter Race are Felony (voice of Ali Wong), Butcher Boy (voice of Timothy Simons), Shank (voice of Gal Gadot), Little Debbie (voice of Glozell Green) and Pyro (voice of Hamish Blake). “Ralph Breaks the Internet” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 21, 2018. ©2018 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet”

Disney

“And that was a breakthrough because there weren’t a lot of reference points,” added Moore. “And then we came up with [iconic] environments for the familiar brands: eBay was a big auction house.”

In developing the story, though, they needed to find a fresh, funny, and compelling way of testing the friendship between Ralph and Vanellope. “It’s a two-hander,” said Johnston. “Ralph doesn’t want change. The moment Vanellope’s game breaks, he has to go into that thing that represents the most radical change ever, get the steering wheel part in order to preserve his way of life, which is the past. So it’s an existential battle for Ralph: Do I accept the change that Vanellope is seeking because she likes the internet?”

There are two zeitgeist-grabbing moments that elevate the sequel: When Ralph gets devastated by online vitriol after wandering into a chatroom, and when Vanellope hilariously bonds with the Disney princesses as misfits in arms. “To some extent, we were emboldened by the work on ‘Zootopia,’ knowing that audiences are actually eager for a more sophisticated kind of approach in family films to tricky subject matter,” Moore said. “And, it felt like, if everyone else was [making fun of Disney], why shouldn’t we? We could do it better…because those are our characters and we know them intimately.”

ROYAL REUNION – In “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck It Ralph 2,” Vanellope von Schweetz—along with her best friend Ralph—ventures into the uncharted world of the internet. When she finds herself surrounded by Disney princesses, she’s surprised to learn that she actually has a lot in common with them. The scene, highlighted in a new trailer for the film, features several of the original princess voices, including Auli‘i Cravalho (“Moana”), Kristen Bell (Anna in “Frozen”), Idina Menzel (Elsa in “Frozen”), Kelly MacDonald (Merida in “Brave”), Mandy Moore (Rapunzel in “Tangled”), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog”), Ming-Na Wen (“Mulan”), Irene Bedard (“Pocahontas”), Linda Larkin (Jasmine in “Aladdin”), Paige O’Hara (Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”) and Jodi Benson (Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”). Featuring Sarah Silverman as the voice of Vanellope, “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck It Ralph 2” opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 21, 2018...©2018 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet”

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With the internet trolling scene, it fed perfectly into Ralph’s self-doubt. “Ralph still has identity issues, and the internet is the worst place to put a person who defines himself by how other people think of him,” said Moore. “And the best advice when you’re trolled, when a stranger belittles you is to ignore it. That’s what Yesss’ comment is to Ralph. So, hopefully, talking about it and using characters like Ralph and Vanellope can help start a discussion between parents and kids.”

Meanwhile, the Disney princess sequence grew out of a discussion about Ralph and Vanellope taking an Anna and Elsa profile test, poking fun at “Frozen.” They took inspiration from the Oh My Disney online site and it evolved into a meta moment with Vanellope and the princesses (voiced by the original actors) joking about their struggles with female empowerment.

“When the scene started to be talked about, and the team went off and wrote it and we started to see boards, we decided, let’s just go for it,” said producer Clark Spencer (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “Zootopia”). “Let’s not at all inhibit what we think is gonna work for the storytelling and the comedy and screen it. And they will live or die in that screening and it played huge.

“And from then on, everybody was hugely behind it, and, I think, it’s because Rich and Phil really thread that line of where we could be satirical and funny about ourselves, but also respectful of the characters. And it really is an integrated scene into Vanellope’s story and putting her on a journey that she needs to go on.”

The through-line for Moore and Johnston remains threading the needle between legacy and relevance: “Both of us love satire. We like tipping sacred cows and questioning things, and I don’t think that stopped when we started working here,” Moore said.

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