The hilarious sequence from “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (November 21), where spunky Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) bonds with the beloved Disney princesses, has already withstood controversy, but remains a standout, meta moment.
It brilliantly pokes fun of the legacy while making the princesses more relatable as misfits like Vanellope. However, a fan backlash ensued with the release of a publicity still in August showing Tiana (“The Princess and the Frog”) with lighter skin color and a thinner nose compared to what the she looked like in the original hand-drawn feature. But after meeting with actress Anika Noni Rose (who voiced Tiana) and members of Color of Change, which champions proper racial representation, Disney responded immediately and reanimated Tiana to better resemble her original appearance.
The transition from 2D to CG was already tricky, along with variable lighting. Plus the fact that the princesses were further stylized in the manner of the Oh My Disney online site. But Disney not only tweaked Tiana but also the rest of the princesses before final release.
“The incredible thing about working at Disney is that you do have the direct link to the legacy in [animator] Mark Henn [‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Aladdin’] or the directors,” said character art director Ami Thompson. “We have those people readily available, or if they’re not here, then the people that worked with them.”
Co-writer Pamela Ribon (“Moana”) said the sequence began with wanting to do an all-Disney set piece, in which Vanellope encounters the 14 princesses backstage at a D23-like event. “And why not have fun, at our own expense of the characters and their foibles. And what makes them weird, and what’s kind of crazy about them,” she said.
“Vanellope rejected the notion of being a princess in the first film and preferred the term president. And I thought, ‘well, it’s still who she is, and maybe they can give each other something. She can help them loosen up with a makeover and they, in turn, show that she can embrace her princess roots. They all are misfits, outward-facing in their perfection, but inside, everyone has this feeling of being someone else.'”
The patter was already in Ribon’s head as she deconstructed their individual personalities and foibles and how Vanellope fits in with the legacy. “What kind of princess are you?,” she said. “Do you have magic hair? Magic hands? That rhythm was coming early on because I could imagine the princesses building and building until Vanellope says, ‘Are you guys OK? Should I call the police?”
But Ribon had a panic attack after writing the scene. ““I laid down on the floor and thought, I am going to get fired.’” she said. She took the first draft to director Rich Moore and his response was: “Do you think we can get away with this?”
“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.”
Moore and co-director/screenwriter Phil Johnston then convinced nearly all the original voice actresses of the Disney princesses to join the production. “Each one would suggest things, like how their character would never say something in this manner,” Moore said. “We realized that so much of the personality of these characters comes from the actresses. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
They had to figure out what the princesses would look like during the comfy scene, deciding on hoodies, leggings, and Converse sneakers like Vanellope. But then the tough animation decisions had to be made for the crucial makeover, with a Princess-palooza lab comprised of modelers, riggers, and simulation artists. After re-watching “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” they even made the radical move to show her ears for the first time.
“Ariel’s hair was so beautiful and flowing, and Glen Keane would throw in nice volumes, but when we were sculpting that into CG, there was a lot of conversation about getting that [same] kind of volume,” said Thompson.
Ultimately, the Princess sequence fits in with the overall theme of friendship affected by change between Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope. “How will the friendship weather the change? And the internet has always been the catalyst for change,” said Ribon.