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‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’: How Disney Animation Is Coping with Change

Disney's latest Oscar contender about Ralph and Vanellope changing course coincides with the studio's new change in creative leadership.

BEST FRIENDS – In “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” video game bad guy Ralph and his best buddy Vanellope journey to the internet in search of a replacement part for her game. Vanellope wholeheartedly embraces this new world, while Ralph can’t wait to go home to their comfortable lives. Directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, and produced by Clark Spencer, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 21, 2018. ©2018 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet”

Disney

Animation

In “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) come to the realization that they each have different needs and that the world is quickly changing around them, including the Millennial role of the Disney Princesses.

Similarly, Disney Animation is coping with change as well, led by Jennifer Lee as the new chief creative officer, who succeeds the legendary yet embattled John Lasseter.  Though continuing to balance legacy with innovation, there’s now an important opportunity to embrace greater inclusion and diversity at the studio, breaking up the old boy’s club by empowering more women and people of color from top to bottom. (One indication is the Asian-themed, female-driven fantasy being developed  by “Crazy Rich Asians” scribe Adele Lim and “Moana” producer Osnat Shurer.)

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

Read More:Sarah Silverman: ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ Flips the Script on Princess Ideal

“I think there is great change going on at the studio,” said “Ralph” director Rich Moore. “It’s that feeling of ‘we’re still trying to do the same things, but different.’ Jen is doing a great job as our creative leader as well as balancing ‘Frozen 2.’ I look at our creative slate and there’s great stories and great leadership that comes from different points of view.”

“I think what we’re going to see most in the coming years is continuing the foundation at its best, but we are empowering people with different voices,” added Phil Johnston, the “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Zootopia” screenwriter-turned-director on “Breaks the Internet.”

As former outsiders, Lee, Moore, and Johnston have now become the consummate insiders, well aware of the risks and opportunities of coping with change.  With “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Disney’s first sequel during this new golden age, the challenge was not getting swallowed up by the Internet, the studio’s most ambitious and complex piece of animated world building.

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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“At its core is a simple story about friendship,” Johnston said. “It gets a little toxic and then changes and, hopefully, gets better. But when we first realized that the Internet is where we wanted to base this thing, it’s limitless. How do you tell a simple story in the biggest world you could ever imagine? It was bumpy getting here, but ‘Zootopia’ was probably bumpier getting there.”

As Ralph and V venture into the Internet, a modern metropolis of popular branding built on the foundation of a circuit board, Ralph’s insecurity gets the best of him and spreads like a virus. “How we realized that onscreen seemed impossible,” Moore said. “But the Story Trust encouraged us to embrace change and see it through to the end with Ralph and Vanellope.”

But even when confronted with pleas to change African American Tiana (“The Princess and the Frog”) back to her original appearance in the hilarious Princess sequence, the directors were sympathetic. “It was unexpected but like anything we get notes on, we looked at it and realized they were absolutely right, we hadn’t gotten it right,” Johnston said. “So the challenge of drawing in 2D and converting that into CG had never been done  before with that character.

NUMBERS GAME – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Ralph and Vanellope find themselves in need of making some serious cash in order to purchase a replacement steering wheel for her game, Sugar Rush. Fortunately, a Netizen named Yesss—the head algorithm of a trend-making website called BuzzzTube—has a plan. Yesss, who has her finger on the internet’s fast-paced pulse, helps make Ralph the next viral video sensation. Featuring the voices of Taraji P. Henson as Yesss, and Flula Borg (YouTube personality DJ Flula) as her assistant Maybe, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” opens in theaters Nov. 21, 2018. ©2018 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet”

Walt Disney

Read More:Anika Noni Rose Met With ‘Wreck It Ralph 2′ Team About Restoring the Disney Princess’ Darker Skin Tone

“We had one of the original animators, Mark Henn, come in and recommend changes to make her look more like the original, hand-drawn character,” added Johnston. “And we brought in voice actor Anika Noni Rose and [Color of Change], and they said we got it right. We were thrilled.”

Disney’s proactive response to the Tiana push back further demonstrates the studio’s cultural sensitivity, according to the directors. “Our theater is not just the United States anymore — it’s the world,” said Moore. “And to appeal to the world, you need different points of view. I think the reach needs to be wider, but it’s a very inclusive environment I see happening at the studio.”

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