The year is 2017. We’re at D23 Expo, and the voices of the Disney Princesses have just appeared on stage together for the first time. The excitement is palpable, and there are even tears of joy from some members of the audience.
“It was as if the Beatles had reunited,” Ralph Breaks the Internet director Phil Johnston recalled to us recently when we asked him about this unbelievable moment.
There they were: Jodi Benson (Ariel), Paige O’Hara (Belle), Linda Larkin (Jasmine), Irene Bedard (Pocahontas), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana), Mandy Moore (Rapunzel), Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), and Kelly Macdonald (Merida), along with Sarah Silverman, who voices Vanellope von Schweetz (a princess herself!) in Ralph Breaks the Internet. They were there to present the audience with a sneak peek at a scene from the upcoming Ralph Breaks the Internet, which was at that time, still years away.
Now, the film is a mere two months away! We got the chance to speak with directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore, as well as producer Clark Spencer, about the making of the film and what it’s like to be the movie that gathered all of this iconic movie talent in one place.
First, let’s take it back even further, to 2014, when Wreck-It Ralph directors Johnston and Rich Moore first started discussing heading back to Litwak’s Arcade once again for another installment in the Wreck-It Ralph story.
Building The Story
“We weren’t gonna make a sequel though unless there was a very good reason to do it,” said Johnston. That very good reason came around, said Moore, when the idea to set the story inside the world of the internet was developed.
“We could immediately see the opportunities for comedy, for conflict between our two main characters,” said Moore. “That’s when we started to get really excited about this idea.”
Ralph Breaks the Internet sees Ralph and Vanellope in a quest to save Vanellope’s game, Sugar Rush, by venturing into the world wide web – in the film, a literal world – to find a replacement game piece to ship to Litwak’s arcade before the game gets unplugged for good.
However, the story wasn’t always about Ralph and Vanellope saving Sugar Rush. According to directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, the internet itself was initially going to play the role of antagonist in the story.
“[The internet] was a threat to the arcade. It was going to change their way of life,” said Johnston of this original idea. “And [Ralph] wanted to wreck it.” This story ended up evolving away from this concept about three months later, just before Moore and Johnston began work on Zootopia.
However, with this initial idea in place, the team got started with an important early step: research. A trip to downtown Los Angeles was an early source of inspiration for the look of the internet in Ralph Breaks the Internet. The team visited One Wilshire Boulevard, a building that “houses all of the connections for any internet communications in North America,” explained Moore.
“On the inside of the building, there are miles and miles of wires and tens of thousands of servers that connect the world,” Moore recalled.
Creating the World of the Internet
As you can imagine, the thought of building the massive, seemingly endless world that is the internet was, unsurprisingly, a bit daunting to the filmmakers.
The most overwhelming element? “Realizing there was no actual reference or touchstone of how it could be a city,” Moore told us. “It was just servers and wires ... we’re not going to set up a story in a skyscraper filled with boxes and wires that, though interesting, I think, wouldn't be very visually compelling to watch. So there was really nothing to kind of jump off of or to look at it and say, oh, I could see how this could be a city.”
The amazing team of artists and designers working on the film however, helped make this impossible task seem, less impossible.
Said producer Clark Spencer: “As a producer, when you go into these things, you always wonder, ‘Will these two things come together at the right moment in time?’ Because there's still the moment where you have to release the film. So they're coming up with ideas. This team is designing things. At what point will they start to come together in a way that you have that confidence, as you said, that it's all going to get done at the right amount of time and look fantastic?”
Eventually, “little by little, it started to zero in on the design that's specific today,” recalled Moore.
The Citizens of the Internet
“When you think of the fact that the internet is made up of millions of websites, you start to envision that the internet world is similar to a major city such as New York or London or L.A., a place made up of a different districts like a social media district or the shopping district or the financial district. But a city can't operate without its citizens, of course,” added Moore.
The citizens of the internet in Ralph Breaks the Internet are split into two groups: the netizens and the net users. The net users are people like us, browsing the internet on a daily basis. In the film, these are represented by avatars. Netizens are permanent residents of the internet, and have a different look than the net users.
“They work at the various websites and apps, and they are there to help the Net Users,” explained Moore. One such Netizen, KnowsMore (voiced by Alan Tudyk), is pictured below. Another, named Yesss, is a fabulous algorithm voiced by Taraji P. Henson.
In the hopes of helping Vanellope with her quest, Yesss sends Vanellope to a place we hold near and dear to our hearts: Oh My Disney!
Oh My Disney and the Disney Princesses
It is at Oh My Disney that Vanellope encounters the Disney Princesses’ online avatars. This is the reason why the Disney Princess voice actors all met for the first time at D23 Expo in 2017, which proved to be a meaningful moment, not just for the audience.
“You know what the coolest thing was?” asked Spencer. “I think I always imagined and hoped that the audience would love it. But we got to see all of [the Princess voices] backstage after. And it was an emotional thing for all of them because they [hadn’t] all been together [before].”
It wasn’t hard to get this incomparable group of women to sign on for Ralph Breaks the Internet. “Every actress that we went to loved the idea,” said Moore. They each brought their own experience and unique talents to the table while in the recording booth, as well.
“As we got to work with each one of them, it became really apparent to us that they really embodied those characters. There is a huge part just beyond the voice that they provided obviously. So much of the character is embodied by their personalities. It was amazing. After each recording session, we set apart a little time where the actress would sit with our animation department to talk about the characters and the approach that they have when they play the characters.”
Added Moore: “People would say, ‘why are Princesses in Wreck-It Ralph? … This is weird.’ That this was the movie that [united] them is mind-blowing to me. But I'm so proud of it.”
Attentive fans should also be on the lookout for Easter eggs throughout the movie, particularly in the world of the internet and especially in the scene that takes place at Oh My Disney. Said Moore:
“We like to load it with little prizes for people who are looking for them. So in this one, there are a lot.”
Ralph Breaks the Internet will hit theaters November 21!