A few weeks ago, at the beautifully redesigned Walt Disney Animation Studios campus in Burbank, we were treated to a special screening of select footage from "Ralph Breaks the Internet," the sequel to 2012's hit videogame-themed comedy "Wreck-It Ralph." And let me tell you, it looks stunning.
The basic gist of the sequel is this: There's trouble at Litwak's Arcade. Sugar Rush, the kart racing game that counts Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) as one of its racers, has a broken steering wheel. This leads Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), the videogame ogre with a hart of gold, to launch a mission to get a new steering wheel; otherwise, the game will be unplugged and Vanellope, his best friend, will go poof.
And where do they head to find that steering wheel? That's right: the Internet.
Far from the way that the internet has normally been visualized (in something like "Hackers"); this isn't dense columns of ones and zeroes. Instead, it's a living, vibrant city, and you can tell that much of the art department carried over the lessons they learned on "Zootopia," in terms of bringing an entire metropolis to life. One of the scenes we saw had Vanellope bidding on a velvet cat painting on eBay, which, in the movie, looks like a typical auction house.
Another scene, which serves as something of the emotional fulcrum for the movie, saw Ralph -- after rising in popularity as an instantly meme-able personality -- reading negative comments about himself, his large heart breaking. (Co-director Rich Moore said the Internet was the perfect dramatic place to put Ralph, a person whose entire sense of self is based off what other people think of him.)
And, of course, there was the princess sequence, which has been screened at D23 and teased in recent promotional materials, wherein Vanellope comes face-to-face with all of the classic Disney princesses (everyone from Snow White to Moana). It's still a hoot and as the production works to complete the sequence, has become even more visually stunning and comically precise.
We were also lucky enough to sit down with Moore, co-director and co-writer Phil Johnston, and producer Clark Spencer, but, alas, there was some kind of malfunction in the recording and only a few minutes were saved. Lucky for me, I've got a great memory, and can recount some of the awesome anecdotes that the team shared with me.
First and foremost, in the princess sequence, they approach a glowing version of the Walt Disney Animation Studios campus, sorcerer's hat and all. At the top of that building, there's an animated sorcerer Mickey, posed like he was in Walt Disney's experimental classic "Fantasia." It turns out that none other than Mark Henn, the legendary Disney animator who worked on Belle, Princess Jasmine, and Mulan (Jeffrey Katzenberg once called him "the Julia Roberts of animation"), was responsible for that little snippet of classic 2D animation. And that is very, very awesome.
They also told me that major videogame elements would be woven into the narrative, taking up much of the third act. (All the footage we saw was from the first and second acts.) This was, of course, before Disney announced that Gal Gadot would voice a character named Shank from a hardcore racing game called "Slaughter Race."
Overall, the footage that we saw and the conversation that I had with Moore, Johnston, and Spencer, let my jaw on the floor. This is some seriously next-level stuff. And like "Zootopia," it's not just a visual feast. There were moments we saw, like the one with Ralph reading all of the mean comments, that were genuinely affecting. We can't wait until November, when we can see the whole movie. On pins and needles over here.
Moviefone: You started working on this sequel back in 2014 and it got sidelined by the production of "Zootoptia." When you came back to it, did you start over or pick up where you left off? [Clark nods yes to the "starting over" comment.]
Spencer: We had to take a big step back.
Johnston: I had written a screenplay before "Zootopia" and we really liked it and started working on it. We then went off to do "Zootopia" for a year-and-a-half, came back, read that script, and went -- "meh." There are parts of that script that are good, one huge part we completely threw away and now we put it back in like three years later. But we can't tell you what that part is. So nothing fully ever goes anywhere. It's the circle of life, man.
Moore: All the parts of the buffalo!
What was the biggest change from those earlier versions of the movie?
Moore: There was definitely a part where, we knew we wanted to explore social media as an aspect to the story. So there was a back-and-forth about who was going to be roped into it -- was it going to be Ralph or was it going to be Vanellope? Initially, we said: "It's got to be Ralph. He's got the total personality of, 'Please tell me you like me, I will define myself by the way you feel about me.'" That seemed obvious. But we thought, are we doing ourselves a disservice? Because Vanellope, who you think wouldn't be susceptible to that, is actually the one who gets swept up in social media. We pursued that idea for a while and it seemed pretty good, but at the end of the day, it didn't feel genuine. It didn't feel like her character, like she would make those decisions. It didn't feel like her character anymore.
Johnston: That was the very first draft, actually, where she became susceptible and started buying into that. But that comment scene we showed you guys, [it] happened to Vanellope. That idea was in there and there was a later version where they got captured and they became a meme. But we found as they were chasing fleeting fame, it felt like the audience was ahead of them. Like, We know this is a bad idea. It felt like schmuck bait. Like lazy storytelling.
Moore: And it seemed like would you just get to the point.
Check out the new trailer below!
"Ralph Breaks the Internet" is everywhere on November 21. We'll have more from the long lead day before then.