“Ralph Breaks the Internet” was one of the most delightful surprises of last year. The follow-up to 2014’s “Wreck-It Ralph” saw Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) transported to the Internet, where their friendship was tested and they met a bunch of Disney Princesses. It’s a hoot. We were able to sit down with directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore and producer Clark Spencer about the movie’s deeper themes, the upcoming “Zootopia” land, and how at one point the movie (an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Feature) once began on a very, very different note.
So at one point the movie used to open like the classic Disney storybook, right?
Moore: For about 30 seconds.
Johnston: It could have worked, actually.
Moore: Ralph had written his own book about their friendship. It was his book about Ralph and Vanellope. It was kind of a recap of what happened in the first movie but through Ralph’s point of view. It was a little skewed.
Johnston: Yeah, it was arrogant. It’s as if he were the white night. I was so convinced that was going to work. I think it could have. I’m trying to remember why we took it out.
Moore: Well, it skewed the story. He kind of looked like a jerk. It was so full of himself in that version. And it was a little confusing to people who hadn’t seen the first movie. Because it wasn’t the right story. So they would say, “Is that what happened in the first one?” No!
It also started with a funeral at one point, right?
Moore: Yeah. Tapper was unplugged and they were having a memorial. And Ralph and Vanellope were making the eulogy all about themselves. Then Gene got mad and started booing the eulogy.
Johnston: That also worked!
Also, in the Oh My Disney scene with the princesses, there was a moment when Vanellope jumped on Dumbo’s back and got into a dogfight with some TIE fighters right?
Johnston: She had a clickbait pop-up sign and was flying on Dumbo and bopping people on the head to force them to click on it.
Moore: It was a little too long.
Johnston: It made the scene too big.
Moore: It turned more into her getting clicks. It was too much story.
Spencer: And it was an issue of – how do we enjoy the website before she meets the princesses? But the princesses are really the scene. So we would always be balancing that. Like people wanting to see more of the website before the princesses and then we’d spend more time in it and make a big scene. And then they’d say, “Well what is this scene about?”
There’s a lot of great, brave subtext in “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” just like there was in “Zootopia.” This time it’s about toxic masculinity and online bullying. How important is that stuff to why you made the movie?
Johnston: The first idea was always going to be about their friendship and that they would go to the Internet and the Internet would test their friendship in some way. Once we landed on the story of it being Vanellope falling in love with this pace on the Internet and wanting to stay there for the rest of her life, that idea of Ralph’s insecurity becoming a force of antagonism sort of fed naturally into toxic masculinity. Because so many of the traits he shows on the negative side of his personality are textbook. In the same way we didn’t want “Zootopia” to be a message movie, this is a feminist story about Vanellope finding her voice as a woman and relying on other strong women to help her along the way. Without ever going, “We must make this message movie about toxic masculinity and feminism,” that’s definitely baked into the subtext.
Moore: While we loved the relationship and feel like this is a relationship worth fighting for, we wanted to portray it as it was broken. They had fallen into a codependent friendship that they weren’t even aware of. It was going to the Internet that exposed how weak their friendship was at that point and that they were both feeding into negative aspects of it. But it was going to the Internet that sped up bow broken this was and that if not cared to was just going to fall apart.
Clark was this ever anything you had to fight for?
Spencer: Well I think the great thing is that these guys push hard on their ideas and stories and how they can go further. That’s what’s nice about having a story trust that pushes on us. So there’s always a discussion of, “Have we gone as far as we can go?” And “What else can we dive into?” But I think, to their point, we felt that if we were going to go into The Internet, we have a responsibility to show the good and the bad side of it and delve into these tougher topics. I think “Zootopia” is a great example of a film that was willing to tackle racism. So I think it gave us the belief that we could do that also.
Speaking of “Zootopia,” Tiny Lister has been out there talking about subsequent sequels.
Moore: I’m not sure where Tiny is getting this information from.
Johnston: I’m going to announce right now: there is a “Zootopia 5” in the works. Not “2,” “3,” or “4.” Just jump to “5.” Kind of like “Big Hero 6.” It’s going to be huge.
Moore: Finnick is the star. Tiny plays all the characters. It’s going to have a $3 trillion budget.
Johnston: It’s like “My Dinner with Andre.”
Moore: I like how Tiny Lester was throwing out numbers and everything. Where is this coming from Tiny?
Well something that is slightly more concrete – literally -- is the “Zootopia”-themed land coming to Shanghai. How excited are you for people to enter the world of “Zootopia?”
Moore: I’m excited for me to enter the world of “Zootopia.”
Spencer: The cool thing is that we make these movies and if we create characters the audience falls in love with, then hopefully they live on in the parks. Sometimes that’s walk-around characters, sometimes that might be an attraction.
Moore: Or a special funnel cake!
Spencer: But this is a land, which is amazing. I think they’ve outlined what they want to do with the land and it’ll be up to these guys to help with the characters and everything else.
“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is out now on digital HD Blu-ray!