– by Nancy Tapia

Wreck-It Ralph is a film that has warmed the hearts of audiences for nearly six years now. More than almost any other Disney film, it’s also been the perfect contender for a sequel. With its digital characters, it really opened up opportunities for other game characters to join in on the fun. One other element audiences expected was the online world in some form, and that’s really what the filmmakers opted to lean into for Ralph Breaks the Internet.

But, of course, no Disney animated film would be complete with just a solid premise. There also has to be a solid emotional undercurrent, and this film is no different. Like the first movie, it will focus on the friendship between Ralph and Vanellope, and how things never stay the same, no matter how perfect you think they are.

LRM had a chance to sit down with directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston to discuss the upcoming film, and the first thing they brought up had to do exactly with that all-important core emotional journey.

LRM: How did you feel watching the film?

Phil: I’ve seen it 7000 times. (laughs)

LRM: (Laughs) Okay, the first time? How did you feel watching it the first time?

Phil: I cried. There’s moments, I remember Rich and I had it almost the same day where you work on these movies so long and you sort of fall in love and out of love with them. There was a moment towards the end as we were wrapping it up where we both looked at each other and it was like, ‘I really like this movie’. I don’t know why on the same day, you know, around lunchtime on the same day it was like, ‘I really like it, it’s really great.’ ‘I do too’.

Rich: Yeah, and I get emotional at the end when it’s a bittersweet ending with these two friends having gone through some pretty toxic stuff, coming to terms with it changing and being stronger friends and saying goodbye. It still … as a parent, as a friend, it feels … I feel and I’m very proud of that.

LRM: What I like about this movie, and I have to say you did a great job, is if it’s a Disney movie you always have that everything’s rosy and happy. But in reality, you touched topics that are just part of reality. Friendship. Friendship has its turmoils and I mean that teaches everybody that, ‘Hey, people change, you accept them, but they’re still gonna feel the same way about you’.

Rich: And I don’t know if that’s talked about much today. Because I think Ralph is in the mindset of, like, he’s got his best friend forever and that is never gonna change and that, ‘once we’re friends you stay that way without having to work,’ or that ‘I want it to be exactly like this forever,’ and it’s just not true. It’s just not real and I think that that’s where some of the authenticity comes from. It may make us not as popular as other movies but it’s like, I like that we kind of drive to the heart of an issue and kind of look at the realities of it and see a character experiencing stuff that people go through in their lives and –

Phil: Especially on the internet with young people and adults. Like you’re going to run into some trouble there in your relationships because of social media, because your friends are gonna find different friends there and, as Rich said, friendships always change. All relationships change and you need to learn to weather those – Without being a preachy message movie and hoping families can at least talk about that kind of thing.

LRM: Love it. So now to the questions. So, coming out with the first film, did you see the potential for a sequel?

Rich: Not originally. We loved how the first one wrapped up, it felt like, ‘it’s perfect’, it kind of buttons up really nice. Ralph didn’t have any friends, he’s going off trying to be something he’s not to try and earn the respect of his community. But he finally makes a friend because he’s finally kind of embraced himself. The last line of the first movie was, you know, ‘if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?’ It’s like, where do we go from there? How do you tell more emotional stories with a guy that seems very well put together. But then we thought, well actually, that last line is very dysfunctional if you look at it because he’s still defining himself through what his best friend thinks, and even though she loves him and she’s probably not going to hurt his feelings, well what happens if she doesn’t like him? What’s that gonna do to him? That immediately told us there’s really more here to mine with these two guys.

LRM: So, what led to teaming up with Phil in this movie, as the director?

Phil: We’ve worked on three movies together now. The first Ralph I was the writer on, and then on Zootopia I was a writer on, and Rich, as a director, was always very inclusive of and welcoming of my voice and encouraging me to be more than, ‘just the writer.’ From my perspective he was always a very democratic leader, a very inclusive director, and welcoming me, and we’re just a good team, I think.

LRM: So, how did you guys split the work in this case?

Rich: We looked at just about everything together. Out of necessity on a production, there comes moments where our producer will say, ‘okay, we gotta divide and conquer here, I need you guys to kind of take two different rooms or we’re not just gonna finish the movie’. It kind of becomes impractical to see everything together all the time, so –

Phil: The biggest thing towards the end was because the special effects are so huge in this movie that I would look at the effects and Rich would be dealing with the character animation. But then we would always look at the work the other one had looked at. We would just for, in terms of working with the movie artists, we would divide our time that way.

LRM: For this film who’s decision was it to cut the ‘Wreck-It Ralph 2’ from the title and why?

Phil: Well, it was a really cumbersome title to have ‘Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks The Internet‘ so I think from the get-go we were like, ‘oh, that’s a little long. Can we just pick one or the other?’.

Rich: We should give a shoutout to one of your fellow journalists, Steve Weintraub. He stopped us at D23 Expo after we showed the princess sequence two years ago and he was all, ‘I want it to be Super Wreck-It Ralph‘, that’s always what they called follow-up games in Nintendo. Super Mario or Super … ‘Well, it’s not gonna be like that Steve,’ and he was like, ‘but Ralph Breaks The Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, it’s so long! Think of us poor journalists that have to write that’ –

Phil: ‘We’ll get carpal tunnel!’.

Rich: ‘In a column, it’s just gonna eat up space for me to write!’. And it was like, ‘Steve’s actually right about that’.

LRM: Good point.

Phil: We listen.

Rich: ‘Do you think we should maybe shorten it to Ralph Breaks The Internet?’ It kind of flows a bit better.

LRM: And then with the whole story I mean, yes, that was perfect. Okay, so, was there a concern in going to the internet that the video game aspects that made the original special would be lost?

Phil: Well, we spent the first 10 or 15 minutes of the film in the arcade so that you get a sense that that is home, that these video games … We go to Tron, Madden Football, Fix-It Felix, Jr., of course, Sugar Rush, Tapper. So we spend enough time, I think, honoring the nostalgic element of the first film, and then we knew we wanted it to change and we wanted to get out of the arcade and how much more different could you be than the internet? Of course, there’s online gaming. So we spent a good bit of our time in Slaughter Race, which is that sort of GTA style online game and that’s where Penelope really falls in love with the idea of the internet as a place where she can see herself living.

LRM: I guess that’s another part of reality that you covered in this movie. Not only friendship but the reality of the internet. You had Felix, the marriage. They have that marriage tension and then getting those 15, 16 gals.

Phil: Easy! Easy!

Ralph Breaks the Internet hits theaters this coming Wednesday!

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