RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET is hitting theaters Thanksgiving Day, and the star-filled Press Conference held on 11/3/18 in Beverly Hills gave us insight into the story, design and characters of the film. It was by far one of the most enjoyable press conferences I’ve ever attended, with lots of behind-the-scenes stories and even a break-out therapy session. Who knew stars have insecurities too??
There are a few minor movie spoilers here, so if you don’t want to know ANYTHING about the film going in, wait until after you’ve seen it to read past this point. Here are the illustrious creators in attendance:
NOTE: Dani Fernandez is depicted in the film! They used her persona as an internet personality to be…an internet personality! Art imitating life.
Wreck-it Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) and best friend Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman) must save her game, Sugar Rush, from being *gasp* unplugged! They leave the comforts of Litwak’s arcade to explore the vast, uncharted world of the internet for a solution. Lending a virtual hand are Yesss (voice of Taraji P. Henson), the head algorithm and the heart and soul of the trend-making site “BuzzzTube,” and Shank (voice of Gal Gadot), a tough-as-nails driver from a gritty online auto-racing game called Slaughter Race, a place Vanellope wholeheartedly embraces—so much so that Ralph worries he may lose the only friend he’s ever had.
Let’s dig a little deeper below the surface of RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET. The crux of the film hangs on Ralph’s insecurities and fear of losing Vanellope as his best friend. For this reason, I highly recommend everyone watch WRECK-IT RALPH as a refresher before this new film. Phil Johnston and John C. Reilly explain the story trajectory.
JOHN C. REILLY (voice of Ralph): We have this idea that the arcade is like the childhood arena of their friendship and the Internet represents the sort of larger world beyond as they grow and mature. And Ralph really worked so hard to get a friend in that first one. He’s like, got it. Rest of life, solved!
PHIL JOHNSTON (Director): But then as we continued to kind of pick at it, we said, that’s really, really dysfunctional. That this guy is defining himself by what his one best friend thinks. And [Vaneloppe] is a great best friend. But what if she were not to like him someday? What would that lead to?
So the directors take Ralph and Vanellope out of their safe little world and thrust them into the internet, which everyone knows is a place of fluffy bunnies, soft kitties and happy rainbows….(yes, you detected sarcasm in that last sentence). It’s the story that keeps on giving, because the internet is an absolutely endless place to explore.
So just how DO you create an animated internet our characters can walk and talk and interact with?
How do you transform something we are so intimately familiar with? I mean, according to the new “Screen Time” setting on my iPhone – I am on the internet 7 hours each day – and that doesn’t even include my laptop computer! Phil Johnston explains the concept of The Animated Internet.
PHIL JOHNSTON: We finally landed on something where we thought of it like an old city like Rome or Istanbul where the ancient city is buried deep beneath. Then they build a new version on top of that and a new version on top of that like that. Like a city that is multi multi layered with the newest, biggest Websites are up on top. Then the old forgotten stuff is down at the bottom.
Think about it, bright and shiny Google sits atop cat memes, which sits atop MySpace, and finally in the dark depths you see an intermittent blinking light displaying “AOL”. It makes a whole lot of sense.
I thought the animators did an INCREDIBLE job with the animated internet, but wondered if one of their ideas ended up on the cutting room floor. Phil Johnston explained that in one iteration of the story, there was a big anti-virus component as a “big bad”.
PHIL JOHNSTON: And they had this woman running it based after my mother named BEV. Built to Eradicate Viruses. She was this really kindly mid-western woman, but then had this nasty fascistic streak to her. My mother is lovely. I don’t know why we did that to my mom. But that was a storyline where we had that as a force of antagonism. But we ended up settling on a different source for the “big bad” in the film.
At one moment in RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET, a bunch of little Ralphs form together into one giant “King Kong” Ralph. It’s a really interesting visual, and we had questions – how did they create this?
CLARK SPENCER (Producer): One is technology is just improving in terms of the ability to render faster, which is a big key component to it. The second thing with Kong Ralph – we had to change our pipeline paradigm. We would have four departments come together to work in tandem with each other. So it’s really the effects department, lighting, animation, and crowds, who all came together to work as a team which is outside of the pipeline we usually use.
And then the third piece is technology came in and really figured out a way to make sure that the characters don’t interpenetrate each other. That was going to the biggest most complicated part of it. There is 300,000 Ralphs in that Kong Ralph. So there are many pieces of the puzzle that had to all come together to create that.
Yes, technology creates the visuals we watch during a movie, but it is the actors and characters we fall in love with. The film comes to life with voices we learn to cherish. In particular, we learned that John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman recorded Ralph and Vanellope in studio together. The way they interacted with each other at the press conference confirmed that not only are the characters best friends, but the voices behind them get along famously too.
SARAH SILVERMAN (voice of Vanellope): We get to improvise. They give us a lot of freedom. We collaborate a lot and the script itself is so fantastic. I think they always book about maybe an extra hour of time than they need because we get real chatty. And there is definitely an album. Like a very rated R comedy album somewhere in the audio footage of recording for sure.
JOHN C. REILLY: It was a real treat to get into the studio again with Sarah. In a way, our friendship has aged five years since the last film. So it tracks in a way with Ralph and Vanellope. And you can really see that in the film. I think I was one of the first people to insist that we try to be in the room together as much as possible. Because I know the way improv works, it works best in real time. So yeah. There’s a ton of improvised stuff, which Phil and Rich were very kind to just let us explore things every day. That’s one of the great joys of doing audio work. There is never the pressure of the sun going down. I think it does come across in the film. It gives the film a soul it might not have if we weren’t there together.
Sarah Silverman was quite the popular woman at the press conference, because Vanellope explores her princess side in the film in an absolutely FANTASTIC way. It’s not everyday you get to interact with every Disney princess ever AND sing your own princess song. Sarah was on cloud nine.
SARAH SILVERMAN: It was a dream come true [to have my own princess song]. I couldn’t believe it. And the music was written by Alan Menken and I got to meet him and work with him and rehearse with him. Then we recorded with a whole orchestra. Like you see in old timely movies. He was crazy. It was really the thrill of a lifetime.
And it’s something that the idea of Disney Princess, what makes it good is that it has grown and changed. That Disney has taken on progress and inclusivity and has grown and changed in positive ways. And really, this movie just faces it head on. Leans right into it. ‘Well, you get saved by a man, and you’re in great distress. Your life is threatened and then someone else saves you.’ And then all in one movie acknowledge all of that and then shatter it! I love that Vanellope sheds light on these grown up princesses that are uncomfortable hanging out. Vanellope is this kid who becomes a princess with an attainable waist line, wearing comfortable clothes.
Do you know what it’s like to have a best friend? The comfort, the fun, the understanding – there’s really nothing else like it. Now imagine that person turning their back on you. This is the insecurity Ralph faces in RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET. His insecurity is the “bad guy”. One astute member of the press asked each and every one of the cast and creators to name their biggest insecurity, and they did! From that point on, we were no longer at a press conference, we were at a therapy session!
I can’t write or transcribe the inflection of each individual, so I encourage you to watch the full Press Conference video embedded below. To zoom straight to the “insecurities” question, head to timestamp 16:15.
Interested in exactly how this therapy session started and why? Head to my article on Skywalking Through Neverland for the sordid details!
By far the most quotable at the press conference was John C. Reilly. The man is highly intelligent, and he really had some profound things to say about RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET. It’s more than just an entertaining movie. There is a huge subtext within the film. It is a commentary on the internet and our relationship to it. If you’re still on the fence about seeing the film, heed John’s words.
JOHN C. REILLY: The Internet is like the central issue of our time. Our relationship to this technology, its power, and its effect on us, we don’t even quite understand yet. It’s as powerful as a nuclear bomb. So it was really exciting in the context of an entertaining Disney film to be able to talk about some of these issues in a really real way. Its effect on people. The way we’re bombarded with commerce on the Internet. Why do we crave the anonymous acceptance of people we don’t know? You come away from the film thinking about some of the most important issues of our time.
RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET hits U.S. theaters this Thanksgiving day, 11/21/18. Take the family and enjoy a great story, great animation and loveable characters.