How do you depict the internet, a thing we use every day but never actually see? That’s the challenge Ralph Breaks the Internet directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore, head of story Josie Trinidad, and the rest of the movie’s creative team had to answer.
During a panel at New York Comic Con (NYCC), Johnston, Moore, and Trinidad showed more than 20 minutes of exclusive footage from the movie and talked about the process of animating the internet.
The sequel follows the same lead characters as Wreck-It Ralph, includingvRalph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), as they go into the internet in an attempt to buy a piece to fix Vanellope’s game, Sugar Rush, so it won’t get unplugged.
“We started to think about transporting these two misfits, these two goofballs, from the arcade, which we think of as kind of a small town, and taking them to the big city, which is what we think the internet is,” Moore said. “That seemed like a really juicy idea. We could see the potential for comedy and that got us really excited.”
When the team created characters that would interact with each other in the internet, they fell into two categories: Net Users and Netizens. The Net Users are square-headed internet avatars of real people who are using the internet from their computers or phones. The Netizens are people who work and live in the internet full-time, the way Ralph and Vanellope live in their games.
One of those Netizens is Shank (Gal Gadot), the “boss character” in a shady online racing game literally called Slaughter Race. In an exclusive scene shown at NYCC, Vanellope and Ralph try to steal one of Shank’s cars to sell to an online gamer, using a very real internet practice called loot hunting. In the scene, Vanellope is thrilled by the unpredictability of racing off-track, which is very different than her experience racing in Sugar Rush. Ralph holds on for dear life as Shank chases them through Slaughter Race, the two cars performing intense stunts, like driving on the sides of tunnels and taking sharp corners while driving backward. Shank seems impressed by Vanellope’s racing skills, which are nearly a match for her own. Ultimately, Shank wins the chase, taking Vanellope by surprise after driving through a flaming tunnel that Vanellope had used her glitch to get through.
Another exclusive scene showed Ralph and Vanellope at eBay, where they go to bid on the steering wheel. The directors settled on an auction house as the feel for eBay, actually casting U.S. Champion Auctioneer Brian Curless as the voice of one eBay auctioneer. In the scene, eBay is just as overwhelming “in person” as it feels to us online. Ralph and Vanellope wander past a wonderfully strange assortment of goods for sale, including a “gently used artificial hip,” “a sorrowful painting of a black kitten,” and “a tortilla chip shaped like international superstar Beyoncé Knowles.” When they do find the steering wheel, they don’t realize that the bids actually correspond to monetary value. With only seconds remaining in the auction, Ralph and Vanellope manage to drive up the price from $200 to $27,001 and win—meaning they have to make real money, fast.
When loot hunting doesn’t work, Ralph and Venellope meet Yesss (Jaraji P. Henson), an embodiment of an algorithm who works for a fictional site called “BuzzTube.” She tells Ralph and Vanellope about viral videos, and how you can make real money if your videos get popular enough online. Although Ralph’s videos (which include one of Ralph’s face superimposed on a screaming goat) are very successful, another exclusive scene showed the aftermath of sharing a video online when Ralph accidentally wanders into the comments section.
“We thought we had a responsibility to talk about things that are complicated on the internet,” Trinidad explained, introducing the scene. Ralph reads comments like “Ralph is the worst,” and “I hate him. He is so fat and ugly.” Yesss walks in to see Ralph upset and has to teach him about the “No. 1 rule of the internet:” not reading the comments.
The last exclusive scene was the full scene of Vanellope meeting the Disney Princesses. Fans already saw some of this scene in the movie’s first trailer, but fans at NYCC were treated to a version nearly twice as long. Vanellope, technically a princess herself, glitches into the princesses’ room to escape from Storm Troopers. Once the princesses, voiced by their original actresses, are no longer on the defensive, their interactions with Vanellope get even funnier—Disney is clearly self-aware.
For example, Princess Jasmine asks if Vanellope has “daddy issues,” and Vanellope responds, “I don’t even have a mom.” In response, all of the princesses chorus “neither do we!” The princesses go on to marvel at Vanellope’s clothes, which include pants. This prompts Cinderella to call for her mice to make them all new comfortable outfits, which they proceed to lounge around in.
“Of all the thingabobs in the world, I never thought I’d wear a—what’s it called? Shirt!” Ariel says. Then, the other princesses shut her down as she begins breaking out in song.
Vanellope admits that her view of princesses (“perfect and boring”) might have been wrong, noting that they seem “just as messed up as the rest of us.” The ladies then go on to prove this point, with Snow White admitting that she’s legally blind and Jasmine sharing that she’s allergic to cats. When Merida speaks with her heavy Scottish accent, the other princesses admit they can’t understand a word she says. (“She’s from the other studio.”) The scene ends with a visit from C-3P0, telling the princesses they’re needed in five.
According to the directors, animating the internet was a major challenge at the start. When they gave Disney animators free reign to “explore the grandeur and majesty of the internet,” the first three attempts were literally cat videos. In fact, one of those cat videos made it into the final cut of the movie.
Trinidad said the real inspiration came from the team’s research trip, something Disney does for every movie. For example, they traveled to Africa before Zootopia, to the Pacific Islands for Moana, and to Norway for Frozen.
“For Ralph Breaks the Internet, where did we go?” Trinidad said. “Well, we drove a whopping eight miles down the congested Five freeway to this lovely building in downtown LA. It’s called One Wilshire Boulevard.”
While not as extravagant as Norway, this spot was perfect for Ralph Breaks the Internet, because One Wilshire houses the internet connections for all of North America. Seeing the miles of wires and thousands of server boxes inspired the artists to begin to form the version of the internet portrayed in the movie.
One thing the NYCC didn’t reveal was the movie’s end, so fans will have to wait and see if Ralph and Vanellope save Sugar Rush when Ralph Breaks the Internet hits theaters November 21.