When you look at Ralph Breaks The Internet from a modern Hollywood perspective, the film is a no-brainer. Wreck-It Ralph was a box office smash when it was released in late 2012, grossing nearly half a billion worldwide, and the standard response to those kinds of numbers in the industry is to greenlight a sequel. The only place where that isn't par for the course, however, is Walt Disney Animation Studios, and the filmmakers behind the new movie are very aware of that legacy. As co-director Rich Moore puts it,
Well at least it's our own characters that we've worked with before. It would be... if we were, say, doing Peter Pan 2 or something, I wouldn't want the responsibility, because everyone has ideas and those characters are so iconic. I think that's probably why it's not done that much, because everyone has their opinion of what these characters are like. At least we know these guys better than anyone, so it felt natural to kind of go forward with it. I can understand why they don't do sequels.
Walt Disney Animation Studios has created 56 films going back to the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, but a surprising part of that number is that only two of them are sequels: 1990's The Rescuers Down Under, and 2000's Fantasia 2000. While there have been follow-ups made to some of the more popular titles -- such as Aladdin and The Lion King -- they were developed as home video releases and weren't made by the same division of the company.
It was actually at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California that I had the recent opportunity to do a three-on-one interview with Rich Moore, co-director Phil Johnston, producer Clark Spencer and discuss their work on Ralph Breaks The Internet. Sitting down with the filmmakers, my first question out of the gate was about the company's limited sequel history -- and they made it clear it was something they were aware of all throughout the process of making the movie.
Going back and discussing the early development of Ralph Breaks The Internet just as a concept, Clark Spencer noted that there was never really a mandate for the company to start developing a Wreck-It Ralph 2. Instead, the producer -- who has been producing with Disney since 2002's Lilo And Stitch -- explained that the project simply wouldn't have happened if Rich Moore and Phil Johnston come to the folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios with a great pitch:
They didn't come to us and say, 'Please make Ralph Breaks the Internet/Ralph 2.' It was these guys saying that there's more to tell, and we have an idea, and then pitching it, and everyone said, 'The internet is such an incredible world to send these two characters.'
As noted, Ralph Breaks The Internet will move Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) out of the arcade and into the world wide web where they hope to find a steering wheel that will repair Vanellope's game. Along the way they run into a whole lot of cool characters -- including all of the Disney Princesses -- but most important among them is Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), an algorithm with the skills to turn Ralph into an internet sensation.
Given the long list of copycat sequels that just try to replicate the success of the processor, it's exciting to see Ralph Breaks The Internet go in a totally different direction than Wreck-It Ralph -- but that just opens the door to a different source of pressure. Not only does the new movie have to deal with the limited legacy of Walt Disney Animation Studios, but also, as Phil Johnston put it, the sincere general challenge of telling a worthy follow-up story:
Sequels are hard, and great ones are few and far between, so there is pressure. You want to be Godfather II or Toy Story 2 and not... I won't name some of the horrible ones. There are ample versions where 'Why didn't you just leave well enough alone?' I'm really proud of this one. But it sure hasn't been easy.
All animated Disney films go through a rigorous story process where the narrative is repeatedly constructed and deconstructed, all in the name of making the end product as good as possible. It's a process of constant adjustment, but it's all the more complicated when the sequel element is introduced. As Rich Moore explained, it led to some interesting story swings -- some of which apparently didn't go over too well:
As we went along it seemed like there was a moment where I was like, 'This is easy! My God, we have this!' And then you realize, 'Wait a minute, we're just remaking the same movie.' The first one. It's like, 'Okay, we need to swing it way over this way.' Suddenly no one recognizes the characters. People are like, 'Why are you doing this to the characters? I don't even know what you're doing.'
Piggybacking on Rich Moore's comments, Phil Johnston told a funny and enlightening story about the behind-the-scenes process on Ralph Breaks The Internet and the weird way he was reintroduced to the predecessor. Said the filmmaker,
I'm just remembering this. We show our movies in house, you know? And I remember getting a note on our third screening, like, 'This feels a lot like the first one based on Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah.' I'm like, 'God, I haven't seen the first one in a long time, I should probably go rewatch it!' I did, and I'm like, 'Oh yeah, I forgot about that. That was pretty good!'
It's funny yet totally understandable that filmmakers can work so intensely on an animated project for such a long time that by the end they are just ready to let go. At the same time, though, it seems like it will make Ralph Breaks The Internet all the better, as the filmmakers could look back at Wreck-It Ralph with a fresh perspective and understanding of why it works so well.
While the new movie has been in the works for years now, it's now just about ready to hit theaters around the world. Ralph Breaks The Internet is less than a month away from release, going wide on November 21st, and be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for a lot more of our coverage.