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This is a big week for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Not only is Ralph Breaks The Internet now available for Digital Download, but the first trailer for the upcoming Frozen 2 was released earlier today. These are obviously two very different titles released by the same company, but one big thing they share in common is that they are sequels. After all, Walt Disney Animation is a studio definitely not known for theatrically-released follow-ups, and now we’re getting two of them in a row.
Naturally, this raises an important question: how will sequels be approached moving forward? The library of titles in this arena used to be limited to Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000, but that was before our current Hollywood era of franchise and IP dominance. It puts Walt Disney Animation in an interesting position, and one that I got the chance to recently discuss with two members of Disney’s Story Trust: Ralph Breaks The Internet directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston.
I sat down with the filmmakers earlier this month during the home video press day for their new movie, and it was at the end of the interview that I raised the discussion about the company’s sequel philosophy. In responding to my question, they fully acknowledged the interesting position in which Disney currently finds itself when it comes to demands from the audience. Said Rich Moore,
People want sequels. They want to see their favorite characters again a story that they love - and it's going to be tough! We have Frozen 2 coming, and people want to see Anna and Elsa on the big screen again, but I don't think that we ever want to get into a practice where we're just making sequels. We really doubled down on, 'We need to create new stories.' We can't just get into this rut of just revisiting something that we did five years ago, and giving another chapter of that.
Walt Disney Animation isn’t exactly going sequel overboard right now (per the old saying, two doesn’t make a pattern), but they have released some massive hits in recent years with worlds fans would be eager to revisit – including Zootopia and Big Hero 6. Furthermore, we don’t exactly know a great deal about their upcoming slate right now. Frozen 2, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee and set to be released on November 22nd, is the only officially announced Walt Disney Animation project that we currently know about. And while we’ll surely hear about a lot more at this summer’s D23 Expo, one has to wonder how many of the earmarked release dates in the next three years will feature familiar characters.
This isn’t a specific question that Disney is ready to answer yet, but Rich Moore was definitely happy to share how he feels all sequels need to be developed at Walt Disney Animation – noting his experience with Ralph Breaks The Internet as a prime example. Basically, the decision to make any kind of follow-up should not be motivated by box office earnings, but instead via desire and interest on behalf of the original filmmakers. Moore explained,
Really it was the love of the characters that we had for Ralph and Vanellope, and just the team that made the movie that made us go back to it. No one said to us, 'We want you to make another Ralph movie.' It came from us. So if we can keep it honest like that, that no one is saying make sequels, that it comes from the filmmakers, and we're making just as much original content here, then I think we're okay. Then it's healthy.
Taking a wider view, the longevity of the film industry as a whole is dependent on original and diverse storytelling that shows audiences things they’ve never seen before, and within that realm Phil Johnston acknowledged the important role Walt Disney Animation serves. While every studio constantly struggles to get audiences to engage with the unfamiliar, WDAS is one of the few companies that regularly makes it work, and that success creates a certain responsibility.
If Walt Disney Animation is one of the few names in the game that can get people to “take their medicine” in the form of original characters and storytelling (oh the horror), then that’s something that they need to embrace. Said Johnston,
The beauty to me about animation at our studio is that it's really one of the last places in big budget Hollywood filmmaking where original ideas can thrive and grow and become their own thing. Most of what exists now is existing brands or IP that lives in the world. The fact that we created Ralph and Vanellope those years ago, and we have revisited them, but I love that they live in the world and they didn't live in the world 10 years ago, and same with Nick and Judy in Zootopia.
Continuing, Phil Johnston further explained that there is also still something incredible about leaving a particular stamp on the world as a result of your own creativity:
I love that you can still make stuff up out of your imagination, and it can become a fun, successful movie whether it's a brand or a franchise or not. I don't know, I'm just proud that this place is making stuff that's original, and coming from the hearts and imaginations of the people who work here.
You can watch Rich Moore and Phil Johnston discuss the future of Walt Disney Animation Studios – and also pitch a super-weird crossover idea – by clicking play on the video below.
The next moves made by Walt Disney Animation Studios are going to be heavily scrutinized by fans and critics alike, and it should go without saying that our curiosity is piqued. We’ll continue to follow developments here at CinemaBlend, and in the meantime you can enjoy the latest hit from the filmmaking giant.
As mentioned above, Ralph Breaks The Internet, starring John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, and Taraji P. Henson, is now available for digital purchase. And for those of you waiting for physical copies, the film will be available on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD.