Ralph Breaks the Internet directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston answer our burning questions
Do the words “pancake” and “milkshake” trigger you ever so slightly? Do you have a sudden appreciation for the logistics of dressmaking? Have you reconsidered your stance on clicking pop-up ads based on the friendly green faces and/or disgusting worm creatures who may be lurking behind them?
Congratulations, you’ve seen Ralph Breaks the Internet! And you’ve joined the thousands of others who have made Disney’s sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph the box-office buster du jour, with a five-day opening haul of over $84 million for the journey of Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) to the frontier of the wild, wild Wi-Fi.
The film has struck a chord with fans — not to mention the cast — and with audiences now finally clued in to the secrets and surprises of their long-in-the-works sequel, directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston are ready to log on and give EW the download on some of the film’s most burning questions. No. 6 will amaze you!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I want to start by talking about the third act, which you haven’t been able to discuss until now. What was the genesis of your “villain,” as it were, and the decisions that led to Ralph’s insecurity culminating in this giant manifestation of the character?
RICH MOORE: When we landed on the idea of Ralph being so insecure — and that the story was going to be about their friendship on the line and Ralph making bad decision after bad decision in trying to hang on to Vanellope to the point where it was becoming toxic — we said to ourselves that we didn’t want to have a traditional antagonist in this movie. We didn’t want to do another Disney villain, or a surprise villain, as some people call them. We really wanted the antagonist to be Ralph’s insecurity. Not Ralph, but his actual sense of insecurity. But we didn’t know how to do it at first. We imagined the perfect image to come out of the climax would be, somehow, Ralph letting go of Vanellope. Releasing her. But for a long time we battled with, how do we show that? How do we achieve this? To the point where we almost gave up on the idea. But then we finally just doubled down and said we don’t know what the solution is yet, but we know that’s the idea that we want to land on, so we’re just going to take it on faith and push forward with the story and continue to beat it up and wait until the idea revealed itself.
PHIL JOHNSTON: And honestly, from the very first draft, there were always these Ralph clones that were being replicated and clogging the internet. It wasn’t until we did some research with antivirus and malware experts that they started using the word ‘insecurity’ as what a virus actually looks for when it looks for weaknesses in a program, which helped us find the double meaning of that word. That did lead us to that actually being the way a denial-of-service attack works. Although obviously there isn’t really a gigantic monster in a denial-of-service attack.
What was your directive to Alan Menken when you brought him onboard to write Vanellope’s song “A Place Called Slaughter Race”? And which previous Disney songs were big inspirations?
JOHNSTON: Definitely “Be Our Guest” and “Belle,” meeting the townsfolk. There’s a song from Hercules that didn’t make the cut, but it was referenced. And for Alan, the biggest thing we just said was, “Treat this like a real ‘I want’ song.” Any comedy that was to be had should be coming from a juxtaposition of tones, because for Vanellope, it’s a real song where she really wants what she’s singing about, and for her it’s not a joke.
MOORE: It’s a Disney princess singing about Grand Theft Auto as if it’s the perfect world, although I don’t remember if Alan knew what that game was. But in the beginning we showed him a very, very rough cut of an animatic that we used. It was just temp music that Phil and [executive music producer] Tom MacDougall found, and they wrote the lyrics to match this music that they had, but we played it for Alan when he came in and we’re like, “Well, what do you think?” And he said, “It’s about 30 percent of the way there.” [Laughs.] We were happy to get to 30 percent.
Audiences knew the epic princess scene was coming, but talk to me about their surprise rescue at the end of the film. “Hairachute” is the code name, yes?
MOORE: That’s what we would call it internally.
JOHNSTON: Ariel had a line at one point where she said, “Oh my gosh, look, guys, the Hairachute is working!”
With 14 princesses and 14 beats to hit, what was the challenge of piecing together the puzzle of their powers?
JOHNSTON: It was a fever dream. We went into the desert and did some peyote and came back and did it. [Laughs.] No, we started by listing all the powers of the different princesses, knowing that we wanted this kind of Rube-Goldberg device. Jim Reardon, our director of story, did the first pass of it and I can’t remember what all he invented, but he did do an awful lot of the construction of it and how one thing would lead to the next based on the tropes and superpowers that we were hoping to incorporate into the rescue. And on top of that, obviously the princesses have to rescue the big strong man, but how do we make a Rube-Goldberg device both funny and weirdly emotional and silly all at once?
MOORE: Don Hall, who directed Big Hero 6, followed up what Jim did and fleshed it out a little bit further, too. It was, like everything that we do, a big collaborative effort in creating. We would say to our cinematographers, “You’re just going to have to throw logic out the window with this one. You’re going to have to trust us that this should be a cartoon. This should be an action sequence and it should be very kinetic and not everything has to hook up or make perfect logical sense, especially when you’re dealing with a parachute made out of dresses and hair.” [Laughs.] It was just a huge collaboration.
Shout out to Henry Jackman for the music that ties it all together, too.
MOORE: Oh my God, the way that he was able to weave it all together. He amazes me how quickly his music can turn on a dime, emotionally, from each of those motifs, right? I don’t know how you do that. But he killed it. Like, I remember him playing his demo of that sequence for us the very first time, and I was just blown away by it. It’s actually pretty much what’s in the movie now.
“Bunny and Kitty,” or “Pancake Milkshake,” or whatever you’ve dubbed it, is certainly a scene that made it pretty far in the film but was ultimately cut. Where in the movie was that scene initially set?
MOORE: When Ralph and Vanellope meet Spamley and he sends them out loot-hunting, there was a whole section where they were going to go to different video games— Pancake Milkshake being one of them — collecting items to make money to sell on Spamley’s site. By the time it was time to do the teaser, we thought, “Oh, this is staying in. This will be in the movie no matter what.” It was so funny, to the point where it was one of the first things we put into production in animation. It actually may have been the very first sequence. So the marketing department saw it and they’re like, “Oh my God, we gotta use this in the teaser.” But about a month after that, we were working on the story and we had to trim it down. We were treading water with visiting all these other game sites as they harvested these items, and at that point, it felt like we had three montages in the movie, so they just needed to go straight to Slaughter Race [and skip Pancake Milkshake]. And we did think, “But it’s in the teaser! People are talking about this scene!” Even the Consumer Products department was already making things for it! But we have a strict policy. If it’s not serving the story, then it’s not in the movie. So we made the difficult decision that we cut it, and everyone was so disappointed, but we’d watch it over and over until it was Phil, I think, who had the idea late in the game to make it a post-credits sequence, and to make it very meta that the little girl playing the game was actually upset that the scene was not in the movie.
In the credits, that little girl was named Mo, and her mother is voiced by Nicole Scherzinger, who voiced Moana’s mom in Moana. Explain!
JOHNSTON: Because we did unfortunately not heed our own advice and we read the comments [when the teaser came out], we saw people saying, “Wait, is that Baby Moana?” So, her name is Mo, and Moana’s mom does do the voice. But she’s not Moana.
MOORE: We would say, she’s a descendant of Moana, who’s named Moana. We’re just going to go full meta on this one.
You mentioned Spamley, so let me ask two questions: One, what the hell was Gord? And two, is there a reason Bill Hader decided to go uncredited for this role?
JOHNSTON: First of all, not sure who you’re talking about.
MOORE: I don’t know who this Bill Hader guy is.
JOHNSTON: We don’t know why that character exists. We don’t know who voiced it. We’ll let the internet figure that out.
MOORE: Haders are gonna hate.
JOHNSTON: And Marc, how dare you ask what Gord is.
MOORE: He’s a child of God just like all of us.
JOHNSTON: Gord is every man. He’s every woman. He’s a beautiful little google-eyed weirdo.
MOORE: But I think he is kind of the same race as Double Dan.
JOHNSTON: Yeah, he’s Double Dan’s cousin. His design is very similar to that of little Dan, the vestigial twin in Dan’s shoulder. You’ll notice their eyes are quite similar. So they’re of the same… they’ve got a tiny bit of virus in them.
MOORE: They’re supposed to be worm malware. Because worms will produce viruses. I think that Gord is some sort of…
JOHNSTON: Beneficent worm.
MOORE: He’s a Double Dan in training. But Gord at least covers his shame, unlike Double Dan.
How many videos do you estimate your animation team created overall in the BuzzzTube sequence?
JOHNSTON: There are probably only about 10 or so Ralph videos, but there are hundreds, if not thousands. We asked people to submit their own videos to fill the space in BuzzzTube, and that reaches well into the hundreds. We tried not to double up.
MOORE: I think they did almost 100 cat videos. We made a bunch of animated videos that are in the foreground of BuzzzTube, and it turned out it wasn’t enough to fill the whole space, so our visual effects supervisor Scott Kersavage, he figured out a system of making short live-action videos and then processing them to look like animation. We had tons of them. An e-mail went out to the studio: “Hey guys, if you have a video of your pet, of your family, or of any kind of landscape, send them in.” And Scott personally went through and processed each one of them to give them kind of a posterized, cel-shading look to use throughout the BuzzzTube sequence because we didn’t want to double up on the same videos. We wanted it to feel like there were thousands and thousands of different videos in the space.
For fans who will revisit the film multiple times, which sequence would you say bears the most Easter eggs?
MOORE: My mind goes to Oh My Disney, but those big wide shots at the beginning of the BuzzzTube sequence, I had forgotten that there’s a lot in there.
JOHNSTON: Most of the ones that are in any sort of focus are the ones that we made with animated cats, animated babies, people falling down on skateboards and things like that. The ones Rich is talking about are soft-focused and way in the background.
By the end of the film, it’s fairly clear that this is not a sequel that leaves a door open for another one. Whereas so many successful properties become trilogies or bigger franchises, do you feel that Wreck-It Ralph is a 1-2 punch story?
JOHNSTON: We can joke around and throw out silly plot ideas, but from an emotional standpoint, I think it’s a story where Ralph grows up and Vanellope is in the middle of growing up and finding her way. For me, it’s a very nice two-chapter story that I would feel happy if this were it. Unless some lightning strikes and Vanellope has more growing up to do or something like that. But to me, it feels like The Iliad and The Odyssey. Or The Idiot and The Odyssey. [Laughs.]
MOORE: I would hate to take a gamble on a Godfather III. But I agree. I love where [Ralph] has ended up. It feels so nicely wrapped up. It’s a big fun world, yes, but there would have to be more than just, “Hey, let’s go back to that world.” There would have to be something really demanding that it be addressed, like it was with the first one when we decided to do the second one.
JOHNSTON: Someone did throw out the idea of a streaming show of Felix and Calhoun raising those 15 kids like a family sitcom. So there’s that, I guess.
Speaking of worlds to revisit, I remember chatting with you after the release of Zootopia when a second Ralph movie was the big secret. Now, are you free to do Zootopia 2?
MOORE: I’m not so sure. I mean, I love that world. It’s like tailor-made for another story. I don’t see one right now. I know the fans would love it. But just like the second Wreck-It Ralph, until something presents itself or if we do some digging on it and something pops forward, we’re not the type to just do it to do it. But again, it’s never say never. The film will tell us.
JOHNSTON: Honestly, there’s no secret at this point. For me, it’s just clearing my head and letting new ideas come in, whatever they may be, and being 100 percent available for them.
Ralph Breaks the Internet