It's a cartoon that's firmly a family movie, yes, but the sequel's creators tell us that they wanted to deal with some big issues
Ralph Breaks the Internet directors on creating a cautionary tale for the social media generation
Ralph Breaks the Internet has shot to the top of the US box office, but according to its directors it’s not a movie for the faint-of-heart.
Rich Moore and Phil Johnson have had to tread a fine line in the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph: the 2012 animation is getting a second outing as a cautionary tale for the social media generation.
The directors view the new Ralph Breaks the Internet as a project on three levels: it's a cautionary tale yes, but it's also the journey of a friendship, as well as being a satire that takes on, for example, all of the mythical Disney princesses in one spectacular sequence.
The starting point for Johnson was the vulnerability of Ralph, voiced by John C Reilly. When we left the character in 2012, he was a needy friend of other characters, notably Kart racer, Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman). “That’s an unhealthy, dysfunctional way to live because he’s defining himself by the way someone else feels about him, and that insecurity was the reason we decided to re-examine the story and the characters,” Johnson tells The National.
This led to a film about Ralph and Vanellope's efforts to cope with the online world of games, shopping and, even, the deep web. “We did want to go to a place that is emotionally quite dark, when Ralph is bullied and trolled online, that is something that not just kids deal with.
“Everyone that puts themselves out into the world is susceptible to that - whether you are on Facebook or Twitter or share a video, whatever. Anonymous people can throw the worst, most hateful things at you. Someone who is insecure is really susceptible to being hurt by that. It's dark but it’s a reality of today’s internet.”
When Vanellope’s racer game breaks, the pair turn to Ebay to buy a part for it. To raise the money, they are plunged into a satire of Google and Amazon and the rest. An algorithm, Yesss, becomes the bad guy.
Then comes a rivalry for Ralph over the affection of Vanellope with Shank, who inhabits the dangerous world of the Slaughter race. The plot shows how vulnerable Ralph is, even when he is doing good things. “He’s trying to help his friend, and the place feels both bright and shiny. Then he becomes more and more jealous of Shank and more insecure, and he feels Vanellope slip away and he's really tampering in a domain where he’s trying to be a God to his friend,” said Moore.
“We’re seeing him being bullied in that comments room, and actually seeing his face where it’s hurting him to the point where he is sharing a tear. It could be the first time many young people see the cause and effect of hurtful language like that.”
What lifts the movie from a walk on the dark side is the set piece on those superstars of the Disney universe, the princesses. To Moore, the segment goes some way in reinventing characters who have been well known in just one way for generations.
“We may have gotten to a point where the princesses are only seen as fashion models in gowns, these royals up on a pedestal,” he said. “Crazy as it sounds, through the satire, we’re reminding the audience about the strange journeys these women have taken to get to the point where they are the princesses that we know.”
His co-director explains how the characters face real tests. “Had Vanellope not gone there and met these women and experienced the stories of their journey and their songs, Ralph would have not ended up in the dark web, procuring a virus doing something really stupid,” he explains. That test of the relationship becomes a journey everyone has experienced. “Friendship becomes toxic, they overcome the toxicity and take their friendship to another place,” he says.
At a time when the world of politics and even trade has become polarised, Johnson reflects on another essential nugget of life. “Just because we don’t think exactly the same way as our friends, that should not exclude them from being our friends,” he says.
He concedes that what’s on offer is “meatier” than what was standard in other feature length animations, like The Emoji Movie.
“These are themes that are deeper, meatier perhaps than would be handled in family fare,” he said. “In this case we definitely wanted to explore that the internet represents the best and worst of the world.”