‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ directors on the thrill of bringing the web to life

The “Wreck-It Ralph” sequel finds the characters on an adventure from website to website.

There was a big conceptual challenge for the creative minds behind the new animated sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2.”

That concept is the internet itself — specifically how to render it as a world to be occupied for an adventure featuring Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) in search of a steering wheel. But let’s back up a second.

As we return to the video game characters of the 2012 animated hit “Wreck-It Ralph,” they are living a monotonous life, which is a dream for Ralph and purgatory for Vanellope. When Ralph tries to build a new racetrack in her racing game, things go awry and, long story short, the steering wheel on her game breaks and if they can’t get a new one, her game — her home — will go to the great video game graveyard.

So it’s off to the Internet for find the wheel, and it is, where else, up for auction at eBay. The visualization of the Internet is a grand feast for the eyes, with small box-headed avatars milling around from website to website.

“When we came up with the idea of sending the characters to the internet, I think pretty early we said that we don’t want to just show the internet as a really great place, where it’s all just sunshine and roses,” says Rich Moore, who codirected the film with Phil Johnston. “We thought of it as kind of like how we did the city of ‘Zootopia.’ That there are good parts of the internet and there are bad parts.”

Johnston adds: “And it’s not our job to judge it.”

Moore says that their goal was for a person with a technical understanding of the internet to watch the film and go, “Oh, that’s a cool way of personifying how that stuff works.”

amNewYork spoke with Moore, 55, and Johnston, 47, about the film, which comes out on Wednesday.

What was it like returning to Ralph and Vanellope?

Phil Johnston: It felt great and a little bit daunting because we loved the first movie so much and at the time we felt like, “Well, this story is pretty well wrapped up." Rich and I have talked about the final line of the first movie which is, “If that kid likes me, how bad can I be?” Which is a very sweet sentiment and at the time we felt like a perfect sort of summary of Ralph’s journey. But the more we were poking at it, we were like, “That’s dysfunctional.” Because he’s still defining his self-worth based on how someone else thinks about him. So, once that kind of clicked into our minds, we were like, “Well, there’s more to his story. He has a lot of insecurity he has to overcome.” And Vanellope is a character that we only spend 45 minutes with in the first movie and she’s got a coming-of-age story of her own. So that’s really what this movie is. It’s picking up where we left off with Ralph having the perfect life because he‘s finally made a friend and then Vanellope kind of getting this itch that maybe there’s more to life.  

There’s a great scene that brings together all the Disney princesses. Can you talk about getting to work with them?

PJ: I mean that scene has taken on a life of its own, which when we came up with the idea, I don’t think we fully understood, “Oh my gosh. Someday we are going to record with these actresses and we are going to have a shot with 14 princesses in them.”

Rich Moore: And Sarah Silverman.

PJ: And Sarah Silverman as part of it. It was fun. It was an honor.

RM: It’s kind of like if you could take Judy Garland as Dorothy and bring her to today. That’s what it’s strangely like with Snow White, if you are able to pluck them from their time period exactly as they are.

Were you able to bring back the voice actors from those classic characters?

PJ: As many as are alive and healthy enough to do it. All of them. So I think there were nine women. We actually all got together at D23 expo, which is like Disney’s Comic Con, a couple years ago. All were on stage and Sarah Silverman was onstage as Vanellope, which she calls Disney’s first Jewish princess. And we just love that she owns that and she’s part of it and they embraced her and it was a genuinely emotional moment, bringing them all together. It was really cool.

So is Vanellope now an official Disney princess?

PJ: Well, I think so.

RM: It’s not until the smoke comes out of the chimney. Like the princess Vatican area. But we got fingers crossed.

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