Directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, Ralph Breaks the Internet (out in theaters on November 21st), the sequel to the hugely popular nostalgia-filled Wreck-It Ralph, will see best friends Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman) leave the safety of Litwak’s video arcade behind, as they venture into the world of the internet in search of a way to repair the Sugar Rush video game. If they can navigate their way through the world wide web and find the part to her game that will get it turned back on, Vanellope can return to her video game and her life with Ralph can go back to normal.
At an early preview day held at Walt Disney Animation Studios back in August, members of the press were given glimpses into the journey that Ralph and Vanellope will be on next, some of the new characters that they’ll cross paths with, and the evolution in technology since the first film. Collider also got the opportunity to sit down with Pamela Ribon, who co-wrote the film with Phil Johnston, Kira Lehtomaki, who was the co-head of animation along with Renato Dos Anjos, and Ami Thompson, the art director for characters, to talk about developing the story for the sequel, building off of what was already established in the first film, the inspiration for the “Oh My Disney” sequence with the princesses from previous Disney animated movies, reimagining those iconic characters and creating new clothing looks for them, and that there’s still so much for fans to discover about the film.
Collider: Working on a movie like Ralph Breaks the Internet must be so much fun, but it must also be daunting because, with the second movie, people know the characters and have a certain level of expectation now. Pamela, as a result, how scary is it to face the blank page and figure out what to make the characters say and do?
PAMELA RIBON: It is scary. The challenge of a sequel is that you wanna visit friends again and have the same good feelings that you had, watching the first film, but go on a completely new journey that makes sense in that world and doesn’t seem like a random problem. That is probably the most daunting part. Once we knew where they were going and the tone, then the idea is, does every scene service the story and match the feeling you want it to have? That almost makes it easier because then you have a target, as opposed to when you first sit down and you’re like, “This could be anything!” It can’t. You have to narrow it down.
Since you weren’t credited as a writer on the first film, how did you come to write the sequel?
RIBON: Well, we all help each other out, on all of each other’s films, so I had met these guys prior. I came in right after the first Ralph came out. We were still working on Frozen. That’s when I started meeting everybody. We were working together on different story trust meetings. Rich [Moore], in particular, sat in on some things for Moana, and then I worked with him on Bears, the Disneynature documentary. At that point, they knew that Jen [Lee] wasn’t gonna be making the sequel ‘cause she was building the Frozen empire, so I came in because we had all worked together in a way that seemed to be working.
Kira and Ami, for the animation and design of the characters, what’s it like to be able to build off of what was already established, with the first film?
LEHTOMAKI: From an animation perspective, the moment you get to the end of these movies, we always feel like we know the characters, we know how they move and we know how they think, and we’ve got it all figured out, but that’s the time that you have to say goodbye. So, it was such a gift to fast-forward six years later and revisit these characters. We know them, but then there’s the scary thought that they’ve grown, too, over the six years and they’re in a different spot, so how are they different and what is the new dimension to their performance. There’s still growth there, and there’s the fun challenge of having to figure that out. It is so great to go back and not have to start at the ground level, and get to just continue to build up.
THOMPSON: From the design standpoint, when we realized that we were gonna be meeting Ralph and Vanellope again, we always want to go back to what they did in the first film and study the shape of the characters. We always want to cherish the design, when it’s carried over, so that the shape is correct and they’re appealing.
Pamela, so what started the whole “Oh My Disney” sequence? What inspired such a crazy, epic moment?
RIBON: I was working on Moana and we were coming up with this new character, while we were still talking about Ralph, and I thought, “Gosh, Vanellope is a princess. How come they never talk about that?” People often think Wreck-It Ralph is a Pixar movie, so they don’t necessarily think of the characters alongside the Frozen characters, when they really are in the legacy of the studio. So, that idea was in my head. And as I was writing for a new character and putting her in a new world and wondering what she could learn about herself, the Moana in me was like, “Well, you’ve gotta look back and know where you came from to know where you’re going.” So, for her to move into this new land and learn about a new world, I wondered about what Vanellope could take away from that. In the first movie, we learn about her past, and this is another way to learn a little bit more about her.
You’ve talked about how you were nervous about showing other people that sequence. What was it like to see it brought to life, yourself? Did you know it would be as big of a deal as it’s become?
RIBON: No, you can’t know that! I was very nervous, but it’s magic and amazing. Everything that adds to it is beautiful. It does feel a little bit like a dream, at times, and like this whole time, I’ve been asleep, just like one of the princess comas. It’s crazy! It was scary. You’re walking into a place that has a lot of history and a legacy and you’re saying, “What if I mix it up a little? Is that okay?”
Kira, what’s it like to get to reimagine these iconic characters, in animated form?
LEHTOMAKI: It’s excitement and terror together, absolutely. For me, these characters have had such a profound impact on my life. I treasure them like I would a best friend. We have to treat them correctly. This does it with such love. It pulls back the curtain and shows you a new side of the princesses that’s always been there, but you’ve never really looked at them, in that way. Getting to explore that was just thrilling. We had so many great consultants, like Mark Henn, who had true links to these characters, over all of the years, and the voice actresses, that it felt like everybody was putting in their all to make sure we did them justice.
When you were designing what the new outfits for the princesses would look like, were you thinking about the fact that we’d all need to have a full clothing line later, in real life?
RIBON: They were built with dreams.
LEHTOMAKI: It was truly like, “I would really want this!”
THOMPSON: I wanted the princesses to feel relatable, too. Why don’t the princesses just wear a shirt? They don’t have to wear dresses. So, when the story team came up with the idea of Vanellope visiting Oh My Disney and that all of the princesses would be there, my team was always on the same page about it being the coolest idea we’d ever heard, with them wearing shirts and sweaters.
RIBON: The fun of the first film was finding out about what these characters were like when they’re not at work, so that was the idea here. What does a princess get to be like in her downtime, when she’s just hanging out? They’re just girls, talking to each other. You get to see what they share when they don’t have to be the person that they are outside.
THOMPSON: We wanted to show how powerful they are, as unique characters. They’re all princesses, but they’re all unique people.
What are you most excited about, with Ralph Breaks the Internet?
RIBON: I can’t believe how much we haven’t shown yet. There’s so much more! Even with the trailer, there’s so much more.
THOMPSON: I wish I could tell you more, but you’ll just have to wait.
RIBON: It’s more fun to be surprised.
Ralph Breaks the Internet opens in theaters on November 21st.