Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Ralph Breaks the Internet

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Year: 2018

Source materials : Based on characters from Wreck-it Ralph

Budget: $175 million

Box office: $528.9 million

Plot: Six years since their previous misadventures, Wreck-it Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz have been best friends, hanging out every night after work in Litwak’s Family Fun Center and Arcade. While Ralph is content with his current life, Vanellope admits to being bored with her game’s predictability and wishes for something new.

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One day, Ralph attempts to fulfill her desires by creating a secret bonus track during a race. Vanellope overrides player control to test it out, but the resulting conflict between her and the player results in the cabinet’s steering wheel being broken. Since the company that made Sugar Rush is defunct, one of the kids finds a replacement for Mr. Litwak on eBay. However, Litwak deems it too expensive and has no choice but to unplug Sugar Rush, leaving the game’s characters homeless.

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That night, after talking with Fix-It Felix Jr., Ralph decides to enter the internet via Litwak’s recently installed Wi-Fi router to obtain the new wheel on eBay. Ralph brings Vanellope with him, and although they place a winning bid of $27,001 to obtain the wheel, they cannot pay and must make the purchase within 24 hours.

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The two turn to J.P. Spamley to quickly make money, receiving a lucrative job of stealing a valuable car belonging to Shank from the Slaughter Race. Ralph and Vanellope steal the car, but are forced to return it. Shank compliments Vanellope’s driving skills and points the duo towards Yesss at BuzzzTube, where Ralph decides to make a series of viral videos playing off popular trends to get the money.

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As Ralph’s videos become a viral sensation, an excited Vanellope joins Yesss’s staff in spamming users with pop-up ads. Ralph convinces Yesss to send Vanellope to Oh My Disney, where she meets and befriends the Disney Princesses, being encouraged by them to address her sense of unfulfillment and reaching a musical epiphany when Ralph calls her upon earning enough money to purchase the wheel. When Vanellope does not show up at eBay, Ralph’s second call causes him to overhear her confessing to Shank she wants to stay in Slaughter Race because its unpredictability and challenges made her feel more alive than she did in Sugar Rush.

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Horrified at the thought of Vanellope leaving him, Ralph turns to Spamley for a way to make Slaughter Race unsatisfying for Vanellope by slowing down everything in the game. Spamley takes Ralph to meet Double Dan, the creature of the dark web, who gives him Arthur, an insecurity virus, which replicates any flaw it finds. When Ralph unleashes the virus in Slaughter Race, it unexpectedly replicates Vanellope’s glitch across the game, triggering a server reboot and forcing Ralph to rescue Vanellope before the reboot deletes her from the game.

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Vanellope assumes the crash was her fault, but a guilty Ralph confesses to her what he had done. Feeling betrayed, she furiously disowns Ralph as her best friend and symbolizes it by throwing away the hero medal. While Ralph recovers the now broken-in-half medal, Arthur scans him and duplicates his personality flaws. This creates a legion of extremely possessive Ralph clones that cause serious damage to the Internet on a rampant search for Vanellope.

 

The real Ralph finds her, and they work with Yesss to lead the clones into an antivirus software district, but the clones combine into Ralphzilla, a gigantic Ralph automaton. Seeing Ralph is fighting a losing battle, Vanellope surrenders herself, but Ralph refuses to accept this. He confronts his clones, owning up to his selfishness and possessiveness of Vanellope in the process, telling them physical separation does not mean the end of their friendship. With his insecurities resolved, the clones disintegrate, and the Internet is restored, while Ralph is saved from falling to his death by the Disney Princesses.

Later, Shank arranges for Vanellope to respawn in Slaughter Race, allowing her to stay. Ralph gives her half of the broken medal as they both bid a tearful farewell. As Sugar Rush is plugged back in, Ralph returns to the arcade and comes to terms with Vanellope’s absence as he partakes in social activities with other game characters while staying in touch with Vanellope through video chats.

Background: Two working versions of the script had been scrapped before settling on the one used for the film, according to head writer Josie Trinidad. In one version, Vanellope had become self-absorbed by the Internet, gaining popularity and becoming a celebrity among the users. Ralph had been thrown in jail where he met the search engine Knowsmore, and they had partnered together to escape prison and help bring Vanellope back to her normal self. A second version had Ralph becoming an Internet-famous celebrity, and would have been challenged by an anti-virus program named Bev that served as a super cop and would have been the story’s villain.

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Animation: The design of the scenes within the Internet was based on tours made of One Wilshire in Los Angeles, as it is one of the world’s largest telecommunications centers, serving most traffic around the Pacific Ocean. The film contains over 150 unique sets and 5,726 assets. It also included the highest number of characters in any Disney Animation film, with 434 individual characters with 6,752 variants. One of the Disney animators who helped out to bring the Disney Princesses into CG animation was Mark Henn. He was also the original supervising animator of princesses Belle, Jasmine, Mulan, and Tiana.

Music and Songs: The soundtrack is composed by Henry Jackman, who also composed the score from the previous film The film features an original song called “A Place Called Slaughter Race”, performed by Sarah Silverman and Gal Gadot, written by Tom MacDougall and the film’s co-director Phil Johnston, and composed by Alan Menken; the song’s pop version, “In This Place”, was performed by Julia Michaels.

Voice Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch and Ed O’Neill reprise their roles from the first film. Alfred Molina returns as Double Dan and Little Dan. Bill Hader returns in an uncredited role as J.P. Spamley, and John DiMaggio returns as Arthur.

Gal Gadot as Shank. She appeared as Gisele Yashar in the Fast & the Furious franchise, and is best known for portraying Wonder Woman in DC films. She has appeared in Date Night, Triple 9, Criminal and Keeping Up With the Joneses. Taraji P. Henson as Yesss. She appeared in Hustle & Flow, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Date Night, The Karate Kid, Think Like a Man, and Hidden Figures. She appeared in the television series The Division, Boston Legal, Eli Stone, and Person of Interest. She stars as Cookie Lyon in series Empire.

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Original Disney Princrsses Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Kelly Macdonald, Mandy Moore, Paige O’Hara, Irene Bedard, Linda Larkin, Anika Noni Rose, Ming-Na Wen, and Jodi Benson reprise their roles. Cinderella 1 and Aurora 2 were voiced by current voice actresses Jennifer Hale and Kate Higgins respectively, and Snow White, 3 was voiced by screenwriter Pamela Ribon.

Several other voice actors make cameo appearance in the film such as Roger Craig Smith as Sonic the Hedgehog, Brad Garrett as Eeyore and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. Recordings of Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear and Vin Diesel as Groot are recycled from their films. The late Stan Lee makes a cameo appearance in the film talking to Iron Man.

Where in the World is Alan Tudyk? He plays KnowsMore, a character representing a search engine of the same name, with an over-aggressive autofill. The character design was mainly inspired by that of the UPA “limited animation” films, as well as Professor Owl from the Ward Kimball-directed Adventures in Music shorts. Tudyk previously voiced King Candy in the first film.

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Critical Reception:

  • Bilge Ebiri of The New York Times gave the film a positive review, saying that “somewhere amid the film’s ornate imagery and deliriously irreverent humor, we might begin to realize that we’re watching a terrifying, incisive satire about the ways that a life lived online makes monsters of us all”.
  • Brian Lowry of CNN said that “The colorful action should delight tykes, but the smart, media-savvy asides make it especially appealing to grownups”.
  • Kerry Lengel of The Arizona Republic gave the film 3.5 stars out of 5, saying “what makes the movie compelling, despite the subdued dramatic payoff, is that it is a heightened reflection of our experience—our love affair, really—with our gadgets, our apps and, yes, our brands”.

My take: I loved essentially a visual representation of the internet, with each site serving as a visual pun. One has to wonder how this will be seen in ten years or so, and what bits will seem dated. And okay, the Disney Princess sequence is worth the price of admission.

Next Week: Back to live action with The Misadventures of Merlin Jones