The trouble with the new Wreck-It Ralph sequel taking beloved Disney characters into the internet is that, well, the internet is kind of an awful place these days. Twitter and Facebook are increasingly toxic platforms, conversations between members of opposing political sides are often aggressive, and the news is, let's just say, a lot. But here goes Ralph Breaks The Internet, with its beloved main characters Ralph and Venelope zooming right into the belly of the beast. And while the film does get a teensy bit dark at times, the team behind it says that after watching it, you just might feel a teensy bit better about being hopelessly devoted to the world wide web.
"It’s not Pollyanna about what the internet is, but at the same time, we wanted to be [aware of the fact that] the internet is full of a lot of great stuff and there’s a reason it brings people together," says story artist Jason Hand. Adds fellow story artist Natalie Nourigat, "The internet is such a powerful tool, you can do anything on there, you can meet people from other parts of the world who you’d never meet, you can find people who are into something very specific that nobody in your town is into. You can find your people."
In Ralph Breaks The Internet, the lead characters from the original movie launch into the internet searching for a part to repair Venelope's racing game through a wireless router — and where the arcade power strip from the original film looks like Grand Central Station, this router looks like a creepy, abandoned airport. Once the duo arrive, they visit Google approximate KnowsMore, a search engine full of amusing autofill suggestions and played to perfection by Disney favorite Alan Tudyk. They also visit eBay, which is imagined as a large convention floor with stalls for each individual auction (including a painting of a "sorrowful kitten" — a favorite detail for the directors, Rich Moore and Phil Johnston).
The world is full of amusing animations of what the internet might look like if it were to take physical form, from the Netizens, characters who work in the internet to power all of our favorite websites, to the Net Users, square-headed, robotic-voiced avatars for real people. Clicking on links is depicted by having futuristic self-driving cars that pop out of the ground and speed Net Users off to their new destinations, and Net Users arrive into the bustling metropolis of the internet in their own pill-shaped pods, direct from their own router-airports. The film also uses real company names and gives goofy internet HQs to each of them. (Twitter, for instance, is a tree full of tiny blue birds chirping messages at each other.) From the preview footage of the film, shown at the Aug. 1 press day at Disney Animation studios, it really seems like Ralph Breaks The Internet makes the internet appear genuinely fun. But the film does touch on some of the darker elements.
"It’s mostly comments, but we also go to the literal dark web as well," says producer Clark Spencer, referring to a scene in which Ralph accidentally breaks the cardinal rule of the internet and reads the comments on his videos — the super mean, heartbreakingly cruel comments. "While I wouldn’t say this is a movie about internet bullies and internet trolling, the fact that Ralph experiences that [coupled with] the rest of his journey in the movie, means he’s dealing with his own insecurity and his own self doubt, all of which he's really hurt by. If you’re a person who is insecure, the internet can make for a very difficult path for you," adds co-director Phil Johnston.
While it's extremely tough to watch such an earnest character like Ralph be so hurt by anonymous jerks writing "RALPH SUCKS" in all caps and there will be more versions of "people doing the wrong thing on the internet," according to Nourigat, the team behind the movie promises that's about as dark as it gets. And for the directors, Johnston and Rich Moore, whose idea was the basis of this whole crazy adventure, showing how not to make the internet a terrible place is ultimately one of their goals.
"I hope that [the movie] will maybe make [audiences] think about how they interact with people, on the internet and in real life, because that’s very much what the movie is about," says Johnston. "What happens to Ralph happens to a lot of people, even though it’s a very fantastic story and it’s being told on a kind of big way, I hope that people can recognize moments in their life or perhaps if they’re going down that road, to be able to, maybe this would be a red flag to people."
Johnston also says he doesn't want the movie to be preachy, but once everyone see Ralph get his big ol' heart broken, audiences will be hard pressed not to think before they comment. And maybe, just maybe, that'll make the internet a better place to be. We can dream, can't we?