CS Interview: Ralph Breaks the Internet directors Phil Johnston & Rich Moore
ComingSoon.net was fortunate enough to sit down with the cast and filmmakers behind the highly anticipated upcoming Disney sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet. Check out the whole chat below!
ComingSoon.net: How did working on Zootopia help you expand the world of Wreck It Ralph?
Phil Johnston: A lot. I mean, in a lot of ways. I had written a draft of Ralph before we went to work on Zootopia back in 2014, and then took time away from that, worked on Zootopia, and then returned to the draft and I think looking at what that was, then based on the Zootopia experience, we were all three of us able to go, “All right, the audience is not only willing but actually eager for us to tackle meatier subject matter, and emotional depth that you might not expect in a family film”. To me, beyond the world building and the scope of it, which is quite large, to me I was emboldened by the themes of Zootopia and the fact that we could tackle things like profound insecurity and toxic friendships, which is what we were trying to do in this movie. So, thematically, and just from a maturity level, I think I felt really emboldened by what we were able to do and allowed to do by the audience who responded to themes on that deeper level.
CS: How did you go about designing the world wide web in physical terms?
Rich Moore: We definitely wanted it to feel like the world wide web as you said, one of the first decisions that we made was we would like it to not only have websites and apps and things that we made up, where a lot of the story would take place, but like the first movie that there would be games and websites and things like that that people know from real life, and not just American ones, but international ones too. Sometimes with movies, they’ll do a version for the U.S. and then they’ll do a version for Europe or China or they will stick in brands or things that are focused to those markets, which to me feels like pandering. So we said we want the one version of the movie that represents the whole world in the internet, not just an American one. And then, what is it going to look like though? How do you realize something that’s so abstract? And that’s where we always go to research, because just left to our imagination…
Phil Johnston: It’ll be real dumb.
Rich Moore: Yeah! Coming up with these metaphors, you know six years ago I was still thinking the internet was like sound waves or radio waves above our head, something that was up in the atmosphere, or a cloud and all our metaphors were a little shaky. Our IT department, we’d say, “Well what do you think about this? It’s in a big cloud!” and they’d say, “That’s not what the internet is at all. So we did lots of research of the actual physical internet. And it is very tactile, it’s not that abstract, so that’s what really kind of led to the look of it, the kind of packed city like feeling of this huge expanding kind of globe that just keeps getting bigger and bigger as it grows.
CS: Phil, I know you’ve written a lot of screenplays, but if I’m not mistaken, this is your first time directing. What did you learn about your voice as a filmmaker over the course of the project?
Phil: The stories that I’ve always been attracted to both as a writer and now directing with Rich are comedies where they’re flawed characters who are unaware that they’re in a comedy so I try to approach both directing animation and the actors with that in mind, that we’re not selling the jokes. I like to let the comedy come from the characters, and I’m interested in stories of human frailty and hubris to some extent because the vulnerability that we all have and the flaws that we all have are the things that connect us I think and so I’m, whether again, as a writer or director, those are the stories that I’m attracted to and I think Rich and I both are sort of collectors of people in our lives who we love but are goofballs, who are a little bit broken but who make us whole in a way, and I’m really attracted to those kinds of stories and I don’t think those are often tent pole movie stories. So, I’m really proud that we can bring these misfits and outcasts and shine a light on them and show their human frailty but also make them heroes and hopefully, teach people without being preachy, how we can all come together despite our flaws and differences.
CS: I love the Disney princesses in this movie. What made y’all want to create this subplot of female empowerment through these familiar characters?
Rich: It started just as a joke of Ralph taking an online personality quiz, you know are you an Ana or an Elsa? Take the quiz now to find out, and he does, and somehow in some kind of context Ana and Elsa appear and argue over Ralph. “No he’s more like me! No, he’s more like me!” We were like, ‘Well that’s a funny idea, and somehow we could work it out that they’re actually there, as it’s the internet, is there something to this?’ Because this might be the only movie we ever work on where a scene like this could be possible, where all of these characters are in one place, and we realized well, it shouldn’t be about Ralph meeting them, because Vanellope is technically a Disney princess shouldn’t it be more about her meeting this group of people who she thinks at first that they have nothing in common, and then having spent time with them, they actually help her in her journey of realizing her dreams? It didn’t hit us at first how powerful it was until we started having these actresses come in and record the voices, and building the models and CG for the first time of several of those characters that have appeared in traditional 2D animation and the emotion of these actresses coming back to the studio where their characters were born originally and our team of animators, several of them who were children when The Little Mermaid came out and Pocahontas and meeting the actors who voiced the characters inspired them to become animators. Personally, it was around that point that we have something very powerful here. On top of it being funny, there’s a lot beneath the surface here. It’s not just Vanellope that’s being impacted, but a lot of our staff, men and women both, that these characters really mean something to people, as much as any live action heroes, these characters really impact a lot of people and I felt like we need to be respectful with the legacy that they represent, but let’s have a little fun, too, while we’re doing it.
CS: I have to ask, who voices PJ Spammley?
Phil: So… we’re not sure.
Rich: Yeah, we don’t know the guy. It’s a mystery. People are saying it’s a guy, Bill Fader or something?
Phil: Phillip Grader? We don’t know.
Rich: Some people think it’s Bill Hader, but it’s not.
Phil: We want the internet to debate it, and discuss it, but we don’t know. We have no idea.
Rich: He was just kind of hoisted upon by our casting department.
Phil: It’s hard to say. It’s hard to say who it isn’t.
Rich: It’s not Bill Hader though. Definitely not. That guy, I want him nowhere near one of our films. Man’s a hack as far as I’m concerned (laughs).
CS: So Ralph has been to the video game arcade, he’s been to the internet, where can he go next? Virtual Reality?
Rich: Phil’s got a real good idea about that.
Phil: We had one idea a few years ago where he would somehow get into a 3D printer print himself and come into the world and interact with us. I just had this idea. Remember that movie Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield? What if Ralph went to school and you were his roommate, Clark. Like, 3D printed Ralph and Clark [Spencer] go back to college and and they open a frat party or something like that.
Clark Spencer: I can see it. Yup.
Rich: Ralph gets ’em out of those stuffed shirts.
Phil: And Clark is like, “Oh I don’t know about this, Ralph” because real world Clark is like basically Fix It Felix Jr., he is.
Ralph Breaks the Internet hits theaters everywhere on November 21st.