'Ralph Breaks the Internet' directors realize cyber dreams

Moore, Johnston take Wreck-It Ralph beyond arcade

In the 2015 animated film "Inside Out" by Walt Disney Animation's cousin, Pixar, writer/director Pete Docter did something that's never before been achieved on the big screen: He manifested the emotions inside a person's brain.

And while it was a complicated, but successful realization, as evidenced by an Oscar win for Best Animated Feature, Docter had the advantage of having all those emotions contained to one small but elaborate space.

Now, imagine doing the same thing with the sprawling electronic brain known as the internet.

That's exactly what co-directors/co-writers Rich Moore and Phil Johnson have masterfully achieved with their new animated feature "Ralph Breaks the Internet," the long-anticipated sequel to the 2012 Oscar-nominated blockbuster "Wreck-It Ralph." Moore and Johnston humbly admitted, however, that imagining what the internet looks like and bringing that actual vision to the big screen are two completely different things.

"It was daunting," Moore, who joined me along with Johnston, said in a recent interview. "We've said before that it's one thing to come up with an idea of 'Let's send them to the internet' and people go, 'That's a great idea!' and we feel like, 'OK, we did some good here.' Then the next day, you have to realize, 'What does the internet look like? What is this world going to be?' It hasn't been realized this way in a movie like this before."

Moore, who also directed the Oscar-winning animated feature "Zootopia" (which Johnston co-wrote) said that arriving at their final cyber destination came down to an exercise in "trial and error." He said they imagined such metaphors for the internet as a "data stream," where boats would bring Wreck-It Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) from website to website. They also thought of somehow utilizing "The Cloud," but that idea, they said, along with their data stream, was quashed by their IT colleagues.

In "Ralph Breaks the Internet," opening Wednesday in theaters nationwide, we find Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope within the 8-bit video game arcade from the first movie, until a crucial component breaks on her "Sugar Rush" game. With the game console in danger of being junked, which would leave Vanellope without a home or purpose, the spunky race car driver and her best pal Ralph travel through the internet to eBay, where they can obtain the "Sugar Rush" replacement part. But since neither really realizes how dramatically different the 8-bit video game world and the information superhighway are, Ralph and Vanellope quickly find themselves on a very bumpy ride.

Audiences will no doubt find Moore and Johnston's version of the internet a very familiar place, which is crucial to the success of the film. Instead of making up websites and applications, fans will revel in the visuals the filmmakers came up with to represent such internet giants as Google, Amazon and eBay. Lucky for Moore and Johnston, getting those name brands to be in the film was a lot less complicated than what you would imagine.

"Under copyright law, we didn't have to get permission from them, so we didn't," said Johnston. "We can use the logos, so we chose to do that, so it would feel more authentic to the real internet."

Still, since Moore and Johnston would rather create than replicate, they let their imaginations run wild to construct a new and original story for Ralph and Vanellope, in which they encounter new characters like the flashy racer Shank (Gal Gadot) and her high-octane game "Slaughter Race."

"We spend most of the time in websites and games that we have created," Johnston explained. "Things like 'Slaughter Race' -- which isn't a real game -- so we made that up."

While "Ralph Breaks the Internet" is big on comedy and action, Moore and Johnston astutely took the opportunity to use the film to address the ever-growing problem of the vitriol people encounter on social media. The directors felt that including a scene about Ralph being cyberbullied on social media was an absolute necessity.

"We made a conscious choice at the beginning in designing the internet and the places that we were going to take the characters," Moore explained. "We said, 'We don't want to just show good things about the internet and what's fun about the internet and what are the positive things.' We felt it would be a disservice if we don't talk about the more complicated things -- but not in a way that preaches.

"So, we rather show our characters experiencing things that we do as a way to spark maybe a conversation; maybe on the ride home from the movie if a kid says that, 'I've been bullied like Ralph before' because the tendency is to hold that stuff in and not talk about it," Moore added. "The more we can inspire a conversation or even just get people thinking about this stuff and (know that) they're not alone, that's a great gift."

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