Animated star wrecks again in new 'Ralph' film

Ralph and Veneloppe prepare to experience the Internet for the first time
The raucous but unworldly Ralph and Veneloppe prepare to experience the internet for the first time in "Ralph Breaks the Internet."
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Animated star Wreck-It Ralph rides again this Thanksgiving in "Ralph Breaks the Internet." Like the first movie, the sequel is co-written and co-directed by former Twin Cities TV reporter Phil Johnston. The film pushes Ralph out into the real world, or at least what passes for it online.

"Wreck-It Ralph" came out in 2012. Johnston and his collaborator Rich Moore immediately began working on a sequel. But they got sidetracked to make "Zootopia," which also did great box office.

Johnston said the pair learned a lot from telling the story of Zootopia's animals. When they turned back to Ralph's second script, they hated what they had written.

Rich Moore and Phil Johnston co-directors of “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”
Rich Moore and Phil Johnston are writers and co-directors of "Ralph Breaks the Internet." They visited the MPR News studios on Oct. 9, 2018.
MPR photo | Euan Kerr

"We were emboldened, frankly, to re-examine our new movie, 'Ralph Breaks the Internet,' and really make it about a guy's profound insecurity and about a friendship that has grown toxic," he said.

"Ralph Breaks the Internet" drops the reformed video game villain, Wreck-it Ralph, and his best friend, race car driver Venellope von Schweetz, right in the center of the internet. They experience many of its charms, frustrations and dangers, in a PG kind of way.

They're on a quest to find a part to fix Venellope's game back at their arcade. Unsure how to start the search, they approach KnoseMore, who provides search services.

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"What can KnoseMore help you find today?" asks the small bespectacled figure.

"Ummm..." begins Ralph.

"Umbrella? Umbridge? Umami?" KnoseMore interrupts.

"No..." Ralph says, which launches another stream from the little guy.

"Noah's Ark? No Doubt?"

Ralph starts getting angry and growls, "Urrrrr..."

"Ergonomics? Urban Outfitters? Urqul?"

Eventually, KnoseMore apologizes. "My autofill is a touch aggressive today," he says.

Ralph and Veneloppe travel into the Internet.
Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Veneloppe (Sarah Silverman) travel into the internet to save Veneloppe's game in "Ralph Breaks the Internet."
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Ralph sees the internet as a place to visit, briefly, and then leave for the safe haven of the arcade. But Veneloppe is more adventurous. She wants to stick around and live a little.

Like all the best animated films, "Ralph Breaks the Internet" works on a couple of levels. Johnston said the balancing act needed to keep both youngsters and grown-ups engaged takes careful writing.

"If, say, there are 10 jokes and a kid understands seven of them, and the other three they miss but their parents get — that's fine as long as the story makes sense and the emotional through-line is there," he said.

One of the delights of the film is when Veneloppe stumbles into the part of the internet set aside for Disney princesses. In a room filled with a dozen princesses from various Disney classics, Veneloppe declares that she is a princess too.

Veneloppe meets a group of Disney princesses.
At one point Veneloppe meets a group of Disney princesses, and discovers she has a lot in common with them in "Ralph Breaks the Internet."
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

"What kind of a princess are you?" they ask. "Do you have magic hair? Magic hands? Do animals talk to you? Were you poisoned? Cursed? Kidnapped or enslaved?"

"No!" Veneloppe responds to all the questions. "Are you guys OK? Should I call the police?"

"Do people assume that all your problems got solved because a big strong man turned up?"

"Yes!" squeals Veneloppe. "What is up with that?"

"She is a princess!" all the other princesses say in unison.

Given that "Ralph Breaks the Internet" is a Disney movie Johnston said, the team knew it might be kicking a hornets' nest.

"So we took it to the heads of the studio, and [Disney chair and CEO] Bob Iger said, 'This is great. Go farther with it.'"

Moore, Johnston's co-writer and co-director, said that as the story progresses, the possessive Ralph learns that friendships evolve.

"I think we throw around phrases like 'Best friends forever!' Will you be best friends forever? Because things change in the world," he said.

When asked if there is any Minnesota influence in the film, Johnston's face lit up. He said it's a good question:

"Am I on Veneloppe's journey here? Where working in the news at KARE was my video game, and then I went to the internet, i.e. Hollywood? I mean, a little bit, I do relate to her story. My God, you are onto something, Euan! I think you have cracked the psychology of this movie."

In other words, the Minnesota contribution is a deep sense of irony.