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Rich Moore & Phil Johnston Interview: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Ralph Breaks the Internet is the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph and is the 57th animated feature from the Disney Studios. It is directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, who helped make Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia.

Screen Rant: This is going to be super conversational because we've already talked to each other a couple of times. So, first question I have is, the one thing I love about this movie is that in the first movie, Ralph finds value, or he puts his value in what Vanellope thinks. And now, he has a self-realization that he's cool being himself. Why take it in this direction. I loved it by the way. What inspired that decision?

Phil Johnston: It really was the first movie. The last line of the first movie. Which is, “if that kid likes me, how bad can I be?” Which at the time, we thought, “Great, that wraps it up. That's good.” But as you say, well, it's dysfunctional. It's him defining his self-worth based on how someone else thinks about him. And so, if that whole first movie was about a bad guy learning to be a good guy. This one, is about a guy who's a good guy and that inner bad guy coming out and becoming the force of antagonism. That he's not being the best friend, that he's not-- His self-worth hasn't been realized fully. And that their friendship is on the line here. If Ralph doesn't figure out to learn how to love himself properly, and not define himself by the way other people think about him, then the bad guy is going to win. So, that force of antagonism, becoming that Ralph-zilla thing at the end was all based on the fact that the last line of the first movie is dysfunctional.

Rich Moore: Yeah, he's not fixed yet. That he's still-- and thank god Vanellope loved him at the end.  But what happens if she doesn't? What happens if she-- And we see in the movie, it's like she tells him like, “I don't want to talk to you anymore. You're a bad friend.” But sends him down a horrible path, where he's thinking that, “Well, this is my best friend. I have to--” He's always getting involved in areas where he shouldn't with her.  He's overstepping the line.

Screen Rant: So, one thing that really jumped out to me was Air Bud Pavilion. I don’t know why—

Rich Moore: [LAUGHS] You’re the first person to mention it.  It was one of my favorites.

Screen Rant: I loved it. And I was like, “Was that Air Bud Reference?” So, I have to ask--

Phil Johnston: Voice by our editor, Jeremy Milton.

Screen Rant: Was it really? I have to ask. So, if you blink, you were to miss so many things going on. What were some of your favorite Easter eggs in the Oh My Disney scene? Because—

Rich Moore: That's definitely one that I forgot about it.

Phil Johnston: Yeah.

Rich Moore: When my kids were really young, we went to one of the Air Bud movies. And I think I enjoyed it more than them. And it's like, “Wasn’t that great? Meh. A dog playing basketball. Sure, Dad.”

Phil Johnston: There’s a pavilion somewhere. What does that look like?

Screen Rant: That's the next thing. I was like, “Oh, I got to see this Air Bud Pavilion now.”  

Rich Moore: [LAUGHING] I know. And then when I started working at Disney, they had a new Air Bud movie coming out and a bunch of the story people went over. And it was like, the Air Buddies, it’s like the puppies now.  And they got their picture taken. It was kind of like an Air Bud experience. So, it was like everyone was riffing on, “what are we going to do?” I think it was Josie and I were talking about, “What if we got Air Bud. We got to do something. Remember those dumb pictures you guys-- There's a pavilion. There’s that, so good.

Phil Johnston: I love the Pan’s shadow. I don’t know if— Pan’s shadow you’ll see--

Rich Moore: At the craft service table.

Screen Rant: I didn’t even catch that.

Rich Moore: When Grumpy's yelling at Vanellope.

Phil Johnston: Where Hei Hei is pecking at the snacks. And Tinker Bell is there and Shadow is just on the screen left.

Rich Moore: There's a lot stuff.

Screen Rant: Now I'm going to have to go frame by frame on the DVD extras.

Phil Johnston: An animator came up to Rich the other day and said, “I put three Easter eggs in there that I didn't tell you about.”  So, there's stuff we never…

Rich Moore: And, I mean, it can be as small as like hidden Mickeys or something like that.  So, it's, yeah. People ask like, “How many Easter eggs?” I have no idea. We’ll be finding them forever.

Screen Rant: 3D animation is feature films has a very distinct look. What do you think is the next evolution in animation and in audiences’ taste in animation films?

Rich Moore: That’s a good question. And people will always say like, “Well it should be like photo realism. Right?” And to me it's like that's just Uncanny Valley territory.  There's something about the animation that we do, and other big studios-- I think it will always kind of have that design appeal to it. That that’s what works best with like-- Because in the end they're still kind of cartoons.  It's an illusion of life. Like two of the Nine Old Men called it, in a book that they wrote in the 80’s, that it's not trying to be exactly life. It's the illusion of life.

Phil Johnston: Because so many live action films now are animated films. Superhero movies and trying to be photo real and make it feel like a human being can interact within an animated background.  It’s supposed to look super real. I would look forward to how the form of storytelling changes. And we saw this VR thing, Carne y Arena, that in Inarritu did. And I would love to figure out a way to-- I would be very curious to see a fully realized animated VR feature. Someday that story could be told, and what the—

Rich Moore: What’s the language.

Phil Johnston To be able to explore our internet and look at those vistas and live inside of there. I think animation—

Rich Moore: And yet be following a story.

Phil Johnston: Yeah.

Screen Rant: How far off do you think we are from that?

Rich Moore: Oh, I think we’re really close.

Phil Johnston: The processors are so fast and there's so much detail and every frame—

Rich Moore: Like the image generators, like in a VR environment and it's caught up to the dreams—

Phil Johnston: Dreams and the imagination. The technology—

Rich Moore: I wonder if we’re going to see, like in 3D animation, a change in aesthetic.  You know, where it's going to become more abstract. It has kind of sat in the same aesthetic for a long time. Like you said, there's a look to it. That kind of started with the Pixar and the DreamWorks movies. There is a common art direction to it.  I think we're at the point where someone's going to say like, “I want to try this instead. Why do they always have to—” Just even you asking the question of like, what's next for it?

And it happened with 2D animation, like in the 50’s, it took a-- like going into like 101 Dalmatians. It was like a whole different aesthetic that we look back and think, “Oh, that's quaint.” But like Walt Disney did not like it, you know, he was not, he wasn't the biggest fan of like those movies, like the aesthetic of 101 Dalmatians and Jungle Book.  But he knew it was changing.  So, I think we're due for that. That's on the horizon. Just kind of artistically, I think.

Screen Rant: Touching on the characters a little bit with John C. Reilly and Taraji P. Henson and Gal Gadot. How much of their actual personalities infused the characters? How much freedom were they given in the booth and doing their lines and stuff like that?

Phil Johnston: We always encourage as much of the human being that they are to be infused into the character. I mean this is 10 years now working with John and Sarah, those two characters in there. At a certain point they just melded into one sort of being. Where there's so much of John in Ralph. So much of Sarah in Vanellope. And Taraji is hilarious and is a really good improviser. She and John recorded together.

Screen Rant: Oh, they did?

Rich Moore: Yeah. We always try to get them, the actors, together whenever we possibly can.

Phil Johnston: Taraji became obsessed, as Yesss, with Ralph's bare feet. Like, “I think Yesss my might have something of a foot fetish.” With a lot of—

Rich Moore: A lot of that didn’t make it in to the movie but—

Phil Johnston: It was so funny. Like, “Oh, get in here with those big old bum feet of yours.” [LAUGHS] It was hilarious.  She's hilarious.

Rich Moore: She was the one actor that could kind of like put John on tilt a little bit. Like, he wasn't expecting where she was coming from sometimes. And he's usually the kind of the pugilist that likes to mix it up.

Screen Rant: When I saw you guys in New York, I asked, because I love the Sugar Rush song from the first movie, and I asked about, what were you guys doing with the music in this. Obviously—

Phil Johnston: Yeah, we said—

Rich Moore: We would love to tell you…

Screen Rant: I'm glad you didn't because I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is quite amazing.”  But not just amazing, but I almost forgot I was watching a Disney movie, because it's almost like making fun of the Disney movies.  But getting Alan Menken on board is a huge, huge get. And when you get him to write this, how do you pitch this him and how does this all come together?

Phil Johnston: Well, I mean, the idea came from, “Oh, wouldn't it be awesome if Vanellope, having met the princesses had this kind of princess like “want song.”  Sort of an Alan Menken style song. “Yeah, that would be great.”

Rich Moore: For once and for all to kind of solidifies like [POUNDING FIST] this-is-where-she-belongs. That that was kind of purpose of the song.

Phil Johnston: And then our executive music producer, Tom McaDougall's like, “Well, I'll just call Allan. Do you want me call?”

Rich Moore: “Wait? You have his number? He's a real person?” and “It’s not some statue or icon?”

Phil Johnston: We had written just a dummy version of what this song could be. And I was singing all the parts.

Rich Moore: And put it to like a song that will we found.

Phil Johnston: Yeah, just to give an idea of it. And we played that for Alan and explained the thing to him. He’s like, “Yeah, this is about a 30 percent.”

Rich Moore: “You’re about 30 percent there.”

Phil Johnston: “Oh, my god! Alan Menkin just gave me a low F. YES! Sweet!”

Rich Moore: [LAUGHS] We’re making music guys.

Phil Johnston: And from there, obviously, he made it real.

Screen Rant: That's awesome guys. Thank you so much.

More: Read Screen Rant's Ralph Breaks the Internet Review

Key Release Dates
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet/Wreck-It Ralph 2 (2018) release date: Nov 21, 2018
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