From co-director Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, Ralph Breaks the Internet, the follow-up to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, revisits the friendship between video game bad guy Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), this time following their journey as they venture outside of Litwak’s video arcade and into the uncharted and fast-paced world of the internet. In this new world that can be both exciting and overwhelming, Ralph and Vanellope realize that even though it contains endless possibilities, the internet is also vast and dangerous that can turn a friendship toxic, if you’re not careful.
During a press conference at the film’s Los Angeles press day, co-stars John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman and Taraji P. Henson (who voiced Yesss, the head algorithm of the trend-making site BuzzzTube, where anyone can become a viral sensation) talked about how Ralph feels about the internet, having the rare experience of getting to record together in the voice booth, what makes Yesss a stand-out character, addressing some important issues, their own insecurities, what they miss about life pre-internet, what it means that Vanellope is officially a Disney princess, the film’s Alan Menken song, and what they hope kids will take from seeing Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Question: John, what’s it like for a vintage arcade character like Ralph to find himself in the internet?
JOHN C. REILLY: Well, I’m a vintage human being. The character was initially conceived as a fish out of water character. A lot of what we played with in the first film was, how does Ralph behave, or how does any video game character behave, in a game that’s not his own? The internet is this literally infinite landscape. There are a lot of really fun metaphors that we’re also playing with in the film. The arcade is like the childhood arena of their friendship, and the internet represents the larger world beyond, as they grow and mature. Ralph really worked so hard to get a friend, in the first film. He was like, “Got it. Rest of life, solved.” And then, Vanellope starts to grow and mature, realizing that she wants to feel like she belongs somewhere and that’s not her candy game. I think a lot of kids and adults will find a lot of stuff in the film that they can really relate to, in terms of the way relationships evolve. And certainly, there are jokes that operate on a lot of different levels.
Sarah and John, your chemistry is so terrific. Did you get to work together in the recording booth, or did you have to do it separately? And were you able to improvise, at all?
SARAH SILVERMAN: We did it together, and we did get to improvise. They give us a lot of freedom. We collaborated a lot, and the script itself was so fantastic. It was really fun. They always booked an extra hour of time than they needed because we would get real chatty. There is definitely a very rated R comedy album somewhere in the audio footage of recording, for sure.
REILLY: It was a real treat to get into the studio again with Sarah. Our friendship has aged five years since the last film, so it tracks with Ralph and Vanellope. Except that Sarah is not my only friend. It was a real treat to be able to start at a place of intimacy, with Sarah and with (co-directors) Phil and Rich and (screenwriter) Pam [Ribon] and everybody. We all knew each other, and we learned how to work together on the first film. We built these characters and the story together, so when it came time to start this one, we could start from a very advanced place, in terms of the conversations we could have about the relationships, and you can really see that in the film. I was one of the first people to insist that we try to be in the room together, as much as possible, because I know the way improv works, and it works best in real time. So, there’s a ton of improvised stuff. Phil and Rich were very kind to just let us explore things, every day. That’s one of the great joys of doing audio work. There is never the pressure of the sun going down. All of us recorded together. What sets both of these movies apart is that feeling of heart and real emotion because we’re looking into each other’s eyes. I’ve done other animated work, where I didn’t meet the other actors, ever, and I’m sure there are practical people that say it doesn’t matter because it’s just a voice, but to me it does matter. I think it comes across in the film. It gives the film a soul that it might not have, if we weren’t there together.
Taraji, Yesss is such a vibrant, beautiful character. What was it like for you to voice someone like her?
TARAJI P. HENSON: Voicing a character in a Disney animated film? I can check that off the bucket list, thank you. I just thought she was incredible. When Rich [Moore] and Phil [Johnston] brought her to me and explained her, I was like, “This is a no-brainer.” She’s a go-getter. She’s the head of a company. She’s no-nonsense. She has heart. My favorite scene is when Ralph finds himself in the comment room, and she comes in and tells him, “It’s not you, it’s them. They’re mean. They’re hurt, so they’re hurting you.” It grounded the film and the character for me, and it made her multi-dimensional. And then, I got to voice her with amazing actors. It was just a no-brainer for me.
The best storytelling usually has some component of social commentary, and Ralph Breaks the Internet does not shy away from that. How did you decide which social issues to feature and how they’ll impact the story?
REILLY: I went in and met with the animators, a couple of times, to talk about the way Ralph moves, and also to check in with them and establish a relationship with them, so that I could feel like I was working in concert with them. I remember this one really moving conversation that I had with them, where I realized the internet is the central issue of our time. Our relationship to this technology, and its power and effect on us, we don’t even quite understand yet. It’s as powerful as a nuclear bomb, but it uses other means. So, it was really exciting, in the context of an entertaining Disney film, to be able to talk about some of these issues in a really, really real way, and its effect on people. Why do we crave the anonymous acceptance of people that we don’t know? We’re bombarded with commerce on the internet. We made this fun entertaining story, but you come away from the film thinking about some of the most important issues of our time.
This movie explores the insecurities we can develop through being on the internet, and how that can affect our lives. What are your insecurities?
HENSON: I’m insecure about my knees, right now. I’m sitting here like, “Someone has this picture,” and I yanked my knees up, immediately. In this moment, it’s my knees.
REILLY: I’ve worked really hard not to let my insecurities slow me down. One of the important things every person has to do, in their lives, is to learn not to judge yourself and be kind to yourself, inside of your own thoughts. Probably because my mom would say, “Don’t wear out your welcome,” almost every time I left the house, I’m insecure about that.
SILVERMAN: For me, it moves around. I’m grappling with being the age I am because I’ve never been this age, and it’s the oldest I’ve ever been. But then, I’ll also realize that it’s the youngest that I’ll ever be, and that’s what I tell myself. I’ll see the cellulite on my thighs and go, “Ugh,” and then, I’ll realize that I’m strong and my body works, so I love these thighs because they help me stand and walk and move.