How the directors of 'Ralph Breaks the Internet' explored the toxic parts of being online without losing the Disney fun

Disney‘Ralph Breaks the Internet.’
  • Disney’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston told Business Insider how they delved into the love/hate relationship people have with the internet.
  • “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is the sequel to the 2012 movie, “Wreck-It Ralph.”
  • This is not the first time Moore and Johnston have explored a serious social issue in a movie. They were behind the Oscar-winning “Zootopia,” which looked at racism.

Wreck-It Ralph has just gone viral.

Well, not in real life, but in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” (opening November 21), the sequel to Disney’s 2012 animated movie that’s named after the villain of the fictional Fix-It Felix Jr. 1980s arcade game.

This time Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is inside the internet to help his best friend, and fellow arcade character, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), get a steering wheel off eBay to fix her game. To pay for it, Ralph learns if he just films himself doing a bunch of dumb things and posts them online, millions will watch and he’ll make money. His videos are so successful Ralph becomes the latest internet hit while also earning some coin.

But as anyone who has been online knows, internet popularity usually leads to a lot of anguish, and Ralph learns that firsthand when he stumbles across the comments section.

Ralph stares at a long wall of comments about himself and reads as it quickly goes from positive, to negative, to down right hurtful.

It’s the latest exploration by Disney of a cultural issue its audience experiences (or at the very least, knows about). And it should come as no surprise that the people behind this are the same ones who did “Zootopia.”

Rich Moore and Phil Johnston teamed as directors on “Ralph Breaks the Internet” after Moore took sole directing duties for “Wreck-It Ralph” in 2012 and Johnston wrote the screenplay. Moore was also one of the directors on the Oscar-winning “Zootopia,” which was written by Johnston, and got a lot of attention for one of the movie’s main themes: looking at racism and bigotry through the lens of an animal metropolis where all different species must get along.

Ralph breaks the internet disneyDisney‘Ralph Breaks the Internet.’

The two admitted they didn’t set out to make “Ralph Breaks the Internet” so they could shed a light on how we all treat each other on the internet. It just kind of happened through the years of trying to figure out what they wanted to do for a sequel.

“When the movie came out in 2012, I always thought, ‘God, it would be great to work with everyone together again,’ but there was no idea for a story,” Moore told Business Insider. “I would say a year after it opened we seriously said, ‘What could a second chapter be about?'”

Read more:

“Creed II” escapes a sequel slump with thrilling fight scenes and a gripping performance by Michael B. Jordan

One idea was to put Ralph in a modern gaming system and see what kind of trouble he could get into. But then came the idea of Ralph discovering what a WiFi modem is and eventually becoming so jealous of the internet that he would set out to destroy it.

“For many months, that was our movie,” Moore said of Ralph intentionally destroying the entire internet.

“But it’s not something we wanted to root for, we love the internet,” Johnston said. “So we changed it to him inadvertently ruining it.”

Yet, what would cause Ralph to break the internet by mistake? That’s where the filmmakers decided to explore how people treat each other online.

Using what they did on “Zootopia” – mixing a fun caper with a serious issue – along with delving deeper into the friendship of Ralph and Vanellope than the first movie, they explore how toxic the internet can be.

Outside of the comment thread that Ralph comes across, annoying pop-up ads and the “dark web” are also negative elements of the web that are featured in the movie.

The trick though is never preach to the audience.

Phil Johnston Rich Moore Alberto E Rodriguez GettyAlberto E. Rodriguez/Getty(L-R) ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore.

“Dealing with heavy issues, serious issues, we never want to tell an audience how they should live their lives or what they should do,” Moore said. “Our feeling is it’s always better to watch a character experience the things that we do and then show how that character rises above it. What steps they took to be an authentic human being.”

“Ralph at his core is an insecure guy,” Johnston said. “Ultimately, the movie is about him overcoming that insecurity in order to be a better friend and better person, [and] the internet is a great place to test that stuff.”

At the end of the day, Moore and Johnston want audiences to be entertained when they go to see “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” and not feel like they are suddenly sitting in a sociology class, but as they proved with “Zootopia” that there’s room for social commentary in Disney movies.

“This is something where we thought it’s really worth taking a look, but it’s not our job to say the internet is good or bad,” Johnston said. “It just is.”

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.