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Ralph Breaks the Internet tackles modern online life

A behind-the-scenes look at just how Ralph and Vanellope head to the big (internet) city.

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET - Internet landing hub environment visual development by Matthias Lechner (Art Director, Environments) ©Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Wreck-It-Ralph took us on a nice walk through video game memory lane, but Ralph Breaks the Internet is perfectly happy keeping us right here, right now: a place where content is king, everyone's always online, and things move at a breakneck pace.

I remember the first time our family got the internet. It was Prodigy, and I'll never forget my family crowded around the faintly glowing screen of our Compaq computer as it screeched out that dial-up modem song you may recall. It was a time of wonder, of exploration -- I signed up for an email pen pal and a message board about ghosts, and began my journey online. It was a simpler time, but still overwhelming for someone who'd never experienced it.

Power up!

Alex Kang/Disney

In Ralph Breaks the Internet, the titular hero Ralph and fiesty BFF Vanellope von Schweetz have a similar moment when they step into a physical representation of today's internet. Two heroes from the time of arcade games suddenly find themselves online, and it's the equivalent of dropping someone from a sleepy farm town to the biggest, most futuristic city imaginable.

Now playing: Watch this: Wreck-It Ralph 2 trailer shows Ralph's trek to the internet

I got a sneak peek at about 20 minutes or so of the film, and I think it captures that feeling of "first time online" incredibly well. Old Mr. Litwak finally caved in and got an internet connection for his arcade from the original film. And after a key part of the Sugar Rush game breaks, Ralph and Vanellope must brave the perils of a wild new world in order to obtain the part before her arcade game is unplugged for good.

And where else would you start your search for an obscure item? Yep, eBay. So our plucky duo sets off to the wide world of the web to rescue Vanellope's game and set things right -- but of course, these sorts of things are never quite that simple -- and Ralph and Vanellope have to adapt to a massive new world where content is king. Sound familiar?

Based on the footage I saw (which I won't completely spoil for you, because I'm not a monster), there are some incredibly timely topics at play in Ralph Breaks the Internet: data-driven content creation, meme culture, learning how to exist in a digital world that's constantly growing and changing around you, and even dealing with online toxicity.

A behind-the-scenes look at the film with Head of Animation Renato dos Anjos, Production Designer Cory Loftis, Crowds Supervisor Moe El-Ali and Production Designer Dave Komorowski.

Alex Kang/Disney

Themes aside, it wouldn't be a Wreck-It-Ralph movie without some serious laughs. You've probably seen some of the sequence with the OhMyDisney princesses at their most casual (which somehow gets even funnier than what's been released thus far), but there are even more jokes about tech and how we interact with it.

There are two types of "people" in the world of the web: Internet citizens, which are basically little blocky avatars representing people's actions as they surf the web, and Netizens, which are the beings inside the internet who make the whole thing work.

In an early scene, Ralph and Vanellope head to eBay to get the part they desperately need. Each item has its own Netizen auctioneer calling the sale to a group of internet citizens as they bid, and Ralph and Vanellope get swept away in the excitement of a last-minute bidding war -- a feeling I'm sure most of us have had at one point or another. It plays incredibly well because of that relatability and got a lot of laughs in a theater full of critics. It was one of my favorite scenes from our preview day.

Check out the Yesss character visual development by Cory Loftis (first picture) and Ami Thompson (last three).


Another excellent addition to the sequel is Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), an algorithm at content farm website "BuzzTube" who has her digital finger on the pulse of the internet. She knows what's cool and what isn't, and she's crucial to helping Ralph and Vanellope complete their quest.

The depiction of the internet itself is an absolute marvel. Buildings for various companies shoot into the clouds (the cloud, get it?) based on how long they've been around. You'll see real-world names mixed with fake companies, constantly under construction as they expand and grow. Google is a massive skyscraper, as well as some other recognizable names... I even caught a sign consisting of a green backdrop and a "c|note" logo in it! We did it, everyone! A parody version of our company made it into a Disney movie!

Since we didn't see the entire film, I can't speak to how fresh the entire movie is (some of the jokes might feel a little old since it's been in development for years), but the filmmakers insisted they did everything possible to keep the movie as up-to-date as possible. Based on what I've seen thus far, I'm optimistic about the movie's ability to relay some of the most universal experiences we have navigating this wild world of the internet.

But I'm also hedging that optimism with concern as to how Disney handles the particularly prickly parts of internet toxicity. It's a tough thing to address, but it's also the world we all live in, so I'm curious what the overall message is on that particular topic.

Overall though, Walt Disney Animation managed to create a living, breathing internet that felt genuine to the online experience without coming across as corny or cliche. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product when Ralph Breaks the Internet hits theaters Nov. 21, 2018.

The internet, as seen by art director of environments Matthias Lechner.


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