In Ralph Breaks the Internet, Ralph’s quest to save Vanellope’s game leads them to the internet, where Ralph tries to strike it rich as a viral video sensation. Before the BFFs arrive at that plan, though, they stumble through a few false starts, some more promising than others.
It’s not unlike the journey that the Disney Animation story team had to take before setting Ralph and Vanellope on that very course. If anything, the real-world process was even more arduous – according to story artist Jason Hand, “literally every single one” of the sequences in the film had been changed over the course of developing the story.
From the start, the idea was for the Wreck-It Ralph sequel to send Ralph and Vanellope to the internet. But “the thing about the internet is, it’s like New York City,” said head of story Josie Trinidad. “You can tell any story there. It’s huge.”
Narrowing down all those limitless possibilities proved easier said than done, and the story team explored several concepts before landing on what would ultimately become the plot of Ralph Breaks the Internet. At a press day in August, Trinidad, Hand, and story artist Natalie Nourigat shared some of the other visions that had been considered.
“It takes 100 ideas to get to the one idea that shines the brightest and pops through.”
In one early version, it was Vanellope who went viral, developing her own website and beginning to give TED Talks. Ralph, meanwhile, was put in jail for failing to understand the distinction between “going viral” and “becoming a virus,” and had to find his way out with KnowsMore, a defective search engine that got every third answer wrong.
Once out, that pairing went in search of Vanellope, “who was changing dramatically, going from the Vanellope that we know to this dolled-up internet celebrity and forgetting who she was,” Trinidad recalled.
Another suggestion basically swapped those roles, having Ralph become a self-obsessed internet celebrity. That plot also had a completely different villain, an “internet super cop” that was essentially antivirus software.
What ultimately unlocked the narrative was the understanding that Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship needed to be at the heart of the movie – it was, as Hand put it, the “true north.” “That’s the main story we’re trying to tell with this,” said Trinidad. “Not those other versions.”
Even then, it took quite a bit of effort to nail down the details. The story team realized quickly that they wanted Ralph and Vanellope to go viral, but figuring out how to create a video that could plausibly go viral required “a lot of trial and error,” Nourigat admitted.
One possibility explored was Ralph and Vanellope representing the “two types of people” in a video recorded by Yesss, the trendsetting head algorithm of BuzzTube. However, “as the plot was developing, we realized that we wanted Ralph to make a sacrifice for his friend, so it might make more sense if he’s the one going viral,” said Nourigat.
Other scrapped ideas included a “meme factory,” which would have had Yesss directing funny videos of Ralph getting hurt, but which was thrown out for feeling too mean; and a “meme generator,” which would see Yesss combine seemingly random elements with Ralph in the middle.
“To go viral is no easy feat.”
None of it quite clicked, though, until the story team realized that their favorite viral video ideas were the ones that riffed on familiar genres like unboxing videos, cooking demos, Bob Ross painting lessons.
The finished film has Ralph inserting himself into well-worn YouTube formulas like screaming goat clips and makeup tutorials, while Vanellope sets out on a related journey, encountering new sites and new people. The videos are believably viral and Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship is touchingly bittersweet.
In other words, Ralph does exactly what the story team set out to do. It just took a lot of tries to get there. “There’s this concept that it takes 100 ideas to get to the one idea that shines the brightest and pops through, and that’s kind of how we work,” said Hand.
“I would say on Ralph, it was more like a thousand ideas to get that one idea,” added Nourigat. “To go viral is no easy feat.”