We need to talk about Ralph Breaks the Internet – and why studios make sequels

I think It’s been fairly clear so far that I was a Disney kid and am quite happy to be a Disney adult. And even with nearly 60 classics to choose from, one of my favourite Disney films is Wreck-It Ralph.

This film was originally voiced as a concept by Disney in the 80s but saw several redevelopments before finally being produced and released in 2012, a year which some might have said 22 years old was too old to pick a new favourite Disney film.

Even if that is the case, Disney’s fairly quick announcement that it would be making a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph was an interesting one. And it wasn’t going to be a straight-to-DVD sequel like the Lion King or Aladdin sequels, produced by one of Disney’s other animation studios, it was going to be a proper numbered Disney Classic.

Until now, Mickey Mouse and Winnie The Pooh are the only two Disney characters to star in more than a single Disney animated classic. And those are in the original and reproduced Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence in Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, and two non-sequential films released some 34 years apart (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), and Winnie the Pooh (2011)).

WIR

So, that has to make you think that Disney saw something in Ralph’s sequel. Either that was a great concept that would make for a brilliant film, or the chance to make lots of money from ticket sales and merchandising – depending on your level of skepticism.

My initial thought – and it might have been somewhat led by Disney being known as oneof the first companies to capitalise on the very concept of merchandising – my skepticism radar was beeping fairly loudly. It started to quieten down around the time I saw the first trailer and more so after the second. Having seen the film, that skeptic-radar is just on in the background, quietly beeping away to itself without any attention paid to it.

Because when I talk about Ralph Breaks the Internet, we need to talk about why movie studios make sequels.

Now I’m aware I’m pretty far into this post before even mentioning what I thought about the movie and that’s because it’s kind of dependant on me having made my smart-ass point already. That point being that I get it: sequels are tricky. While some are better than the originals (here’s lookin’ at you Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Godfather II and Aliens), much more common is the let-down sequel.

And that goes for prequels, reboots, reimaginings, remakes, the new favourite ‘cinematic universes’, or any other term you want to use as shorthand for ‘trying to capitalise on a property’. Too often studios jump in head-first to make a sequel without having the right idea. And they’re not fooling anyone – we can all see it. I understand that merchandising and longevity are what will generate a return on a studios’ investment into a property but the preference in producing a tied-in movie just because that property will garner more interest isn’t why films should be green-lit.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a great example. I’m aware it was littered with production issues but the film would have been much-improved if you disassociated it with existing Star Wars characters. The film spent far too long desperately trying to create a link between itself and throw-away lines or imagery from the original trilogy. The dice hanging in the Millennium Falcon being a Belisha beacon of a shining example. Perhaps I missed something about the dice in my more-than-a-few viewings of A New Hope, but the newer Star Wars’ films insistence on making a formerly-insignificant piece of set design important to Han Solo’s character reeks of a studio simply clutching at straws.

Venom.jpgThis year’s Tom Hardy-driven Venom also comes to mind. In the fight for the rights of Spider-Man, Disney (unsurprisingly to everyone) won, which means the character can appear in Marvel movies but as it stands, not in those produced by Sony. But that hasn’t stopped the latter trying to milk what’s left, saying that Venom was apparently going to be the first of a few films that take place in a Spider-Man universe that currently doesn’t feature Spider-Man. Good luck.

And with that rant over, I can happily say that Ralph Breaks the Internet falls on the right side of the fence. While I don’t quite think it’s better than Wreck-It Ralph, I do think it comes very close. Overall, the movie doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first one but there are moments of gold, some incredibly original ideas and concepts that must have taken one hell of a thought process.

John C. Reilly voices Ralph, an 80s arcade-game bad guy who in the first film, befriends Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a character from a candy-themed racing game, Sugar Rush. In this second outing, Ralph and Vanellope go online, heading to the internet to buy a replacement part for Sugar Rush so that it doesn’t get unplugged.

The animators visualised the internet for this film and it’s really something to behold. They must have had an incredible amount of fun putting the backgrounds and jokes together because there is so much to take in – visually and conceptually. In the film, eBay is a huge auction floor and Instagram is a white-walled art gallery. Google’s building dwarfs everything around it and Twitter is shown as a tree full of small blue birds chirping pictures of cats to each other.

But beyond those better-known concepts, there are depictions of what happens when we lose internet signal, representations of internet packets being delivered and loot-selling sites. The animators even visualised the dark web and internet viruses.

Of course, Disney made this film because it wanted to sell tickets and knew full-well that making use of these properties was a great way to do that. But directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston have created something that’s really impressive. They take advantage of the license they were given but play with it in quite an unexpected way. They poke fun at Stormtroopers’ inability to catch anyone and show Groot hosting an AMA even though he’s only able to give one answer.

Much of the marketing of Ralph Breaks The Internet relied heavily on a few scenes featuring the Disney princesses when Vanellope visits OhMyDisney.com. These have been so poured-over in the trailers that I was pleasantly surprised when they provided some of the funniest, most original moments of the film. Everything from the themed pyjamas each princess wears to the comment about Merida being from the ‘other studio’ is so well-executed that on their own, these scenes are good enough reasons to see the film.

RBTI003.jpg

But this marketing is somewhat misleading – because there’s so much more to Ralph Breaks the Internet. The eyes of the merchandising department at Disney without a doubt turned into dollar signs when this film landed in their laps but I still feel like the studio started out making this sequel for the right reason.

Setting aside cinematic universes, prequels and reboots for the moment, what Ralph’s second outing showed me is that sequels can prove to be as good at delivering something fresh and new as they are capitalising on an IP. Ralph Breaks the Internet was produced because the filmmakers had a great idea and that resulted in a film that I thought was a lot of fun.

So if you’re thinking you don’t want to see a sequel because your skepticism radar continues to beep in the background, don’t listen to it. There’s a right way to make a sequel – and who knows, you might even have fun.

Now, where can I buy Sleeping Beauty’s Nap Queen PJs for Mrs Izzard…?

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: