At first glance, Ralph Breaks the Internet doesn’t really register as a princess movie.
But in fact, Vanellope von Schweetz is herself a Disney princess – and in a crucial scene already making the rounds, she gets a chance to meet all the other Disney princesses and befriend them.
It’s a lighthearted moment, and a pleasantly shocking one. Not only do the Disney princesses lounge around in their comfy clothes and bond over their shared traumas (turns out a lot of them have been kidnapped or enslaved!), they crack knowing jokes at their own expense.
Who’d have thought the studio would sign off on that?
Dreaming up the princess scene
Well, Disney did, actually.
According to co-director Rich Moore, the Ralph team knew from “day one” that they’d be making fun of their own movies. “It felt like, if everyone else does it, why shouldn’t we?” he said at a Los Angeles press day in August.
The idea originated with screenwriter Pamela Ribon, who’d started to wonder circa 2014 – when she was still working on Moana – why Vanellope wasn’t considered an official Disney princess like Cinderella, Belle, or Tiana.
By the time the Ralph story team came together in 2016, she told us, “We knew that we would like to do a scene that was meta. We thought it would be fun to have a scene of Disney poking a little fun at itself. And I thought, What if Vanellope met all the princesses?“
With that in mind, Ribon, herself a lifelong Disney fan, went home and wrote a scene poking fun at the usual princess tropes. “And then I had a panic attack. I laid down on the floor,” she recalled. “I was like, I am either going to be fired, or this might be a big deal.”
Thankfully, Moore was receptive. Ribon and her team got the greenlight to storyboard the sequence and “see what happens.” Which is how she wound up presenting a very early, very rough version to a roomful of Disney employees – including some of the people who’d directed the very movies she was (affectionately) teasing.
It was a “tough crowd,” she said. “Any minute, I felt like they were going to be like, ‘Shut it down! Get out! No!'” Contrary to her fears, however, the scene was a hit. The audience applauded, leadership signed on, and the Ralph team got started straightaway on making Ribon’s vision a reality.
Making the Disney princesses come to life – again
Disney being Disney, of course, that meant minding all the details. Each princess had to look right, sound right, move right. Her individual personality had to shine through, and remain consistent with her historical characterization, even in the weird world of Ralph.
To make that happen, the crew turned to the people who’d know the princesses better than anyone. Animators and designers visited the park to explore the settings (like the Disneyland Dream Suite, which inspired the princess room in Ralph), and speak with the “face characters” who play these characters each day.
The actresses who’d originally voiced the princesses were called in to reprise their roles – including Ming-Na Wen (Mulan), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Jodi Benson (Ariel), Paige O’Hara (Belle), Linda Larkin (Jasmine), Irene Bedard (Pocahontas), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana), Mandy Moore (Rapunzel), Kelly Macdonald (Merida), Kristen Bell (Anna), and Auli’i Cravalho (Moana) – and weigh in on the characters they’d lived with for so long.
The goal was to make the princesses feel true to themselves – even as they adopt a more casual modern look under Vanellope’s watch.
Mark Henn, the legendary animator whose credits include The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, and Frozen, returned to animate some of the princesses again for Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Head of animation Kira Lehtomaki and her team also painstakingly studied the old Disney classics to incorporate “as many opportunities as possible to find these iconic moments and put them in the film,” she said. Some are overt homages; others are subtler recreations of certain gestures or poses.
(And if something still felt off, like Tiana’s new look? Disney took pains to listen to the feedback, and adjust accordingly.)
The goal was to make the princesses feel true to themselves – even as they adopt a more casual modern look under Vanellope’s watch. Each character’s “comfy” outfit includes a reference to her own film – like the Mushu embroidery on Mulan’s jacket, or the apple design on Snow White’s t-shirt. (“I wanted to make her shirt a little cool – not many people can survive eating a poison apple,” commented art director Ami Thompson.)
These may be the princesses as we’ve never seen them, but there’s no mistaking that they’re still the ladies we grew up loving.
Why the princesses are ‘integral’ to Ralph
That painstaking authenticity is exactly why the scene works – why it feels both so surprising and so right. Said producer Clark Spencer, “Rich and Phil really read the line of being satirical or funny about ourselves, but also being respectful of our characters.”
The scene Ribon once worried might get her fired has turned into one of the few to make it mostly intact through Ralph‘s grueling production process. Even as the storyline changed dramatically, as other characters were added or removed or reimagined, the princess bit remained a “touchstone,” said story artist Jason Hand.
Right now, the classic princesses seem to be getting all the attention, in large part because Disney has made the sequence such a central component of their Ralph Breaks the Internet marketing campaign. However, Spencer stresses that the moment is “integral” to Vanellope’s story.
At its core, Ralph is a story about Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship, and the ways in which it’s tested when the pair move from the “small town” (Mr. Litwak’s arcade) to the “big city” (the internet). “They realize they have two different journeys ahead,” explained story artist Natalie Nourigat. “Can they reconcile that? Will their friendship last, or will it be torn asunder?”
“Even within the Disney pantheon, Ralph and Vanellope feel like misfits.”
The spoiler-shy studio isn’t saying. Obviously. But a moment in the longer version of the princess scene, which we saw during the press day, suggests Vanellope learns a few things from her time with them. “You’re all different, but you make it work!” she remarks. “This is making me feel much better about what’s going on between me and my best friend.”
“Even within the Disney pantheon, Ralph and Vanellope feel like misfits,” noted Moore. She may be a princess, but she’s also a video game glitch who prefers hoodies to ballgowns, and he’s a straight-up bad guy (even if that doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy).
Ultimately, though, Vanellope manages to find some common ground with the other ladies of the House of Mouse. “I always thought princesses were all perfect and boring but you guys are pretty cool,” she says in the clip. “You’re just as messed up as the rest of us.”
Ralph, then, would seem to about the ways that the internet complicates our relationships, both by bringing new and unexpected friends into our lives, and by potentially driving away some folks who aren’t as Online as we are.
That story may not be as old as Mulan, or as revered as Beauty and the Beast. But I think I speak for all of us on the internet when I say that in its own way, it’s just as familiar.