Spoilers for “Ralph Breaks the Internet” ahead.
FOR ALL the cheerful humor mined from Internet spoofery “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” there is one scene not long before the climax that rings as purely poignant — a moment of innocence lost.
Ralph, the big-fisted former game villain (voiced by John C. Reilly), has just become a viral video star, thanks to his goofy and gallumphing antics engineered to get nostalgia-laced views. Yet at one point, Ralph wanders into the film’s Internet-made-physical comments section — and discovers what some haters have to say about him.
In that moment, as we gaze into the animated character’s big, crestfallen face, we are all Ralph.
We all know, and feel, that moment. It’s a part of the movie that the filmmakers say they’ve seen play to audiences with a universal understanding, from Beijing to New York.
And amid all the colorful high jinks, that scene is purposefully played as serious — no comic relief in sight.
“The moment itself was something that we knew we needed to do if we’re going to [tackle] the Internet — it can’t all be the cat videos and the jokes and the princess scene,” Phil Johnston, the film’s co-director with Rich Moore, said recently while the duo were in Washington.
“There needs to be the darker side of the Internet — which is both simultaneously the greatest tool ever invented and the most insidious villain you could imagine — so [the film] is not black and white,” he continues. “We always are typically more interested in exploring that gray.”
The emotional toll of that discovery services the plot’s progression, yet also stands as an unvarnished statement to viewers about some of the more punishing aspects of the Internet.
“That scene, for a guy like Ralph — who is deeply insecure still and has a lot of self-doubt — really was important, because then he is going to double down on the one friend [Vanellope] he actually has and then make a terrible choice to hold on to her,” says Johnston (“Zootopia”), referencing how Ralph’s overbearing neediness harms their friendship.
Yet, “what we really want to say is: Everyone experiences this. Everyone gets attacked. if you live online in any way you’re going to find that.”
And so the advice offered by Taraji P. Henson’s Internet-savvy character, Yesss, while “seemingly pithy, is actually quite apt: Don’t read the comments.”
Moore and Johnston also want that scene to offer another lesson, especially to younger viewers.
“If nothing else, at least look at who is making the comments,” Johnston says. “It’s anonymous people who probably have some degree of hate for themselves and are lashing out at you. And there’s nothing to be said other than: Ignore it. Don’t engage in it. And rely on people who love you and who you love.
“That’s where your self-worth can be found.”