As Walt Disney Animation Studios prepares to open Ralph Breaks the Internet in theaters around the world, one of the most anticipated moments is one that’s been buzzed-about for months – “the Princess scene.” Officially the “Oh My Disney” segment, I happened to have seen some of it months before the majority of the public as I was in attendance at the D23 Expo in Anaheim last year. If to “break the internet” really “is a thing,” those packed into the famed Hall D23 saw it happen in person as all the living Disney Princesses gathered in one room and took to the stage following the first-ever look at the unfinished Princess scene (at the time a mix of finished animation and hand-drawn animatics filling the gaps). Auli‘i Cravalho (“Moana”), Kristen Bell (Anna in “Frozen”), Kelly MacDonald (Merida in “Brave”), Mandy Moore (Rapunzel in “Tangled”), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog”), Irene Bedard (“Pocahontas”), Linda Larkin (Jasmine in “Aladdin”), Paige O’Hara (Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”) and Jodi Benson (Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”) were joined by Sarah Silverman (Vanellope von Schweetz in “Wreck-It Ralph”) and directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston to bask in the glory of what they’d just unleashed – the buzziest of buzz clips, but one the general public wouldn’t see for months. And somehow C-3PO and R2-D2 where there, too.
While animated films continually evolve over the course of production (and Disney films perhaps more than most), the “Oh My Disney” sequence has been a part of the Ralph Breaks the Internet since the first script and story reels. This summer, I had a chance to sit down with co-writer Pamela Ribon along with Ami Thompson (Art Director, characters) and Kira Lehtomaki (Head of Animation) for a look behind-the-scenes at what it took to bring these famous and beloved characters into the digital realm as part of the living, breathing internet.
Ribon (also the voice of Snow White in the film) says it all started from a simple question – “Why isn’t Vanellope part of the Disney canon?” “She’s a princess and a president, and I believe that a gal can have more than one title,” explained Ribon. “She’s really my kinda princess because I’m a hoodie kinda girl. My superhero outfit when I’m writing is a hoodie and some comfy pants that can get you to the coffee shop. So I thought it would be pretty interesting if she met all the other Disney Princesses and they asked her, ‘what kind of princess are you?’ When Phil and Rich came back from doing Zootopia, we talked about wanting to do a ‘meta’ internet scene that was Disney talking about Disney and felt that would be a great place for Vanellope to meet the other princesses and go viral – to break the internet.”
From there, it was time to do a rundown of all the famous (and sometimes hotly-debated) princess tropes, throwing aside some of the continuity that may come into play (i.e. Rapunzel having short hair vs. long hair). What came out was a version of the scene on paper that’s pretty close to what ended up in the film – something that rarely happens. In fact, Ribon says she had a panic attack wondering if Disney would actually let her get away with some of what had been written. After an initial rough screening in storyboard form, it got the go and the team decided to make the scene and show it off at D23.
As if the concept wasn’t ambitious enough, design brought forth a new set of challenges – particularly in bringing 14 princesses together that came from different eras of animation. Ami states that “looking at all the princesses that were drawn in 2D, we realized that some had been drawn realistic, while others were cartoony. In order to get them into CG, we redesigned them as the ‘Oh My Disney’ website versions with really vibrant and rich depictions of each character.” From there, the team debated what the princesses would be wearing since they’re essentially “off duty” in the Oh My Disney dressing room. Originally, Ami says that they were drawn in pajamas, which felt “too relaxed.” As it progressed, the princesses would be shown in their classic dresses along with a “comfy” version in casual clothes – complete with novelty t-shirts that would reference their own movies.
Kira’s team had to figure out how the princesses would move – and they went over to the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland Park to see how some of these ladies moved in real-life. Having the original voice actors return allowed for additional insight into the personalities of each character, while guidance from Mark Henn (the ‘princess guy’), the animator who crafted five of the original princesses (Belle, Jasmine, Tiana, Ariel, Mulan) pulled it all together.
Placing the famed Disney Princesses into the fictional realm of the real-world website, Oh My Disney would give them the opportunity to interact with fans, while allowing them to exist alongside real-life cross-company characters from Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar and more. And yes, there are First Order Stormtroopers to deal with.
See Ralph Breaks the Internet, now playing in theaters everywhere!