Friday, July 1, 2016

Brick Breaking: Further Thoughts on the 'Wreck-It Ralph 2' Announcement

Well, the dust has settled. Walt Disney Animation Studios has announced a new theatrical sequel that will be produced in-house...

For anyone who knows a thing or two about Disney's history with sequels, it's a little unorthodox to see things like Wreck-It Ralph 2 and Frozen 2 in development at Disney Animation. We're in a new era where direct-to-video sequels to the Disney animated features are (thankfully) a thing of the past, a new era where sequels and franchise extensions rule the day. A sequel to Wreck-It Ralph was always inevitable to me, not because director Rich Moore was vocally gung-ho about it the minute the first film hit theaters in fall 2012, but because the film was a big hit at the box office.

Tangled was actually Disney Animation's first bona-fide hit under Lasseter's wing, for the previous three features were undone by poor marketing and audience disinterest. Tangled on the other hand made some serious money, being the studio's biggest moneymaker since The Lion King, a film that was 16 years old when Tangled came out. There was some talk on a sequel, but we got a short instead, plus a TV series will arrive next year. It might be too late to do a sequel anyways...

Wreck-It Ralph's sequel was talked about by various people, long before Disney confirmed its existence yesterday. Around early 2014, the film's composer Henry Jackman said the film was being written. Some people in the know said various things about it, some of them got in a little trouble for mentioning it. So it's clear that Moore was working hard on it for a little while, but then Zootopia happened. Byron Howard was set to direct that one by himself, but in November 2014 - right around Big Hero 6's release - Moore got onboard to help him direct. More than one person directing a feature isn't a novel concept at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

After finishing Zootopia earlier this year, Moore - as expected - got back to work on Wreck-It Ralph's sequel, but there was no word for a little while. I would've never thought it would be slated for March 9, 2018, yet at the same time I kind of wondered to myself... Rich Moore is a lightning fast director and is like Brad Bird, he makes decisions quicker than some others. Both of their backgrounds are in television, mainly The Simpsons. Wreck-It Ralph was originally pegged for a spring 2013 release many moons ago, but development went so well on the project that Disney moved it up to fall 2012. That's rare for an animated film, usually they get pushed back!

So I think that Moore has more than enough time to make the spring 2018 date with the sequel. He had spent nearly two years working on it before departing for Zootopia, so now another two! It's the same timeframe as the original. Moore started developing Wreck-It Ralph, a complete reimagining of an ill-fated project called Joe Jump, in early 2008. The movie was completed by the end of 2012.

Interestingly enough, Phil Johnston has joined as co-director. Not a second director, mind you, for a co-director is a specific position at both Lasseter's Disney Animation and Pixar. It's rare that only one main director handles a film there, Wreck-It Ralph was an exception, Moore handled that one all by himself. By contrast, Frozen added Jennifer Lee halfway through pre-production, ditto Big Hero 6 and of course, Zootopia. His writing for Zootopia and the first Ralph was sharp, so I can only imagine how he'll do as a co-director, and if that will land him a directing gig later on down the line. It worked for Ms. Lee, who was - coincidentally - the other writer on Ralph.

Originally, the fairy tale adaptation Gigantic secured the spring 2018 slot. With Wreck-It Ralph 2 now moving along swimmingly, Gigantic will now be Walt Disney Animation Studios' fall 2018 release. It'll be no different from this year: A musical fairy tale during the holiday season, and a new experimental picture during the spring.

Gigantic is from Tangled director Nathan Greno, for now. I wonder if, now that Zootopia has been made, Byron Howard himself might join him to direct it. Greno and Howard directed Tangled together, so I don't see why not. Byron doesn't seem to have anything in development right now, so I can see him giving the fairy tale another go with his Tangled comrade. A special on Greno from Kenosha News, since Greno's a Kenosha native, had said he was going to direct Gigantic with Howard. I wasn't sure if that was a mistake, or if that's actually going to happen. Remember, lines up nicely with two directors doing one picture.

Hearsay says, according to /Film, that Gigantic has hit some development roadblocks. Since the picture is over two years away, this is no cause for alarm. Better to hit them now than mere months before the opening weekend. Gigantic actually hit development hell some time ago, as its original synopsis sounded very complicated and all over the place. Greno's been developing this Jack and the Beanstalk adaptation since roughly mid-2011, and for a long while it was set to be called Giants. I guess they wanted another adjective title, but the current premise - revealed at D23 last summer - sounds very straightforward but still intriguing.

I'd say a fall 2018 release suits it way better than a spring one, as we kind of associate big post-90s Disney fairy tale musicals with the holiday season.

Wreck-It Ralph 2 breaks up the musicals a bit. As feature #57, it's between Moana and Gigantic. I was kind of against having Moana and Gigantic be back-to-back anyways, I'd rather Disney keep breaking up the musicals/fairy tales with pictures that try new genres and ideas. This leads me to wonder... Will Frozen 2 debut in fall 2019 as feature number #59? That will make for two fairy tales back-to-back, but since it's a sequel and an inevitability, it's not much of a big deal so long as the fall 2020 Disney Animation film is something fresh and new.

As we all know, Wreck-It Ralph set up a world that is so big and so sprawling that there's a lot of potential in a future installment. As confirmed yesterday, Ralph and Vanellope will leave Litwak's Arcade and hit the Internet. Perhaps we'll visit tons of online games, maybe the hokey social media game that was cut from the first movie - Extreme EZ Livin' 2. They can also explore console games, considering that virtually every physical copy game these days is online-based or has some kind of online feature. There's a lot of material ripe for satire here, as the first film was a witty look at games then and now.

Then of course, there's the idea of Ralph and Felix's game getting sequels. Fix-It Felix, Jr. was released in 1982 in-universe by the company Tobikomi, so they probably made countless sequels. In the 1980s some arcade favorites got arcade sequels, even after the video game crash of 1983. For instance, Midway made four sequels to Pac-Man without developer Namco's involvement, the then super-popular Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Plus, Professor Pac-Man, and Jr. Pac-Man. Namco made their own sequels: Pac & Pal, Pac-Land, Pac-Mania, Pac-Man Arrangement, et al. Namco also made sequels to their space shooters Galaxian and Galaga, Mappy got a sequel, and so on.

Nintendo of course... That's probably the best comparison there. We all know Mario originated from 1981's Donkey Kong as Jumpman, but then became the Italian plumber we all know and love in Donkey Kong, Jr. Then he got an arcade game with a brother in 1983, that was the original Mario Bros. Then two years later, Super Mario Bros. debuted on the Famicom/NES, re-launching Mario's longevity and then some. Perhaps Ralph and Felix will discover that multiple sequels to their game exist! Arcade sequels, home-console sequels, app sequels, so much to explore there. Imagine them meeting really hyper-realistic versions of themselves from a recent game, or maybe mid-90s versions with PS1 or Nintendo 64-esque graphics. Heck, what about Fix-It Felix, Sr.? Again, there's so much to mine from there alone!

Which begs the question... What will they title the sequel? It's not called Wreck-It Ralph 2, the announcement video only referred to it as the Wreck-It Ralph sequel, so maybe Disney will go for a subtitle, or maybe they'll try something like "Super Wreck-It Ralph", playing on video game titles and such. The concept art on Facebook had the text "Wreck-It Ralph Returns March 9, 2018." Or perhaps its title will allude to online games?

So why would Ralph and Vanellope have to go to the Internet? How? As I speculated years back, maybe Litwak's Arcade could lose business. How rare are arcades these days? They certainly were far more successful in the 80s and maybe the early 90s. I went to a local arcade a lot in the late 90s/early 00s before it went out of business, the theater I work at has an arcade, I often see at least one arcade game here and there in places like malls or stores. Then of course you have your Chuck E'Cheese and Dave & Busters venues. So certainly not dead, but what if Litwak's somehow loses business. That would make for a sequel with some serious emotional stakes. Or maybe newer games are set to replace older ones? Either way, I wonder if they'll go that route.

Or maybe someone from an Internet game finds its way to the arcade and has to get back home? Maybe a Cy-Bug-esque threat comes from the Internet? Again, there's a lot to guess here. It appears that Wreck-It Ralph's version of the Internet is a city of headquarters and such, not too far from TRON's city-like depiction of certain parts of the computer world. There's cities and the game grid, but desolate areas neighboring them. Actually, it kind of reminds me of the Internet as seen in the Futurama episode 'A Bicyclops Built for Two', an episode made when Rich Moore was a director on the show. It could be a combination of those two ideas, and some ones we've never seen before. Either way, it looks to be a unique take. They ought to be careful with the parodies of sites, though.

Some have wondered if Felix and Sgt. Calhoun will return, as the announcement video only mentioned John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman reprising their roles, not to mention just the two of them being in the concept art. I don't see why Felix and Calhoun won't be in the movie, perhaps things just haven't been finalized yet. It's still a good year and a half away, so there's plenty of time for them to join the cast. Animation productions takes about a year or less, so yes... Give it time.

Lastly, the animation and art direction. What makes Wreck-It Ralph a visually unique CG film in this decade is that each different world has its own kind of design. Even though there are no dramatic art shifts, each world has a unique look to it. Ralph's Niceland home works off of the fact that the game is an 8-bit game, with architecture and little details and such. The movements of the Nicelanders are also very limited, intentionally. Over in Hero's Duty, everything is detailed and hyper-real along with Calhoun and all the soldiers. A huge contrast from the fun and colorful Niceland, and certainly a country mile from Sugar Rush. Each world has such a cool look, imagine what they'll do with two!

A lot of Internet-based games and apps take on very different looks, some indie games out there have 2D or cel-shaded graphics. Imagine a whole sequence in this film done in traditional animation? How about they do a whole sequence in 16-bit or 32-bit graphics for effect? Again, there could be so many art shifts in this movie. Not just going from one medium to another, but different use of color, different styles of CG (think something like 'Abstract Thought' from Inside Out), Futurama did this a lot, so I can see this doing that too. In the first film, we got a very brief scene that shifts. As Ralph and the baddies leave Pac-Man, we see the game the way we would see it. I thought that was a very nice effect!

So yes, there is so much potential here... I could go on for days. Till Zootopia came out, Wreck-It Ralph was my favorite of the modern Disney animated features, and one of my favorites in general. I think a sequel was a good idea, though of course I'm on board if the filmmakers on board. Again, Moore was always enthusiastic about returning to the film's world.

Walt Disney Animation Studios, as I keep saying, has an exciting slate ahead of them. I'm glad that they are spacing out the comfort food (the musicals/fairy tales) flicks and making way for films like Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia. Disney Animation isn't a genre, they can and should try all kinds of genres: Sci-fi, action, mystery, period pieces, high fantasy, everything. The success of this trio is an indicator of what's to come, and one of these experimental films getting a sequel green lit is another positive indicator I think. Shows that audiences indeed want more like it, and then some.

1 comment:

  1. I like the fact that the fiilm is not called "Wreck-It Ralph 2". I don't know why, but I think its visually pretty when the film doesn't have the number on the title (like Pirates of the Caribbean). I think Frozen 2 will be the Nov. 2019 release because March and June 2020 are already filled and Nov. 2020 is a little too late, I guess.