When the first trailer of Walt Disney’s animated film Ralph Breaks The Internet was released in June, it featured a sequence that almost broke the internet. The trailer brought together all the Disney princesses under one roof for the first time and went on to mock the cliched plot devices that the studio has used for them – curses, magical powers, dangerous situations and most of all, a man who rescues them from it all.
The film, a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph (2012), opens in India on November 23, two days after its release in the United States of America. The original production was centred on the adventures of Wreck-It Ralph (John C Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), two video game characters who help each other on a mission. In the sequel, directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, Ralph and Vanellope go beyond the world of video games and enter the internet. There, they encounter several weird and wonderful things. One of these is Oh My Disney, a place where all of the animation giant’s creations come to life, including its many princesses.
The sequence featuring the princesses was one of the first things that the animation team worked on, Mark Henn, the 2D animation supervisor on Ralph Breaks The Internet, told Scroll.in. “As fun as it sounds, it was also a challenge to bring 14 of them together, get the original voice cast and everything in place,” he added.
In a career spanning almost 40 years, Henn has helped create most of Disney’s princesses including Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989), Belle from Beauty and the Beast (1991), Jasmine from Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas from the 1995 film of the same name, Fa Mulan from Mulan (1998) and Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (2009). In an interview, Henn spoke about the upcoming film and what goes into making a Disney princess.
What can you tell us about ‘Ralph Breaks The Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2’?
Ralph Breaks The Internet takes place in a bigger world and has at least thrice the number of characters that you had seen in Wreck-It Ralph. This time, Ralph and Vanellope’s adventures are larger in scale and scope. To them, the internet is a big new city. To recreate that on screen as a large metropolis was a lot of fun. We always knew that a sequel could only happen if the original filmmakers were on board because no one knows the world of Wreck-It Ralph better than Rich [Moore] and Phil [Johnston].
What role do you play as an animation supervisor?
Since Frozen, my job at the studio has been to guide and be a resource to the new animators. The young animators would come to me and ask me to look at a scene or a character and I would give my inputs and do some drawings to send them to an interesting direction. Simply put, the primary job of a supervising animator is to ensure quality control of a character or a sequence.
What goes into making a Disney princess memorable and enduring?
Each Disney princess becomes memorable when they have strong personalities, not to mention distinct features that set them apart from each other. From the time I began working and into the ‘90s, the princesses began to get more bold and aggressive and outspoken. I think that made a lot of latter-day princesses more compelling as they were the driving force behind the stories as opposed to the older princesses who let things happen to them. The attempt, always, is to make characters that audiences can identify with, love, and also look up to and learn from.
Which is your favourite character that you have worked on?
I cannot just pick one, but I would say Mulan. That film came out of our new studio in Florida and the team was very fresh, right out of art school. The story was unique and was coming from a place of age-old traditions that gave the project a lot of depth. We went to China to research on the lore of Mulan, which was a great experience.
How different is animation filmmaking now, from the time you began working?
It’s mostly computer animation now. I have been working with paper and pencil for 40 years now. Computer animation is not something I am proficient at, unlike the younger lot. At Disney, I re-touch scenes and moments on a computer tablet to improve the final quality. The filmmaking process remains the same. The characters and the story and the storyboards must be right. Computer animation gives more leg room for visually expanding on areas where 2D cannot go to.
That being said, it also needs more number of people on board than hand-drawn animation obviously. Computers don’t make things easier or faster as the misconception often is.