5 Ways to Prep: Ralph Breaks the Internet
By George Rose
November 22, 2018
The most wonderful time of year is here with the release of Disney’s long-awaited sequel, Wreck-It Ralph 2. The first film was among the studio’s new batch of animated releases post-Pixar renaissance. Once the Mouse House gave up on 2D drawings and mastered how to make CGI, they kicked things off with the stellar Tangled in 2010. After earning $200 million on their initial outing, their next effort (Wreck-It Ralph) came close to that same mark with $189 million in 2012. That was followed by Frozen in 2013 and we all lost our marbles when it earned over $400 million. Disney proved they didn’t need Pixar to make a memorable cartoon and it wouldn’t be long before they would try their hand at their first ever animated sequel.
Disney owns a lot of companies that have released blockbuster sequels. Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar are all about their franchises and most would assume Disney is no different. If you think about it though, has Disney ever done an animated sequel? Any and all extensions of Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid and Aladdin have been relegated to the direct-to-DVD department or, occasionally, a Disney Channel TV show. Tangled’s 2010 release was less than a decade ago so there hasn’t been much time to mix things up. All the older classics are getting live-action updates (Dumbo and Aladdin coming in 2019), while their more modern slate seems to be Disney’s first chance to try a sequel. Frozen 2 also comes out in 2019 but, for now, we are in uncharted territory as for what to expect at the box office this week.
Dreamworks Animation, on the other hand, is no stranger to sequels. It is there that we are likely to find some answers for what should expect from Wreck-It 2, although Pixar’s recent efforts might also be able to shed some light onto the matter. There’s so much to consider and so few interested in such nonsense, but I am among the numbers junkies that go bananas when new ground is about to be broken. As Disney’s first real animated sequel to see the silver screen, all eyes are on the hopeful success of Ralph to see if he can break more than just the internet. As the sequel to one of my favorite movies of the last decade, my eyes are set squarely on this film being a blockbuster to ensure future installments are green-lit next week.
It can’t be stressed enough how excited I am to see Wreck-It Ralph 2. With the first wave of reviews glowing above 90% positive, it would appear I have nothing to worry about. Without a firm example of what to expect, anything is possible. Given the handful of animated sequels from other studios that have previously occupied this niche that Disney has always avoided, there are a few different paths that Ralph might follow. Join me, friends, as we explore 5 Ways to Prep for this new release and go on the hunt for answers to our expectations.
#1) WRECK-IT RALPH (2012)
Oh man, do I love this movie. Before seeing Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet, you should see this delightful franchise starter. You could argue that the $189 million it earned is hardly enough to justify future sequels, but it was among Disney’s first new CGI animated features and I’m glad to see they are giving it another chance at breakout success. The only reason I can think of that this film didn’t reach a wider audience is because most children in this modern age will never know the joys of simple pleasures like an arcade.
Once upon a time people didn’t have cell phones and video game systems that were connected to the internet. Their graphics didn’t go beyond 8-bits and playing together online was only something to dream of. The way people were able to play video games together was either huddled around their tiny TV or with a group of friends at an arcade, a magical land that housed a variety of games that people could play for a few quarters. Since this ancient world is unknown to today’s youth, I’m not surprised those children didn’t flood their local theater to see Wreck-It Ralph, a movie about characters living within those very games at the mythical arcade.
Within this arcade you’ll find the many games all connected to a power strip and it is here where Wreck-It Ralph builds the concept of its world. Characters from each game wait for the patrons of the arcade to leave before coming to life and traveling about. Consider each game a town within a state and power cords the railroads that take trains between these places, with the surge-protector serving as the main hub where all people can travel to meet up. The big problem, though, is that once you leave your main game you must be certain to stay alive. If you die outside your game, you can’t be respawned. This clever addition to the world Disney built inside Wreck-It Ralph is just one small example of how fleshed out this story really is.
As Ralph is the villain of his own game, he sets out to prove he can be a hero while risking the livelihood of everyone he left behind to prove his point. If a character is missing from a game when the arcade opens, it can cause glitches which, in turn, can lead an arcade owner to unplug a game and cause mass genocide to the inhabitants. Ok, so that part is a bit dark for a kids movie but, again, it just goes to show how much they ran with the story idea. In Toy Story, toys come to life; Wreck-It Ralph brings video game characters to life and then builds a much more complex mythology around this kid-movie concept. I don’t want to dive too much deeper into the story, lest I ruin what is a wonderful hour and forty minute ride down Video Game Nostalgia Lane, so I simply beg you see this movie based on my word while you have the chance as the sequel will most worthy of the big screen experience.
#2) EMOJI MOVIE (2017)
Ah, balance, you wily mistress. Just as I was making a joke about how kids today don’t know what an arcade is, I was hoping to suggest that they do know what the internet is. Given the idea that an arcade character can travel down a power cord, into a power strip and then into any other game, it seems a natural (yet still completely clever) idea to then plug a wifi router into that same power source and see what trouble those characters can get into. That’s where Wreck-It 2 takes us, down the rabbit hole into the many adventures available on the World Wide Web. The problem with that idea is that it’s sort of been done already and with terrible results. Since Disney took six years to make a Wreck-It Ralph sequel, that allowed time for the lesser animated studios to come up with similar ideas which they could then ruin because they don’t have Mickey’s magic touch.
Enter 2017’s Emoji Movie, which - like Ralph - is a digital world where emojis live on your phone and can travel about the internet. What should have been a great reveal of the internet possibilities in Wreck-It 2 gets wasted on this lackluster garbage of a movie. For as much as I praised Disney’s ability to take a simple idea and expand on it with the same fervor as a the Big Bang, Emoji Movie took a potentially complex idea and… stopped there. I remember two things about this dumpster fire; 1) that a few of the emojis had to have a ridiculous dance-off inside a Dance Dance Revolution style app, and 2) that I wanted to kill myself the entire time. The good news is it only made $86 million and deserved every bit of the bomb it got. The bad news is they took away the internet’s reveal in Wreck-It 2. Seeing this movie could potentially turn away audiences from Ralph’s trip; however, seeing this film will undoubtedly make you appreciate Wreck-It 2 that much more. Dumpster fires have a way of making other movies look great.
#3) READY PLAYER ONE (2018)
One example of how video games and the internet can collide into something spectacular is this year’s Ready Player One. While the online gaming portions are CGI, the world outside the system is live-action and still full of wonder. Much like Wreck-It Ralph, Ready Player One is somewhat based on reality in the sense that it is full of classic throwbacks and pop culture references that audiences can enjoy with each discovery. Both films are also firmly products of their creators, as Ralph is every bit a Disney movie and Player One is definitely the offspring of Stephen Spielberg. Based on the trailers, I expected Player One’s quality to be somewhere between Emoji Movie and Wreck-It Ralph, but I can confidently say it is actually closer to the latter. Ready Player One is full of action and visual splendor, with it’s only downfall being a lackluster $137 million total that may not be enough to launch the franchise this movie deserves.
#4) THE MORE SUCCESSFUL SEQUEL
Guessing what Wreck-It Ralph 2 will earn is where things get tricky. Again, Disney Animation hasn’t done a theatrical sequel before. Pixar has had a few, but Finding Dory and Incredibles 2 are bad examples as they came after over a decade of anticipation. The Cars franchise isn’t a good comp because, well, Cars 2 should never be spoken of again. That leaves Pixar’s closest possible comp being the Toy Story movies, as they are of similar concept and the sequel wasn’t released long after the first film. Toy Story opened to $29 million before legging it out to $191 million, a start-to-finish multiplier of about 6.6x. Since word of mouth carried the film a long way, it’s no surprise the sequel opened bigger ($57 million) and then made more in total ($246 million, +29%). Is similar growth in the works for Wreck-It Ralph 2? I sure hope so!
I would argue that both movies are of equal quality, although nostalgia alone would have most claiming Toy Story is better. Oddly enough, though, is that most animated sequels do not earn more than their predecessors. There are only a few that come to mind: Shrek ($268 million) vs Shrek 2 ($441 million, +65%), and Despicable Me ($252 million) vs Despicable Me 2 ($368 million, +46%). The difference here is their first films start-to-finish multiplier. Shrek had a 6.4x multiplier and Despicable Me had a 4.5x. This means they opened well but continued to succeed after a surprisingly pleased audience spread the word about how great it was. Wreck-It Ralph opened to $49 million and ended with $189 million, giving it a 3.9 multiplier, which isn’t much lower than Despicable Me but it’s nothing to boast about. There are plenty of sub-4x multiplier comps out there and, unfortunately, that may be a better fit for Ralph.
#5) THE LESS SUCCESSFUL SEQUEL
For every breakout animated feature with a great multiplier and a more successful sequel, there are a dozen that did not live up to their predecessors. Non-Disney animated films tend to have plenty of sequels which give us lots to work with. Here is a list of movies that have been successful, had moderate multipliers and had sequels that fell short of their predecessor:
Madagascar ($47 million start, $194 million finish, 4.1x multiplier) vs Madagascar 2 ($180 million finish, -8%); Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ($30 million start, $125 million finish, 4.2 multiplier) vs Cloudy 2 ($120 million finish, -4%); Kung Fu Panda ($60 million start, $215 million finish, 3.6 multiplier) vs Kung Fu Panda 2 ($165 million finish, -30%); Rio ($39 million start, $144 million finish, 3.7 multiplier) vs Rio 2 ($132 million finish, -9%); How to Train Your Dragon ($43 million start, $218 million finish, 5.1x multiplier) vs HTTYD 2 ($177 million finish, -23%).
The average decline for a sequel here is 14.8%, which would give Wreck-It Ralph 2 about $161 million. The odd example here, though, is How to Train Your Dragon. With a 5.1x multiplier, you’d expect that films success to be followed up with a mega-sequel. Then again, is there ever a mega-sequel? Despicable Me only had a 4.5x multiplier, which is great but not unfathomable. The Minion characters basically acted like animated cocaine with little kids inexplicably devouring all things yellow because of this movie. Shrek, on the other hand, is basically the Avengers of the fairy tale world and had so many pop culture references that it was hard not to find something in it to enjoy and plenty of material to work with for a sequel.
There are exceptions to the rule, though, as two more franchises come to mind: Ice Age ($46 million start, $176 million finish, 3.8x multiplier) vs Ice Age 2 ($195 million finish, +9%), and Hotel Transylvania ($42 million start, $148 million finish, 3.5x multiplier) vs Hotel 2 ($170 million finish, +9%). Although Wreck-It Ralph didn’t have a stellar multiplier or breakout above $200 million, I have a hard time seeing the sequel earn less money. To be honest, I didn’t see Ralph in theaters. I fell in love with it at home which means maybe others did too. Everyone I know who has seen it is borderline obsessed with it, and although we didn’t catch on while it was in theaters I think the internet has helped spread the good word of Wreck-It Ralph.
Rarely do animated movies make more than their predecessor and the normal ones that do seem to make about 10% more, which would give Wreck-It 2 about $206 million. Honestly, anything less than $200 million will be devastating to me as early reviews suggest this sequel deserves many more installments beyond this outing. Based on the numbers, anywhere between $160 to $210 million seems like a safe landing zone, with an outside shot at $250 to $300 million if it can (rightfully) join the ranks of Hollywood’s most elite animated franchises.