This article contains Ralph Breaks the Internet spoilers.
In Ralph Breaks The Internet, the titular character literally brings the internet to a halt. But his parent company Disney deserves credit for internet-breaking, as well as for breaking their own rules, by colliding worlds in a way that could mark a new direction for the way their characters interact. In the movie, arcade characters Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz leave their games in Litwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade and venture online. As teased in the trailer, Vanellope heads to the Oh My Disney section of the internet, and encounters the 11 Disney Princesses (along with likely princess candidates Moana, Elsa, and Anna — and perhaps Vanellope herself).
The scene, which culminates in a princess chatfest in comfy clothes is pivotal for grouping these animated heroines together for the first time – and that’s before C-3PO arrives to notify the princesses they are needed for an online quiz. The scene is as exciting and novel as watching Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck occupy the same world as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? And the universe mash-ups don’t end with the princesses and a protocol droid.
With Ralph Breaks The Internet, writer/directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston have put all of Disney’s toys in one box. First Order Stormtroopers from Star Wars: The Force Awakens work security at Oh My Disney, including at a Q&A with Baby Groot. Iron Man flies by Eeyore before sharing the skies with X-Wings. Stan Lee, in his first posthumous cameo, walks the streets of Oh My Disney alongside Grumpy from Snow White, Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, Hei Hei from Moana, and Nick Wilde from Zootopia while signs indicate areas dedicated to Disney properties, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and The Muppet Show. Many of them should not even know one another, which makes the Oh My Disney sequence so notable. Even though it takes place in an online cyber-world, as opposed to a cinematic narrative, it marks the first direct interaction of most of these characters on screen.
There is an entire rule book shrouded in mystery that governs character interactions at the Mouse House. Within the physical world of Disney theme parks, the princesses are said to be friendly with one another (to avoid disappointing inquisitive guests). They each exist within their own realms, and — outside of live shows, or dining experiences at the parks where characters meet with guests — they don’t hang together. You won’t catch Snow White wandering into Belle and the Beast’s castle, and Pocahontas doesn’t chill in Tiana’s New Orleans from The Princess and the Frog.
They don’t really exist in a shared cinematic universe, and their stories don’t cross over. According to The New York Times, when the Disney Princess franchise was introduced in 2000, “It was the first time Disney marketed characters separately from a film’s release, let alone lumped together those from different stories.” And in Princess promotional materials, the grouped characters wouldn’t even be aware of one another’s presence, and would even gaze in different directions to maintain their separate mythologies.
This dedication to mythology and fantasy extends to Disney’s other properties as well. The rules dictating this are not available to the public, but they are observable and serve to preserve the integrity of individual franchises.
At the Disney parks, the magic comes first, and the illusion must always be upheld. For instance, Princess/General Leia does not appear alongside Queen Amidala for obvious reasons. And since Boba Fett never had the pleasure of meeting BB-8 in the Star Wars films, you shouldn’t count on a double photo opportunity with both.
Sure, you can meet each character in separate scenes at the Star Wars Launch Bay at Disneyland or Disney’s Hollywood Studios (and they do share a stage, though segregated, at the “A Galaxy Far, Far Away” show at this Orlando park), but the rules of interaction are so strict that First Order Stormtrooper characters cannot patrol the Mos Eisley cantina set since they never do so in the films. And Threepio certainly never met a Disney Princess on screen before, nor will he in the Disney parks.
However, there is some precedent to Disney crossovers, even if it hasn’t been at the level seen in Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Previously, Once Upon A Time gathered different Disney Princesses together on the live-action ABC series, but that retelling is not within the main princess canon. And the animated series Sofia The First, about a minor princess who is not in the Disney royal court, featured cameos from the likes of Cinderella, Snow White, and others. And before either The Muppets or Star Wars were acquired by Disney, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Luke Skywalker landed on The Muppet Show “comedy variety show planet” seeking an imprisoned Chewbacca (Luke’s “cousin” Mark Hamill also appears on the episode).
Coincidentally, the previous crossover that comes closest to resembling the mash-ups in Ralph is the video game series Kingdom Hearts from Disney Interactive Studios, and Square Enix. The game sends its protagonists Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy throughout various universes to battle evil, and encounter classic characters from Disney and the Final Fantasy franchise. In the much-anticipated Kingdom Hearts III – finally arriving January 2019 – familiar faces from Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Big Hero 6, and Winnie The Pooh will join the adventure against the evil Heartless from within their respective film worlds. Ralph himself will appear as a summonable “Link” character. Additionally, the video game Disney Infinity allowed players to combine characters from Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and other Disney animated properties in a customizable Toy Box gameplay mode (though the characters were restricted to their respective worlds in the Play Set mode).
But the worlds colliding in Ralph Breaks The Internet is something different because it brings all these characters together in a “whole new world,” if you will. As opposed to popping into the respective worlds of one another, the characters share this mutual one arena at Oh My Disney with a new fantastic point of view.
So, how might the success of the new film impact how Disney-owned characters may crossover in the future?
Surely Disney wants to avoid diluting its intellectual property. While oversaturation of these characters is a legitimate concern (see: the scaling back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe approach to Star Wars movies), there is potential to explore more of the Oh My Disney neighborhood from Ralph. The film creates something of a pocket universe — the OMD-verse. In this, a hodgepodge of characters can co-exist as online metatextual versions of the “real” characters, and without disrupting the prime canon of the MCU, Star Wars, or the Disney Princesses.
Considering the instant hit of the Loungewear Princesses – who are part of the best sequence in the film — I would be surprised if audiences don’t see more of them. But beyond the princess adventures, just imagine: Rocket Raccoon could swipe Luke Skywalker’s cybernetic hand; Chewie, Groot, and Donald could engage in a hilariously indecipherable conversation; and Okoye, Mulan, and Rey could team up to kick all kinds of butt.
An entirely new kingdom of stories could exist in the online Wreck-It Ralph-verse. Ralph may have broken the internet, but Disney could own it.