WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Disney's Ralph Breaks the Internet, in theaters now.
Ralph Breaks the Internet brings the return of the lovable video game villain and his spark plug best friend. However, the film is nearly stolen from both of them by the Disney Princess team cameo that’s been teased since the first trailer.
Odds are, even if you haven’t seen the Wreck-It Ralph sequel, you already know about the epic in-universe crossover scene featuring every Disney Princess, from Snow White to Moana. All of the voice actors available returned to reprise their roles, with Jennifer Hale, Kate Higgins and Moana and Ralph writer Pamela Ribon playing Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, respectively. It’s not the first time the Disney Princesses have shared a screen. Aside from assorted cameos throughout the years (Rapunzel and Flynn Rider guesting at Anna’s wedding in Frozen, etc.), ABC's Once Upon a Time began as a Disney melting pot and eventually went so far as to create an unrequited love story between Mulan and Princess Aurora, as well as significant friendships between Belle, Ariel and Snow White and Elsa. But Ralph Breaks the Internet marks the first time the Princesses have shared a screen in their original form with (most of) their original voices.
Vanellope encounters the women while attempting to evade Star Wars Stormtroopers when she visits the Oh My Disney! site in order to help promote Ralph’s viral videos. The Princesses share a dressing room while they wait to go onstage to take part in virtual “Which Disney Princess Are You?” quizzes, and introduce themselves to their new visitor. What follows is the self-referential sequence depicted in the trailers, in which the Princesses poke some meta-fun at what makes a princess a princess (curses, poisonings, absent fathers and big, strong heroes for necessary problem-solving).
The Princesses confirm that Vanellope is indeed one of their own (her less-effective big guy is Ralph, so she’s in), and become fascinated with her more comfy, practical clothing. After Vanellope leaves the dressing room and undergoes her own Princess becoming, the women return to help save the day in a charmingly flipped script as rescue one of their own from the big, strong man who keeps trying to "help" Vanellope, but doesn't listen to her well enough to understand that he's actually hurting.
Not only is it deeply satisfying to see the Princesses share a screen and break down some of their tropiest tropes (Ariel brandishing her fork as a weapon and Cinderella exclaiming “So this is love!” after changing into sweatpants for the first time will make you want to fist-pump in the theater), it's also gratifying to see them expertly take down a foe together. While Disney has made great strides evolving the nature of its Princesses to include more diverse backgrounds and more independent role models, the Princess scenes in Ralph Breaks the Internet delightfully rockets them into the 21st century. It’s that self-aware modernization that will undoubtedly make their appearance in Ralph one of the film’s most memorable elements. It's also no doubt going to fuel a desire among fans to see more of these characters together.
Given the love audiences have for each Princess, not to mention the enduring popularity of the Disney Princess brand itself, it seems almost weird that Disney hasn’t yet capitalized on the narrative, and commercial, possibilities of them as a team. If media conglomerate is willing to showcase Cinderella brandishing a broken glass slipper and allow Pocahontas’ hair to be ruffled by an ironic wind that only surrounds her, it stands to reason it would be eager to mine more comedic gold from those characters, whether in an animated series or in a film. That would also give these iconic characters a chance to take part in the more modern Princess era heralded by Vanellope’s induction to the canon.
Pamela Ribon expounded on the Disney Princesses’ newest member at a press event for Ralph Breaks the Internet, telling journalists, "It was amazing to be able to work with all the original voice actresses to come back and add everything that they bring to the characters. And what a dream come true to have Vanellope Von Schweetz now officially part of the canon, which was the whole point the whole time. The hoodie princess reigns supreme.”
It would appear that not only was Disney spoofing itself when it gave everyone lounge wear, but it was also tacitly acknowledging the seriously old-fashioned tropes that govern some of its most iconic characters. One of the many (many) things that made Frozen such a gigantic hit was its awareness of how a concept like marrying someone you’ve literally only sung a song with is very, very ill-advised.
But despite Vanellope, Anna and several of their more recent sisters-in-arms subverting the more traditional princess-in-distress arc, the majority of the Princesses still hail from origin stories that don’t reflect changing times. While it would be impossible (and unnecessary) to rewrite canon in such a way that Aurora doesn’t depend on true love’s kiss to wake herself up or Cinderella tells Lady Tremaine to pound sand without the help of a royal marriage proposal, creating new content that unites these ludicrously popular women and allows them to evolve a little feels like a no-brainer.
The immortality of Disney characters like Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty can be a double-edged sword in that that they haven't been allowed to develop to reflect cultural changes in the way that say, comic book heroes have been. Ralph Breaks the Internet proves how ready fans are to see some modernization in one of the most enduring parts of the Disney brand, though if and how the Mouse chooses to capitalize on that desire remains to be seen.
Directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnson, Ralph Breaks the Internet is in theaters now. The film features the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Taraji P. Henson, Gal Gadot, Jane Lynch, Ed O’Neill and almost every Disney Princess voice recorded.