UT alumna Pamela Ribon talks about writing on ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’

Savannah J Salazar

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is Disney’s latest hit following the lovable duo Ralph and Vanellope as they venture from Litwak’s arcade to the internet. While Ralph is the titular character, the sequel focuses more on the small, energetic racer Vanellope, exploring life changes and friendships in an all too honest way. 

One of the writers behind the ambitious yet sincere sequel is Pamela Ribon, a UT drama production alumna, class of 1997. Ribon has worked on numerous projects including a novel, comic books and plays. She is also the brains behind the iconic princess scene. Along with revamping the princesses for the sequel, Ribon previously worked on “Moana,” helping to usher in a new era of strong Disney princesses. To say her résumé is impressive is an understatement. 

The Daily Texan spoke with to Ribon about co-writing “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” her iconic princess scene and some of her favorite UT moments. 

The Daily Texan: When it comes to a writing a story about the internet, how do you even start to tackle it?

Pamela Ribon: Oh, well, it is a big undertaking because you’re starting with a place that exists but doesn’t exist. We all know it and feel like we’ve been there but have never been there. Disney really believes in research. When I worked on “Moana,” we went to Polynesia for three weeks to explore all these islands and met all these people. For Ralph, we went to One Wilshire, which is a building in downtown Los Angeles that’s a very tall server farm. (laughs) It wasn’t nearly as glamorous! Siri and Alexa were there and all the email that have ever emailed goes to this West Coast building. When we saw it, it really is just rows of boxes and wires. We started thinking about how that was like a city or metropolis, and we took it from there. 

DT: This movie tackles topics universal to adults and kids. When you’re writing these stories are you conscious of writing for both kids and adults? What is that like? 

PR: We don’t really think of these things as kids movies. We think of them as movies. Our demographic is every single person in the whole wide world, but you try not to let that be so daunting. You start by sharing your own stories to each other, sharing your vulnerabilities and insecurities. I also often try to think about, what is a story I wish I had gotten to see when I was younger or something I would have liked to learn about a bit earlier. 

DT: Do you still remember the feeling of coming to college? 

PR: Oh, it just seemed like the coolest thing anybody could do. (laughs) Ever! So, I was really happy to come to UT. It’s such a big school that it helps you prep for big cities and life. It’s really competitive for whatever it is you want to do but it’s a great city to live in. Never boring. Then the next big change for me was moving out to Los Angeles. You know, you really can have a big, fun life in Austin, but I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do in Austin. Living in Austin was great though. I moved around a lot and went to 13 schools, but Austin gave me a home.

DT: Let’s talk about the princess scene. From before you pitched the idea, following up to the release, you were nervous about everyone’s reactions to it. Now, that the movie has been seen by a wide general audience, how has the response made you feel?

PR: (laughs) You know, now it seems equally impossible that it exists. There were so many ways it could have not worked or been cut. It’s just so cool and everyone got on board and made it so special. I don’t know if lightning in a bottle is the right phrase for it but I’m aware of how vulnerable that piece is. I’m so grateful that everyone loved it like we all did when we first started working on it. 

DT: What advice would you give to students hoping to act, screen wrote or anything else in the entertainment industry?

PR: Do stuff all the time. Make things and not just stuff that people respond to but start figuring out the audience you write for, and figure out what stuff feels like you because that’s your voice. I submitted a play when I was at UT and the coverage got back and said ‘funny but lacks a point of view.’ I was like “agh” but started thinking what is that? I hadn’t really thought about what was it that I was trying to say besides the fact that I wanted it to be funny. So, I began working on that next layer and here I am.