Let’s Talk About Taika Waititi’s Painful Short Film ‘Save Ralph’

Jonah Malin

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I capped off my friend's bachelor party with a heavy heart on Monday.

While my body recovered from a long weekend, my mind was stuck on a video campaign by Humane Society International I’d seen on Twitter as we landed.

‘Save Ralph’ follows rabbit protagonist Ralph (voiced by Taika Waititi) in a mockumentary-style interview about his “job” as a cosmetic animal tester.

The darkly ironic animated short begins in Ralphs's home and follows him throughout a typical “working” day. Ralph proudly explains how the tests have killed his entire family, left him blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, and badly burned on his spine so “humans can have the illusion of beauty.”

Then, a human hand rips Ralph from his home to join other rabbits in a lab. As his friends plead with the camera crew to rescue them, a syringe is inserted into Ralph’s eye while he screams.

Seconds later, Ralph enters the view in a different room, clearly suffering from the tests. He is no longer able to see the camera and can barely stand up.

‘Save Ralph’ ends with this message:

The animated short does an incredible job capturing how helpless these animals are — from birth in captivity to horrific living conditions to a meaningless existence.

There are also subtle jabs at lazy and ignorant consumers who continue to overlook information about which brands are cruelty-free.

Since its launch, the video has nearly seven million views, thousands of shares, sparked many panel discussions, and been distributed in different languages around the globe.

With the accelerated publicity, several foundations and companies that defend animal rights are speaking up to help people recognize if a product has not been tested on animals.

Since animal testing began more than a century ago, many associations and foundations have launched social awareness campaigns to varying degrees of success. But none of them resonated with consumers quite like ‘Save Ralph.’

How did ‘Save Ralph’ break the mold and why is it getting so much attention? Let’s talk about it.

For starters, the style of ‘Save Ralph’ strikes a lighter tone than more traditional, aggressive campaigns working to prevent animal testing.

Take the campaign PETA launched with Joaquin Phoenix, which focuses on shock value and crude imagery. Yes, it's effective in detailing the graphic process behind animal testing — but some audiences are more inclined to look away than take action.

‘Save Ralph’ brings a much different approach.

By combining animation with detailed storytelling, Save Ralph’s message can reach more viewers.

As Director Spencer Susser commented:

“What I was hoping to do with this film was create something that conveys a message without being too heavy. I hope that the public falls in love with Ralph and wants to fight for him and other animals like him, so that we can ban the tests once and for all.”

Stop motion animation is perfect for disseminating this campaign’s message while making ‘Save Ralph’ highly shareable.

Seeing images of animals being mutilated on your social feed is discomforting — on the other hand, a personified rabbit eating cereal and giving deadpan one-liners makes touchy subjects more digestible.

There’s also the immensely talented cast pushing the campaign's narrative.

Taika Waititi has built a reputation for his dry humor since directing What We Do in the Shadows and my personal favorite, Jojo Rabbit. Waititi’s voice lends itself brilliantly to Ralph giving him an endearing and very human personality.

Other voices including Ricky Gervais, Zac Efron, and Olivia Munn gave the campaign legs and a word of mouth spread that doesn’t happen with traditional marketing campaigns.

Three Lessons From 'Save Ralph'

1. Format changes how a message is received.

For marketers, ‘Save Ralph’ is a masterclass in delivering a difficult message and story without being too heavy.

Audiences are exhausted from seeing commercials and advertisements about how poorly humans treat the planet. Using animation gets the same message across without trying to shame or shock viewers.

2. Social awareness begins with incredible storytelling.

Listening to a celebrity discuss the horrors of animal testing doesn’t pull at your heart strings. Watching your protagonist suffer while realizing it’s all for the sake of using one beauty product over another is far more powerful.

3. Going viral is a perfect storm of talent, timing, and intent.

On the internet, there are hundreds of campaigns about this problem. None of them took off like ‘Save Ralph.’ Cause is important to reach viewers, but there are other ingredients that make a campaign go viral.

If anything, ‘Save Ralph’ is a wake-up call. Minutes after watching (and re-watching ) the video, I was writing notes in my iPhone, DMing ‘Save Ralph’ to friends on Instagram, and researching brands that are cruelty-free.

This is why ‘Save Ralph’ is casting such a wide public net. People like you and I are taking action after watching — arguably the most difficult part of any marketing effort.

With Ralph serving as Humane Society International’s new voice, the organization plans to continue leveraging animation to encourage ongoing public support to ban cosmetic tests on animals.

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I am a content strategist, career advice author, and contributing writer based in Washington, DC. Join me as I explore health & wellness, productivity, philosophy, and life. Find me @Beyond Definition // Medium // Ladders // jonahmalin.com/barelyweekly

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