As Brave was the most Disneyfied of Pixar movies, so Wreck-It Ralph is Disney’s most Pixarian, placing a Donkey Kong doppelgänger in the midst of an existential crisis. Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is a big-handed galoot who rains destruction on the inhabitants of an arcade-game apartment tower. His nemesis, and the game’s hero, is Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer), whose magic hammer unsmashes windows until he reaches the building’s top, whereupon the residents gang up on Ralph and send him flying into the mud. After 30 years and untold quarters, Ralph is tired of being the bad guy; even the affirmations of his arcade-villain support group, Bad-Anon, can’t lift his spirits. So after a trip down the power cord and through Game Central Station, where a console-less Q*bert listlessly wanders, he starts exploring, first in a first-person shooter where troops take orders from Jane Lynch’s commanding, curvy avatar, and then in a syrupy racing game ruled by the tyrannical King Candy (Alan Tudyk, channeling Paul Lynde) and upstart glitch Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman).
From there, the restore-the-kingdom plot proceeds apace, smoothly executed and utterly without surprises. “Smooth and unsurprising” about covers Wreck-It Ralph as a whole, which is far more engaging in its small details than its broad strokes. The animators cram in references to arcade classics, and fashion Game Central Station so it resembles the inside of a plug strip. But Ralph is such a lovable lug, if one whose bouts of ill temper have unusually destructive consequences, that his bid for acceptance lacks depth; it only requires others to change, not him. He’s a sad sack, not a misunderstood monster. Like Brave, the movie rings a few welcome changes on the Disney-princess mythos, but it still feels like a game you’ve played before.