“Wreck-It Ralph” is a movie that begins with a plentitude of promise. Like an arcade game to pass the time, you pop your quarters into its formulaic machine and have a bit of a blast for a while. But when it’s game over and the movie asks you if you wish to continue, don’t be surprised if you end up saving your coins for another experience.
“Wreck-It” tells the story of titular villain Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the bad guy of an arcade video game called “Fix-it Felix Jr.” Ralph’s job is to savagely wreck the windows of a building while climbing to the roof, only to have his messes fixed by the game’s hero Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) and eventually be thrown off the roof by the townspeople—day in and day out.
So it’s a tough world out there for a video game bad guy, and “Wreck-It Ralph” begins its inspired premise with just this idea — placing Ralph in a hilarious villain support group with Bowser and a ghost from Pacman, among other notable baddies. Ralph, exhausted of his sinister responsibilities and wishing to find something more in his pixelated life, abandons his game in search of a medal, something to turn him into a hero that everybody loves.
I was ready to follow “Wreck-It Ralph” through most of its motions, but then it becomes stranded in a narrative funk. After an interesting first act, Ralph spends the rest of the movie occupying the candy-coated world of a racing game called “Sugar Rush,” in which he bonds with a “glitch” named Vaneloppe von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who helps him discover himself, reveal a conspiracy, and save the day. The story, which begins seeming newly inspired and like something we have never seen before, soon becomes a formula-driven adventure tale we’ve all seen before.