Black-and-white Dorothy leaves black-and-white Kansas, the home she hates where nobody appreciates her, where people are always hassling her. But in colorful Oz she gets to reinvent herself, steal some shoes, join a gang of new friends and perfect the art of heroic witch-slaying. Her reward for this is winding up back in black-and-white, back where she started. Make sense? Of course not. But the moral of the story trumps all: don't leave home for the Big World Out There, kids. It's just a bunch of people with no hearts, brains or courage. And the rest of them want to set you on fire.
And so it is with Wreck-It Ralph (the voice of John C. Reilly), a lumbering ox of a video game character and destroyer of everything he touches in the vintage '80s arcade standby "Fix-It Felix Jr." Treated poorly for no better reason than being good at his job, Ralph needs a little validation. Attending "Bad-Anon" meetings doesn't help. Even "Street Fighter"'s Zangief can't convince him that he's not a bad person simply because his day job involves constant demolition. Lonely, sad, and longing for the day he's thought of as a hero, Ralph returns to his garbage dump home each night and sleeps under a blanket of bricks.
That is, until he goes AWOL from his own game. Entering the first-person shooter "Hero's Duty" to steal a hero's medal and then stumbling into the world of "Sugar Rush" -- a little girl's candyland where he meets a cutesy misfit glitch named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) -- Ralph has to beat back the forces of evil, save Vanellope from her fate and learn to appreciate his own role in the arcade food chain. Of course, if everyone else had just expanded their minds a little bit and appreciated Ralph first (they started it, after all) he wouldn't need to go around proving himself to others. But thems the breaks when the world hates you irrationally. You just have to be better. I won't spoil the happy ending for you, but the Oz parallels remain fairly consistent and, occasionally, blatant.
And that's to be expected. So if Wreck-It Ralph fails at anything it's message freshness. Save the princess, join the heroic thousand-face throng, know yourself and your purpose -- it's a blueprint you've known since the first time anyone told any story about anything. And the somewhat befuddling reward for heroic achievement, the return to a less exciting life (or, to put a positive spin on it, the comfort and love of the familiar), well, that's just part of the bargain. They're not sold separately unless you're James Bond.
Setting that stuff aside, W-IR further (and happily) blurs the animation lines between Disney and Pixar, straddling that difficult empty space between just-for-kids films like Cars and more complex, all-ages entertainment like the Toy Story movies. Every day-glo-digital moment is impeccably constructed, the script (from Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston) is funny, smart, simple to follow and sweetly moving when it comes to the obligatory final-act hugs, reconciliations and affirmations of there being no place like home. So if, in the end, it has less on its mind than a more dramatic movie like Brave, its pleasures are are no less warm, bright and witty, a repositioned Who Framed Roger Rabbit for generations of people raised on Donkey Kong.