As with all things Dramatica, maybe the notion of cookie cutters or formulas can be redefined a bit to make a little more sense.
I’m pretty sure both Wreck-it Ralph and The Elf used Save the Cat, at least for a few beats. In Elf you have the Bad Guys Closing In scene in Central Park where the Black Riders or whatever they’re called show up without any prior mention, close in for one scene, and then disappear. It works well enough to inject some action, maybe a bit of conflict or tension, but I don’t get a lot of extra meaning from that scene. It just feels like a scene that’s meant to get the characters from one point to another. I get that Santa and Buddy are Christmas and bright and the riders are more dark for contrast or whatever, but it just doesn’t add much to the message of the movie for me.
In Wreck-it Ralph we get the Save the Cat scene where he gives Q-Bert one of the cherries from Pac-Man. It fulfills the STC beat, but doesn’t come across as saying “here’s our good guy, root for him”. At least not for me. Instead, because it follows the Bad-Anon meeting where all the bad guys want to be good guys, this scene is more about proving that yes, this bad guy is a good guy. He’s not just some random guy the audience should root for because he gave some fruit to a homeless guy like Aladdin. He’s the guy we root for because he’s been dealt a bad hand and he wants to improve himself and even though he’s programmed to destroy within the game, outside of the game he wants to help others who have been dealt that same bad hand. Meaningful to the story and meaningful to this audience member.
Traditionally speaking, they both follow the same formula. But one uses the cookie cutter to create a generic shape to follow and creates what is a workable but drab scene in the midst of an otherwise fun film while the other uses the cutter to guide its own purpose and meaning. One uses formula and creates a formulaic scene. The other uses formula and adds a bit of specialness to the story. One shows off the very familiar shape of a gingerbread man cut from sugar cookie dough (and presumably covered in syrup and crumbled over spaghetti) and the other hides that same shape with...whatever meaning a cookie can have? I’m going to be honest, I should’ve worked through that analogy before I started typing. But you get the point.
TL:DR-cookie cutter forms are just as valid as 32000+ other forms as long as they have meaning. Maybe the new definition of formula should include stories that have formula for formulas sake and exclude stories that use formula to enhance meaning.
...or I could be full of it. Who knows.