As of early May, 2023 has been extremely light on movies you can take the kids to. Beyond The Super Mario Bros. Movie and last year's holdover Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, the well has been fairly dry. That may entice parents to take their children to see Rally Road Racers, a story with traces of Cars, Kung Fu Panda, and Turbo. Very young viewers may indeed get a kick out of the film. Adults are more likely to zone out – in between races, at least.
The plot is as basic as they come. Zhi (Jimmy O. Yang) is a slow loris who lives with his wizened grandmother, Granny Bai (Lisa Lu). He dreams of becoming a professional race car driver someday. Then Zhi gets word that the world’s greatest racer, Archie Vainglorious (John Cleese), is planning to destroy their village as part of his latest development project. To prevent that from happening, he challenges the senior driver to a race, specifically the Silk Road Rally, a punishing 4-day excursion. By winning, he can prevent catastrophe for his people.
Helping Zhi prep for the race is goat pal Gnash (J.K. Simmons). He needs all the assistance he can get. Archie is a total cheater, with plenty of tricks up his sleeve, including sending in a traitor - another slow loris named Shelby (Chloe Bennet) - to befriend and undermine him. Of course, it will be up to Zhi to get himself into the mental zone necessary to win, provided he can figure out what that is.
Rally Road Racers has nice animation and several very enjoyable racing sequences. Whenever the characters are in their cars, the movie springs to life. It’s fun to see how Archie manipulates the situation to his own advantage, and just as fun to watch Zhi work to overcome the obstacles thrown in his path. The only problem on this count is that the races are oddly truncated. The film could have made them longer to maximize the entertainment value.
Beyond that, there’s a great deal of head-scratching material. An excess amount of time is spent on interactions between the one-dimensional characters. They’re all of the stock variety, so none really win our hearts the way Lightning McQueen did in Cars or any of the animals did in Sing. The story, meanwhile, has little depth, relying on the age-old message about believing in yourself. That message is delivered in an unoriginal manner.
Kids may giggle at some of the antics onscreen. For their parents, there’s a bizarre Brexit joke, along with an out-of-nowhere parody of a-ha’s “Take On Me” music video that’s been thrown in for no apparent reason. Rally Road Racers was written and directed by Ross Venoker, who seems to be working off a checklist of elements animated fare supposedly needs. When he sticks to the racing, the picture is okay, but too much of it ends up stalling.
out of four
Rally Road Racers is rated PG for some mild violence and rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.