Rally Road Racers could be better in all purposes, with neither animation nor story doing quite enough to justify itself as worth watching.
Riffing off both Kung Fu Panda and Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races, Rally Road Racers directed by Ross Venokur, aims to recreate the family appeal with Zhi (Jimmy O. Yang), a slow loris, racing to save his family from a ruling capitalistic frog Archie Vainglorious, voiced by John Cleese.
Archie, our antagonist amphibian wants to destroy Zhi’s village for capitalist gains, so in order to save his home, Zhi challenges Archie to race the Silk Road. Except Zhi has never raced before, let alone won.
Whilst audiences may recognise that Rally Road Racers is the second film franchise for the Faulty Towers star to sound like an authoritarian frog, weirdly the film proudly shares producer John H. Williams with Cleese’s earlier involvement in Shrek. Unlike Shrek, a franchise of originality, creativity, and a knowing maturity, Rally Road Racers lacks in nearly every area.
Where the animation does succeed is in its extravagant art direction, where the vibrant settings offer a cartoonish and slapstick idea of what could have been. Instead, the animation presents as otherwise disjointed, where for example, one of the four necessary races takes on the style of an animatic paired alongside a-Ha’s Take On Me as a surprise pastiche to the music video. Whilst I am sure some audiences will see this as creative, its lazy and crass delivery failed to arise any enthusiasm overstaying its welcome long after the gimmick novelty wore off.
Instead I was pondering if the film had ran out of time, or money, given the costly nature of animation. And rather than spend the last amount of budget on a complete render; the producers, delirious from their animated exhaust fumes, instead opted to use its crude sketches to make do. Spending less on the licensing rights for Take On Me than another day in the studio, all to pull together enough in the budget to record another dreary line from Catherine Tate, hoping that with the law of averages, eventually one will land.
To give credit where it’s due, J.K. Simmons does carry the weight of the film on their shoulders as Gnash the goat. The voice actor veteran channels the wisdom of his zen mentor with incredible distinction, even if the goat has a messy background as supposed fan, mentor, former race car driver, and possibly Zhi’s father – despite being a different species?
It is a shame that the film attempts a similar angle to Kung Fu Panda or Zootropolis, where multiple animals co-exist. Yet every instance, every animal, and every vehicle they drive could do with creative forethought. Why are these animals living the way they are, how does that change the way they behave or drive?
The closest it has to answering any of these questions is a pangolin duo driving a singular wheel where the tire treads mirror the creature’s scales. Despite being so unique, these creatures slip into the background with minimal involvement to the wider story.
Compare this to Wacky Races, a concept nearly identical where a roster of personalities race from point A to B and have access to unique quirks tied to their driving or behaviour. Each in the line-up makes sense with their abilities, like an inventor whose car shapeshifts to fit its situation or a beaver and a lumberjack driving sawblades. Comparably, Rally Road Racers feels entirely devoid of creativity, becoming a vacuous attempt at money grabbing.
So obvious in fact, its dastardly.
Rally Road Racers is out in cinemas across the UK and Ireland from 15 September 2023.
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