Film reviews and more since 2009

Rally Road Racers (2023) review

Dir. Ross Venokur

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

There’s precisely one great sequence in Rally Road Racers. It’s an impromptu racing montage conducted in black-and-white, sketch-style animation, which pays tribute to a-Ha’s “Take on Me” music video while the song itself enhances the energy on screen. It’s likely to elude the target demographic, but I found it engaging; something the rest of the film fails to be for most of its 90-minute runtime.

Rally Road Racers is the latest animated movie to mysteriously appear in multiplexes only to be forgotten by even the curious parties who choose to buy a ticket in anticipation it’s worth an afternoon diversion. Its colorful presentation and adequate voice-acting doesn’t make up for what looks like partially unfinished animation and a wholly predictable storyline. It’s the product of Vanguard Animation, whose catalog of “hits” includes Valiant, Happily N’Ever After, and Space Chimps. Of their last five theatrically released features, none have grossed more than $11 million, and as of this writing, Rally Road Racers is their only “fresh” film on Rotten Tomatoes.

Rally Road Racers harkens back to animated series like Speed Racer and Wacky Races where the moral of the story is “go fast” coupled with some treacly musings about family. Our hero is Zhi (voiced by Jimmy O. Yang), a slow loris (a primate native to China), who longs to be a race car driver. He lives with his grandmother (Lisa Lu), who desperately wants him to find his “tao” even if his ambition conflicts with this desirable Zen state of mind. Enter Vainglorious (John Cleese), a slimy toad who wants to destroy the slow loris community in favor of a new development. Zhi wagers a bet on the annual Silk Road Rally, a four-day-long Vainglorious is sure he’ll win: if Zhi defeats him, the slow lorises can keep the land for themselves.

Zhi enlists in the help of a goat named Gnash (J.K. Simmons), an ex-racer with a slow-and-steady mindset. Let’s talk about Gnash for a moment. He’s one of the strangest looking creatures in an animated movie this side of Foodfight! He almost resembles a Toucan, with his bottom jaw being larger than his top. His teeth, which look distinctly human, are so far back in his mouth that they’re almost down his throat. He’s an oddity in a movie filled with oddities: there’s a male seahorse who is pregnant, weasels, pangolins, and dimwitted kangaroos who provide commentary during the Silk Road Rally.

Predictably, the race sequences are when the movie seemingly finds some energy to spare. However, being that this is a four-day race, there’s a lot of starting and stopping, and when the day’s race concludes and gives way to drama — such as Zhi falling for a fellow slow loris (Chloe Bennet) he doesn’t know works for Vainglorious — the film grinds to a halt in the entertainment department. This is mostly due to Rally Road Racers not offering anything proprietary in its storytelling. This is a cookie-cutter parable about the importance of family, being true to one’s self, and everything even the film’s demographic should know by now.

Rally Road Racers‘ substandard visuals and derivative narrative made me recall Rock Dog, another mediocre animated film I haven’t thought about since seeing it one frigid afternoon in February 2017. I give these second/third-tier animated films the benefit of the doubt because I’m confident one day I’ll stumble upon a gem I’ll tell people about for years to come. My confidence, like my patience, is wearing thin, one Rally Road Racer, Duck Duck Goose, and allegedly amazing feline at a time.

NOTE: Rally Road Racers is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Voiced by: Jimmy O. Yang, John Cleese, J.K. Simmons, Lisa Lu, and Chloe Bennett. Directed by: Ross Venokur.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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