Review by Sean Boelman
Low-rent animated movies are a dime a dozen, but a few come along with an A-list voice cast that elevates them to noteworthy status. Rally Road Racers is getting a theatrical release because it is headlined by a few recognizable stars, and while it’s hardly anything special, it’s pleasantly surprising that it is mostly… pleasant.
The film follows a rookie race car driver who finds his chance to make it big by challenging a veteran driver (who also happens to be a tycoon?) to a race to save his village. It’s the type of kid-friendly movie that’s hard to hate: a simple story, fast pacing, and cute animal characters that are easy to root for.
It’s surprising that, despite its quick pacing and ninety-minute runtime, the film still feels like it was stretched extraordinarily thin. There’s not a lot going on to the point that the film struggles to find filler to connect between the multi-day racing tournament. The romantic subplot feels extremely forced.
The character development is certainly on the conventional side. Our hero is a pretty standard underdog, whose commitment to pursuing his dream and standing up for what he believes in gets him in over his head. Still, this is certainly a great message for kids — especially the preschool-age audience to which this is clearly aimed.
The humor is about as one would expect from an animated movie made for such a young audience: a couple potty humor jokes, but mostly puns and silly slapstick comedy. Adults might find themselves a little bored. Still, the racing sequences are done in an exciting enough way to keep most viewers’ interest.
For the most part, the voice cast is filled with fine but unmemorable turns by comedians and actors like Jimmy O. Yang, Chloe Bennett, Sharon Horgan, and John Cleese. That being said, of the most inexplicable things about the film is that it features a voice performance from J.K. Simmons in a supporting role as the mentor character — and he does an accent that’s… German? French? Scandinavian? It’s hard to tell, but it just sounds like a vaguely European version of J.K. Simmons, and it’s unintentionally humorous.
Given that the film is set in China and has the type of somewhat low-rent animation characteristic of imported kids’ movies, it’s a bit hard to believe that the film’s production companies are all American. Still, even though the character design and settings may not be particularly inspired, they’re lively and colorful enough to catch the eye of younger viewers.
Rally Road Racers isn’t a great animated movie — and it’s certainly paint-by-numbers — but it surprisingly manages to cross the finish line all in one piece. It’s cute enough to work, even if many of its creative elements are running on fumes.
Rally Road Racers hits theaters on May 12.