Rally Road RacersU
There’s a certain irony that comes into play regarding the world of animation. One of the top themes we often see on screen is that of the underdog competing against a mighty foe. It’s the same for animation too, with smaller studios trying to compete with the likes of Disney, Pixar and Illumination.
Here then is the perfect example, with a smaller studio producing a film about, yes you guessed it, an underdog competing against a mighty foe.
Living in a small, Chinese village of slow lorises is Zhi (Jimmy O. Yang). He lives with his grandmother and is obsessed with racing. He wants to race so badly, so he asks racing veteran Gnash (J.K. Simmons) for help, which he agrees to. He sees a raw talent in Zhi’s abilities, but they definitely need refining.
Then one day a notice is placed on his front door, stating that his family home is going to be demolished, care of the notorious Archie Vainglorious (John Cleese) and his corporation. The only way out of it is if they cough up a load of cash, which the family don’t have.
Zhi decides to go to Vainglorious HQ and confront the main man himself, Archie, and explain there must be some kind of mistake. Archie explains that it isn’t, that he wants the land to develop, which will mean wiping out the entire village. In an attempt to seem fair, Archie offers him a wager: if Zhi can beat him in the upcoming Silk Road Rally, he can keep his home - but if he loses, it will be knocked down.
Zhi feels he has no other option but to agree, despite being a rookie to the event and racing in general. It’s a massive task, as the race takes place over four days and 4,000 km, and the rules are, well there aren’t any, which plays into Archie’s clammy hands very nicely indeed.
So far, so generic. In fact it goes beyond that, with the film overall feeling eerily familiar. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s set in China, and that all the characters are talking animals, giving it some heavy Kung-Fu Panda vibes. Or the fact that Archie has an army of small, green – not yellow – followers, known as echoes, who are there to fulfil his every command. We’re not sure what the IP laws surrounding animated characters are, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Universal/Illumination have had some minion related phone calls over the striking similarity.
There’s even an evil toad, whose surname Vainglorious even feels like a throwback to Danger Mouse’s arch enemy Baron Greenback.
And then there’s an old school, retro Wacky Racers feel about the whole concept, but without the ingenuity.
It seems fitting then that the film is set in China, the home of the knock-off, with this film borrowing so heavily from all over the place, meaning it struggles to have an identity of its own.
That said, it has a sunny charm that will just about satisfy a younger audience. It’s a vibrant and colourful world, although not terribly detailed outside of the characters featured, with rather bland and dull backgrounds throughout. And although it has some fun vocal talent, including a nice double act as announcers from Sharon Horgan and Catherine Tate, it’s pretty much Cleese running the show with his energetic role as Archie, who manages to chew some animated scenery all the way to the bank.
There is one standout scene however, where director and writer Ross Venokour takes his older audience, if they’re still watching, on a trip through time, with a surprisingly entertaining homage to an iconic eighties music video, which is worth the price of admission alone. Or maybe just check out the clip on YouTube, it’s your choice.
It’s a well meaning tale, as almost all animated films are, witha cute range of characters, but lacks any kind of originality, meaning it struggles to get off the starting line in any style, never mind past the chequered flag with a podium place.