Jimmy O. Yang, J.K. Simmons, Chloe Bennet, Lisa Lu, Sharon Horgan, Catherine Tate, John Cleese
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Aiming to up the impact of world class family entertainment, Viva Pictures is out this week with the retro-vibed animated delight Rally Road Racers. In a world where more and more studios are aiming to out-animate each other, I'm always a bit excited when a more indie animated project enters the picture and reminds me of everything I loved about animated features growing up.
Zhi (Jimmy O. Yang) is a slow loris who dreams of being fast. He lives with Granny Bai (Lisa Lu), who'd prefer he focus on his Tai Chi rather than worry about a silly little thing like speed. While Zhi tries but mostly fails, John Cleese's Archie comes along threatening to lay waste to the slower loris community in favor of bigger development. In an effort to prove he can win and save his own community, Zhi challenges Archie in the four-day Silk Road Rally - winner take all.
Zhi finds help in the form of Gnash, a goat and former great (Get it? Giggle.) voiced with inspired affection by J.K. Simmons. Distraction comes in the form of Chloe Bennet's Shelby, a similarly slow loris with a not so secret agenda.
Writer/director Ross Venokur serves up quality wholesome entertainment for the entire family, though Rally Road Racers is likely to most appeal to the pre-teen crowd. Parents will be distracted enough by the film's familiar needle drops and obvious tips o' the hate to such familiar flicks as Cannonball Run, Cannonball Run II, and even Speed Racer among others. While the film is simple, there's an adventurous spirit in its animated heart with occasional inspired animation choices and an ensemble vocal cast clearly vibing with the film's feel-good lessons about finding and caring for one's community and building one another up. While I wasn't blown away by Rally Road Racers, I was consistently entertained by it.
At a relatively slight 93-minute running time, Rally Road Racers uses its time wisely with only an occasional lag in pacing and spirit. The young kiddos should be enchanted by the film's zany antics and rip-roaring racing sequences. While the Silk Road Rally itself isn't really what Rally Road Racers is all about, the setting gives Venokur and his team the opportunity for some culturally inspired animated sequences and just plain goofy fun.
Let's be honest. The presence of J.K. Simmons always makes a film better and the same is true in animated form. As Gnash, Simmons enormously entertains and helps nurture the film's animated heart. Jimmy O. Yang delights as Zhi and John Cleese's Archie is an absolute winner. I was also really taken by Kerry Shale's Beppe, a pregnant seahorse participating in the demanding race. For 80's music lovers, a certain scene will most definitely illicit a smile.
You'll know it when you see it.
Rally Road Racers comes to us from Shrek producer John H. Williams and while it doesn't quite live up to that film's sublime charm and enveloping appeal, this engaging animated feature for the entire family is a reminder that the indie spirit is alive and well in the world of animation.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic