Imitation in the sincerest form of flattery, so the producers of Pixar’s tedious “Cars” movies should be flattered to the point of blushing by “Wheely.”
It’s a straight-up “Cars” knock-off about racing and a race car who escapes his pedestrian “retired” life as a taxi when he falls for an exotic Italian supercar.
It opens on a desert southwest road course, features talking vehicles and co-stars a buck-toothed Italian-accented Vespa where the “Cars” pictures had ‘Mater the bucktoothed hillbilly tow truck.
Comedy legends Cheech and Chong should be flattered, too. The producers of “Wheely” invented their own bantering/bickering “Big Bambu” II.
The full title of this CGI animated kiddie comedy is “Wheely: Fast and Hilarious,” as it has a caper that has a hint of “Fast & Furious” about it.
But “Fast” and “Hilarious?” It is neither.
Wheely begins the movie about him (Chris Jai Alex provides the voice) as a race car, sort of a Porsche/Mitsubishi Evo looking racer who hopes to dethrone Joe Flow (Khairil Mokhzani Bahar), who looks like an ’80s vintage Buick Grand National.
The cars in the picture are sort of homages to Camaros, Nissan GT-Rs, Aston Martins, Austin Healeys, VWs, Ferraris, Jeeps and Corvettes. You see the starting point even though the designs are just shy of copyright infringement.
Wheely crashes, and a year later is working as a taxi, living with diner-owning Mama (Tamyka White). He saves a spokes-model Ferrari look-alike named Bella (Frances Lee), ruffles the feathers of her rich British beau (Thomas Pang) and runs afoul of the saw-toothed demo-truck Kaiser (Brock Powell), who runs a chop shop on a Jamaican-accented cargo ship (Chris Jai Alex again).
The dialogue is hokey and generally unfunny. Even if you say this in the Vespa (ish) accent of Putt Putt (Gavin Yap), it’s hard to grin about it.
“Eet’s OK to look in the past, Mr. Wheely. But you most not staaaare.”
Same with “See you later, Tail-Gater!”
Wheely’s favorite swear word is “Bolts!,” a step up from the “nuts” jokes cracked in the “Cars” franchise.
As our heroes motor from Gasket City to Torque Town, the Cheech and Chong impersonators (Armando Valez, Raymond Orta) almost find a laugh, an Indian cabbie chews out our hero and “Wheely” scores one important win over the cartoon franchise it’s imitating.
Gosh, we realize. Those “Cars” movies were awfully, um, white. And whitebread. Maybe that’s another part of disgraced Pixar chief John Lasseter’s legacy.
“Wheely,” if nothing else, has a diversity of voices and accents.
The animation is polished and pretty, on a par with the Pixar standard they were copying.
The filmmakers knew they were riffing on a Disney-released series that had perhaps more value as merchandise than it ever did as filmed entertainment. And they knew what they were doing when they had their cars show up at the drive-in (of course) for a movie.
“Ugh. ‘Car Wars,’ for the 86th time!”
That friends, is a great cheap shot at ANOTHER property owned by the company that controls Pixar. And the cruder animation of the “Star Wars” imitation which the cars of “Wheely” watch is easily the funniest bit in the movie — a Millennium Falcon that looks like a modified hyper-car, a dark muscle car growling “I am your FAAAAther” to his hatchback kid.
If the rest of “Wheely” had been this conceptually silly, they might have had something. Something at least as good as “Cars,” anyway, which produced the weakest movies in the Pixar canon.
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild action and rude humor
Cast: The voices of Ogie Banks, Gavin Yap, Frances Lee, Tamyka White, Chris Jai Alex, Armando Valez, Raymond Orta
Credits:Directed by Carl Mendez, script by Keith Brumpton, Yusry Abd Halim and Peter Hynes. A Blue Fox/Kartun Studios release.
Running time: 1:29