A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wheely is an animated talking-vehicle adventure that's reminiscent of Cars, but with a more aged-up plot that involves romance and an international crime syndicate of car-nappers. Violent/scary elements include a menacing 18-wheeler with spikes, some dangerous-looking vehicles, several chases/pursuits, a car-napping, and a climactic fight that leads to a car character's fiery death. There's also flirting and romance-based humor -- e.g., jokes about a car being "fine" and another car being a ladies' man who needs to "settle down," plus more uses of "babe" and "baby" than is the norm in most kids' animated fare. On the bright side, the movie does have positive messages about treating people with respect regardless of their social status or occupation (main character Wheely is a taxi driver). The characters might all be vehicles, but there are several identifiably racial/ethnic accents that are somewhat stereotypical, including Chinese, Jamaican, British, Mexican, African American, etc.
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What's the story?
WHEELY takes place in Gasket City, which is part of a Cars-like talking-vehicle universe. It follows slick Wheely O'Wheels (voiced by Ogie Banks), a street racer who's about to win a citywide race when he slips on spilled motor oil and ends up in a river. One year later, Wheely is a taxi driver with problematic parts he can't afford to replace. He meets Bella (Frances Lee), an Italian model/aspiring actress, whom he instantly crushes on, even though she has a rich and powerful boyfriend, Ben (Thomas Pang). Feeling threatened, Ben challenges Wheely to an illegal street race that ends up with Wheely getting imprisoned. Meanwhile, Bella is car-napped by the henchmen of mobster kingpin Kaiser (Brock Powell), an 18-wheeler who adds her to his shipment of stolen cars ready to be sold for parts overseas. With help from Wheely's buddy, a scooter called Putt Putt (Gavin Yap), and a group of fellow cabbies, Wheely comes up with a plan to break out of prison and save Bella.
Is it any good?
It's difficult not to compare this adventure to the far superior Cars. But even if you discount the movie's derivative nature, there's little to make it more than a passing diversion. The similarities are a bit obvious: Gasket City instead of Radiator Springs, race car main character Wheely O'Wheels instead of Lightning McQueen, shiny sports car love interest Bella di Monetti instead of Sally Carrera, etc. That's not to say that unoriginal movies can't be decent; there are plenty of genre movies with similar themes and formulaic storylines, and some are well-executed. Wheely, however, is just serviceable enough to make kids laugh, but not memorable enough to please parents -- and certainly not child-free audiences who have no reason to see it.
The voice cast can be a bit off-putting; some characters have over-the-top accents that border on offensive, from the Mexican-sounding lowrider henchmen and the bucktoothed Putt Putt, who's portrayed as Asian, to the arrogant English alpha guy Ben (complete with British green racing stripes) and the criminal Jamaican cargo ship. The best part of the movie is its message that people should never be dismissed or discriminated against because of their humble social status or blue-collar occupations. There's a class consciousness to the story that shows how "regular" workers like Wheely's fellow cabs can band together effectively to defeat a villain. Kids obsessed with car-related material may get a kick out of seeing yet another talking-vehicle movie, but others may be better off rewatching the Cars films.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about which parts of Wheely, if any, were frightening. Why? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
What is the movie's message about elitism? Should those who are rich and/or privileged assume those who aren't are somehow less worthy of their time or consideration?
What do you think about the way the characters in the movie speak? Is the variety of accents a positive representation of various races and ethnicities? Could they be considered stereotypical? Why is representation important?
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