Back in 2008 (Wow where does the time go?) I saw a movie I expected to be bad but watched it anyway. And I was pleasantly surprised to find it really impressed me. Ok, I’ll be honest. Speed Racer isn’t exactly Oscar material and it firmly deserves the ‘popcorn movie’ stamp firmly placed on its forehead. But you know what? That’s OK, the movie makes it work.
Going way back to when I was a little sprout. I can remember sneaking out of bed to snap on the T.V. That was when I first saw Speed Racer on late night re-runs. It was my first exposure to Japanese animation and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later in high school that I started watching more of it. I had stayed firmly off the Dragonball bandwagon and was eventually lured in by Rumiko Takahasi’s Ranma ½.
One thing I love about this movie, is that it was made by two of the biggest dorks in the industry. (I say this endearingly) This movie was made to tribute Speed Racer and what makes (older) Anime quirky and fun without making fun of it. Compare this to the 2002 Scooby Doo Movie that did nothing but over analyze the crappiness of the original show. Or the 1995 Brady Bunch Movie, it was a fish out of water story an awkward one at that. Speed Racer is exactly what it should be, the show if it had a stupidly large animation budget.
You have to respect the Wachowskis. They had to go into this knowing they weren’t going to make a boat load of money on this. They simply didn’t make the approach like they did with the Matrix. But like the Matrix this movie has amazing visuals, even with special effect technologies skyrocketing. It reminds me how I could always rely on Cedar Point (one of the best roller coaster parks in the world, 2 hours from my home town of Cleveland Ohio) to knock my socks off with a coaster that’s been around for well over a decade.
Then, past that, you have the fact that it didn’t lose the spirit of the series. Everything in this movie is amazingly colorful. With live actors and some well-placed star power, the move still feels animated. Spritle and Chim-Chim steal the show in that respect, reminding you how obnoxious little brothers can be, but they can save the day too. I can’t say it’s a good role model for kids though, an overweight delinquent that hides in the trunk of a racecar? Sure why not.
Villain wise, Cruncher Block, Snake Oiler and Royalton pretty much nailed how Speed Racer looked at bad guys in the three kinds of flavors: the mobster willing to break legs for his paycheck, the douchebag driver that does anything to win and the non-combatant overlord. One thing I will say about the underlings of said villains is that they looked like they really enjoyed their jobs. The sneer over the steering wheels of the drivers in the cross country race just channeled the series and its campiness perfectly. Royalton’s transformation from too good to be true to the devil himself is pretty great too. Gotta love villains with good PR.
These are villains that roll their hands and cackle manically, they aren’t deep, they just want to ruin your day and get paid for it. These kinds of people exist, I can identify with that. It makes the satisfaction of them crashing that much more satisfying. You don’t even need to feel like you’re wishing death upon them either, they even made it kid friendly. Styrofoam safety balls that wrap a driver of a crashed car, sure, I’ll buy that. Multi-car pileups on the freeway would end up looking like a chuck-e-cheese ball pit.
Story wise Speed Racer is fluff. Boy wants to be best driver ever. His family loves the sport. It’s a story of characters though and in that light it delivers. Speed himself was a bit of a blank slate in the source material, but he was likable. You wanted him to win. I think it has something to do with his enthusiasm when it came to racing. In that light I think Emile did a bang up job playing him, as well as the little boy that played him in his youth.
Speed was a jock. He only really got focused when he was in his car, but he managed to look like a secret agent when he was out of one. It wasn’t because he was smart, it was because he was persistent. Let’s face it, he was pretty dense to not know Rex was Racer X, and it was always an obnoxious bullet point in the original. I forgive them for fleshing it out. It maintained the mystery of his older brother watching over him without making Speed seem like he ate paint chips like Ruffles.
I mentioned Scooby Doo earlier, but similarly I cried foul when they decided to bad ass-ify Daphne of all characters. Then I made the realization, Trixie is hard core!
She might have acted cutesy and got captured on occasion, but that was the thing everyone on the cast kicked equal amount of butt. Well… almost everyone.
Anyway, if you were like me and Speed Racer was your first foray of Japan’s animation talents. This movie pays homage to it, and does it well. It leaves you oohing and aahing at the visuals and it provides a warm sense of nostalgia for me falling asleep on the couch in front of the TV. To some it may seem like ‘just another bad movie’ but for me it hit home.
Go Speed Racer! (Mach-A-Go-Go!) Go Speed Racer Gooooo!