~~Our Thoughts on the Live-Action "Speed Racer" Movie~~

Initially, we were rather worried about when we'd be able to see this film. Fortunately, our crowded schedule unexpectedly eased up enough to sneak in going on the second Saturday the film was in theaters, instead of following weekend as originally planned. It ended up just being me and my kids, though, as my husband was off on business.

We went to a showing at 3pm on Saturday afternoon., and there were less than 50 people in the theater, which was rather sad considering the film had only been out for 8 days. We sat far back row, stadium seating style, so we could really take in the full screen. My three kids were the only ones in their age range (12, 13, & 16) in attendance, as the rest were mostly parents and/or a handful of grandparents with very young children (8 & under). My daughter was the only one crazy enough to go dressed as a character (Trixie), and yes, it raised eyebrows. (Pictures eventually to follow.)

Anyway. . .the long and the short of it was that some of the film I liked and truly enjoyed, and some of it I did not. Overall, upon seeing it one time through I'd have to rate it in the B/B- range. Here are a few observations--my own, integrated alongside those of my kids who, admittedly, liked it better than I did. My daughter would probably give it a B/B+ and my boys an A-.

The Pros

1. General Character Portrayal: We loved the look of most of the characters; overall very true to the original cartoon. Even the various costume changes kept well within the spirit of things, which was a nice touch. I particularly thought the Wachowski's did a great job with the appearance of the announcers, the villains and some of the various background characters. Many of the drivers were over the top in appearance, but mostly in a good way. (Ex: Kabala got major kudos from my kids, especially thanks to the supplemental "Wonderful World of Racing" DVD from Target.) Even though many of the cars (which count as characters in their own right, in our opinion) were massively re-interpreted, the net result was largely positive.

2. Rex/Racer X: We found that the on-screen foundations of the relationship between young Speed and Rex were quite well done, and a welcome addition to the whole Speed Racer storyline. Even though they changed X's entire uniform (less the mask, more or less), it truly seemed to work, and in our opinion that portrayal was perhaps the single best character interpretation in the entire film. We also loved that they stayed true to the notion that the audience knows about X what Speed only suspects, dismissing himself as mistaken, even though he is dead right.

3. Spritle & Chim-Chim: We had lots of fun watching these two in action. The couch scene was priceless, and a superb, tongue-in-cheek nod to the Japanese roots of the show. Appropriately enough, they managed to pop up in almost all the right places with bits of comic relief. My kids particularly enjoyed the end where Spritle warns those who have not been properly "cootie innoculated" to beware about what is about to follow. And, of course, who better than Chim-Chim to roll out the credits?!

4. Musical/sound effects nods: The integration of original music (even re-worked) and sound effects really helped make the story more believable at points. This was perhaps best employed during race sequences. We enjoyed the updated music enough to purchase several of the tracks (by Ali Dee & the DeeKompressors) on iTunes.

5. The Casa Cristo Race: Hands-down, this was the best part of the film in our opinion, and the sequence most true to the original show, visuals, car acrobatics, and all. We loved it.

6. Lots of little nods to the original show: From the skyline in some of the night driving sequences, to the appearance of Peter Fernandez and the voice of Corrine Orr, to fight scenes, to the visuals of some of the background characters, to Speed striking his classic pose, the film appears filled with these little throwbacks and touchstones; so much so, in fact, that I'd like to see it again just to tease out what I missed during the first pass.

The Cons

1. Length of feature: Overall, the film was a bit too long. The subplot could have been simplified a bit, and about 20 or so minutes could have been tightened up, particularly as it pertained to Royalton. Speed Racer was never that complicated anyway, so it would've made more sense not to do so. The Wachowski's should have saved some of that for the hopes of a sequel.

2. The poo-flinging and profanity: Now my kids are no prudes, but even they felt this was wholly unnecessary, and came across as a gratuitous attempt at bringing Speed Racer more to the "modern audience", if you will. It brought nothing of value to the storyline and positively broke my heart to hear Peter Fernandez swear twice in his cameo, much less to see Spritle (who is 7, going on 8 in the cartoon) flip off Royalton. If anyone could have gotten away with a touch or two of profanity, it would have been Pops. As for Chim-Chim, yeah. . .well. . .monkeys may do all sorts of flinging, but it didn't add anything of value to the storyline, and frankly, we felt it momentarily debased the show more than it provided humor.

3. Color saturation and CGI: This really did not bother us during the race sequences. In fact, there it rather worked. However, during some of the "down time" in the storyline, the coloration got to be a bit much, such as in the fake daytime skies, the cityscapes (I almost thought I was watching the Jetsons as they pulled into the city where Royalton's offices were located), the interior of the Racer household, etc. Even though they were clearly trying to harken back to Speed Racer's animation roots, at points the translation was a bit over-saturated.

4. Lack of narration/inner monologue: About two-thirds of the way through the film, I suddenly realized why I was having some difficulty digesting all of the film as Speed Racer: there was no narrator or inner monologue! It would have been not merely a great nod, but a huge sensory element that could have made the film feel more like the classic animated series. We truly missed Speed thinking to himself or the narrator filling us in on Racer X, etc., etc. Also, we only heard Speed declare his signature "Oooooh!" once briefly during the whole film and felt they could have integrated that a bit more.

5. Sparky: Heaven help us all. . . This was, in our opinion, easily the worst character portrayal in the entire film. Obviously, the accent was just wrong. Second, this guy looked to be in his mid-30s, whereas our beloved ace mechanic should be more in line with Speed in terms of age. One minute he's portrayed as a serious, credible hardcore mechanic, and the next he's a milk guzzling uber-geek. The whole characterization of Sparky seemed rather uneven, as though they just didn't know what to do with him. By comparison, even though much was changed about Inspector Detector (voice, physique and stature, beard), this re-interpretation worked far better than Sparky. We just did not like him.

6. Racetracks: I am going to summarize this with something my daughter said; namely that the futuristic race tracks were just that: far too futuristic, almost in an effort to cater to the nature of the cars (gizmos and acrobatic capabilities). That all conveyed on screen as a whole lot more ala "Hot Wheels" than Speed Racer. And what was up with the foam bubbles whisking away drivers who were doomed to crash? In the cartoon, drivers doomed to a career-ending crash pretty much did that--crashed and were implied as gone--so that little "bubble-removal" innovation just didn't seem to fit or make sense to us. . .at all.

7. A few more minor nit-picks: Several of the characters came across older in the film than they were in the cartoon. Speed and Trixie seem to be in their early 20s versus the 17 and 18 we know them to be in the cartoon. Spritle conveyed as more like 12 as opposed to the 7-going-on-8 that he should have been (which may pose casting issues if there are any sequels), and then, of course, Sparky seemed like some 30-year-old guy living in Mom's basement, except when he comes out to work on cars. Overall, Speed seemed a bit too serious (even dark and brooding at points), and Trixie a bit too sultry. The innocence to all of that was gone, which we imagine was in deference to the more contemporary nature of today's audience, but we definitely missed it. Mom does not--I repeat DOES NOT--work on cars! She bakes. Period. So where were the kumquats?! Pops was more serious than gruff/easily disgruntled, and we missed that, although we did appreciate the nod to the wrestling prowess of his youth. And, finally, I truly missed Speed's blue eyes, but fully concede that they had the hair down quite well.

At the end of the day, I can see why this was a good film, but not a tremendous box-office success. I do believe that, over time, it will achieve some level of "cult status" among the core of dedicated Speed Racer fans. While it wasn't all that we could have hoped it would have been, they surely did not slaughter the thing by any means either. Unfortunately, as a marketing venue, I just don't think this live-action translation will line anyone's pockets as originally intended.

So all that being said, we realized that there were four vouchers inside that Target exclusive "Speed Racer: Wonderful World of Racing" DVD we could use to see it again. This was something we had truly intended to pursue. Unfortunately, about a week after we first saw the film ourselves, it disappeared from local theatres, so I suppose we'll just have to await the DVD release instead.

Final rant: NO MOM RACER MERCHANDISE?! Awww, c'mon. At least a few minor nods should have been in order.