I FINALLY got to watch Speed Racer tonight. If you've been reading here for any length of time, you'll probably remember that for some odd reason, the Speed Racer trailer really caught my eye. I watched it repeatedly and had every intention of viewing the film in the theatres.
Why? Do I remember the Speed Racer cartoon? Only a little. Am I a racing fan? Not in the least. Am I a preteen boy? Um, never have been.
Then why would this movie entice me? I never have been quite sure. Maybe it has something to do with the directors - the Wachowski brothers, who also directed The Matrix, which you may know to be one of my favorite movies of all time. But now I know. It definitely has its faults, but there is plenty positive about Speed Racer and I really wish I had been brave enough to ignore the bad reviews and go see it when it came out - on the big screen, as it was intended.
First, what is there to pick on? Well, if you wanted to, you could pick it all apart. But couldn't you with any film? Sure, the garish colors are, well, garish. But it's meant to be a cartoon. The editing is strange, although some would say edgy and trend-setting, I am certain. It's long -135 minutes, longer than my kids can usually handle. There is some swearing which seems out of place in a film like this, and there is definitely violence, again some of which seems a little over-the-top for a cartoon-based film. (Example - A tank of piranhas is used as a threat and is demonstrated with a large meaty bone - my girls were grossed out.) Those are the detriments.
One can't really gripe about characters - they are, from what I understand, straight from the old cartoon. So if they seem one-dimensional or contrived, well, that would be why. However, I found there to be a good deal of character development. It's a coming-of-age film for the title character (yes! That's really his name.). The father also shows a lot of character development. The mother is nurturing. The girlfriend is a strong female character who loves Speed for who he is, but also stands on her own two feet. Ok, I'll admit the monkey doesn't have much character development.
The editing is very strange - lots of montage type shots and flashbacks intercut with the current story. The technique of using a full-screen profile or other image to move across the screen and introduce another scene would have been more effective with less usage. (Hard to explain, if you haven't seen it. You can see examples of this editing in the trailer.)
What did I like then? I LOVED the strong family emphasis. This family stands together. The dad can admit he is wrong and apologizes. The mother encourages her adult son by telling him that watching him drive is like watching someone create art. Love is portrayed between all members of the family and they make decisions based on how things will affect the other people in their lives instead of being swayed by a selfish desire for fame and fortune.
The racing was pretty cool too, as I am sure my eight- and thirteen-year-old sons will tell you! Lots of CGI gives the races a video-game-like feel. The cars can do all kinds of novel tricks - flips and jumps, etc....
The ninja-stye violence is something that is obviously a favorite of the Wachowski brothers. You see this same type of fighting in the Matrix films, although here it is less serious-seeming. How can it be serious when there is a chimp on the scene?
I should also mention the cast, since it is full of big names. Susan Sarandon didn't have much to do as Mrs. Racer, but she was great anyway. Christina Ricci played a very perky Trixie; I think she's always great and she does tend to pick those indie-type roles. (Go rent Penelope! I should review that!) Emile Hirsch, who I loved in Into the Wild, seems to really "get" his character here. He plays Speed with an earnestness that really makes the role believable. John Goodman could have made his character very cartoonish, but instead he gave Pops Racer a sincerity that saved that role and showed the growth of his character.
Do I recommend it? Yes, I would, with the caveat that it is rated PG for language and some violence. All my kids liked it although I did cover my six-year-old's eyes during the piranha scene. Check screenit.com for the particulars if you would like to know those.
Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, go!