89 of 96 people found the following review helpful
Go Speed Racer Go!
, July 16, 2008
This review is from: Speed Racer (Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
Recently it seems like cartoon and comic books are about the only thing that gets made into blockbuster movies. While Transformers made the robots look like real living hulks of metal in the real world, and there's just no telling what the proposed Robotech movie will look like if it ever actually comes out, Speed Racer takes what is becoming the rather unpopular method of visual style. If you've seen Sky Captain and the world of tomorrow, you're familiar with it. Everything has a computer-adjusted color look to it, a super-crisp, super-sharp look reminiscent of the stop-motion films of yesteryear. And like those films that made the 80's so much fun for fantasy and sci-fi fans, Speed Racer features fantastic landscapes like nothing else on Earth (only now they are computer-generated instead of hand-painted).
The story of Speed Racer the movie actually exactly the same as the old cartoon show of the 1960's. Speed Racer (yeah, that's actually his name) is an aspiring race car driver looking to become the best and win races, with Pop's company supplying the car and mechanic, and his mom, little brother Spritle, girlfriend Trixie and family pet chimp for support. Corporate thugs notice and try to either destroy, bankrupt, or otherwise make trouble for Racer Motors, and Speed teams up with Racer X (who may or may not be his presumed dead brother Rex), Inspector Detector, and a few friends he meets along the way, to bring down the bad guys and save the day. Yeah, nothing too complex story-wise, but hey, that's why you loved the cartoon show, right?
Everything a Cartoon Should Be
When I first heard there was going to be a Speed Racer movie by the makers of the Matrix, I was worried. Animated features and video games don't really have a good history as feature films. But after seeing Speed Racer in the theater five times, I have to admit, they got it pretty much perfect. The trick with making a cartoon movie live action, and intentionally making it look cartoony, is that you have to push everything into a consistent cartoon universe and have it make sense in it's context. In other words, you have to make things exaggerated, but not the point of total impossibility in the world you have created. You see in the Speed Racer world, cars have insane power, traction, control, and speed. So when you see the Mach 5 speeding around corners in insane power-slides, yeah it looks like a cartoon, but you accept it as actually happening in that cartoon. It never looks out of place. When the engine roars and cars explode into flames it isn't silly, it's movie magic of the best kind, like when Luke's X-Wing lands that shot into the Death Star in Star Wars.
It's hard to describe without actually seeing it for yourself, but the cartoon universe of Speed Racer really is created wonderfully in this film. Everything from the sky to the furniture has an over-exposed super-vivid quality to it, like a technicolor gone mad. There is CGI backgrounds galore, but they jive perfectly with that universe as well, because everyone is wearing super-bright colors as well, and everything is always in razor sharp focus. Actually, this may be the movie to make me upgrade to a Blue Ray player, because it has to be the ultimate benchmark for color, contrast, and sharpness for a long time to come.
The world of Speed Racer is amazing enough, but the way that the film is acted, shot, directed, and scored musically is what combines to make it a 10 out of 10. For starters, everyone is just so INTO their roles. Susan Sarandon as Mom and John Goodman as Pop Racer are both absolutely perfect, managing to become those stereotypical cartoon caricatures and at the same never come across as cheesy, over-the-top or unrealistic. Again, in the context of the film, they are part of the Universe. Pop talks to Speed like he really is his son, mom gives a heart-warming speech about how proud she is of Speed that really gets to you if you know what it's like to love your family. Never does anyone betray even slightly that they think their names are ridiculous or that they are saying silly lines. EVERYONE gives their lines like they are absolutely real. And if you're making a Star Wars or a Speed Racer, that makes the movie in the end. Everyone was great. From the mechanic and the little brother (a lot less annoying than the Spritle of the cartoon) to the absolutely gorgeous and incredibly cute-looking Trixie played to perfection by Christina Ricci (where the heck has she been and why now of all times did she decide to play a sweet, loveable babe instead of all those crazy weird Gothic-horror type roles?), you gotta love them all. I especially was overjoyed by how well Racer X was portrayed with icy stoicism. Just wonderful.
The near constant use of deep focus photography and other camera techniques, combined with tons of digital screen wipes and other minor tricks, results in an incredibly slick presentation that cascades past the screen like panels of a comic book in glorious living color. The comedy and dramatic buttons are always pushed to great effect, all while keeping things from getting too far from the light-hearted entertainment that Speed Racer should be. And when the orchestral remix of the Speed Racer theme kicks in, it's just magic.
You really can't expect much more from this movie than it already is. It's true to the spirit of Speed Racer, the characters are all acted perfectly, the story is classic, there are tons of great moments and Speed Racer tributes (like Speed's wearing his trademark blue shirt and red handkerchief and his classic pose when he jumps from the Mach 5, or the sound effect made every time the Mach 5's jump jacks are used). Speed Racer may not be perfect. The villains feel more Hanna Barbara than Speed Racer, the sprinkling of swear-words (and Spritle giving someone the finger?) really don't jive in the kid-friendly Speed Racer universe, and the visual style of this film is definitely not for everyone. But...
If you're like me and love comic books, video games, and anime, if you like to watch old shows just as much as new ones, if crazy CGI and a movie shot entirely with blue-screens makes you smile, and the Speed Racer theme kicking in full-blast just as Speed makes a triumphant comeback makes you cheer... this is the movie for you!
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