And don't let the reviews fool you — this is a gutsy movie.
"Gneech," you may be saying to yourself, "what the heck do you mean 'gutsy'? Every review I've read talks about the simplistic plot and almost retro sense of do-gooderism."
That's it exactly! It's gutsy because, knowing full well they'd be sneered and spat at by the too-hip-for-the-room types — including many of their own fans — the Wachowski bros. stuck to Speed Racer. They didn't try to "make it cool," they didn't try to "reinvent it for modern audiences," heck, they didn't even get rid of the kitschy names like "Snake Oiler" and "Inspector Detector." Not only did they leave it there, they reveled in it. They made a Speed Racer movie that really looked, felt, and sounded like Speed Racer.
The wild, over-the-top effects and psychedelic colors are absolutely part of that. To see what I mean, first watch the original Speed Racer opening credits. In particular, watch the backgrounds, the distinctive art style, etc. Then watch the movie music video and compare. Yes, it's a little more frenetic and go-all-over-the-placey — but not that much. Not really. Speed Racer the movie, is a movie of what the world would be like, if Speed Racer wasn't a cartoon, you see what I mean? It's a brilliant tour-de-force.
What drives me most nuts about the negative reviews is that they keep sneering at Speed Racer for not being all these things they think it should be, as if they're deliberately ignoring both what it is, and what it's intended to be. The Speed Racer TV show was a boy's adventure tale, aimed straight at the 8-year-old heart and mind, with a few winks for any grownups (or older siblings) who might happen to be watching. That doesn't mean it's dumb, and frankly it's insulting to say so. It does mean that a direct, straight-faced approach to both narrative and characterization is what's called for, and it colors what themes your work needs to deal with.
"What's important in life?"
"How do I succeed? How do I prevail in a competitive world?"
"How do I relate to my family?"
"How do I know right from wrong?"
"How do I act on that knowledge when doing the right thing is hard or scary?"
These are important things for boys to learn, and these are the things that Speed Racer has always been about — the fast cars and explosions is just a framework, something to get the kid's blood pumping and past the "blah blah blah" reflex. (As an aside, the "blah blah blah" scene and Speed's trip into fantasy land is absolutely brilliant and absolutely spot on. I myself have woken up to a classroom staring at me because I was making my own sound effects while I drew. It happens!)
I don't know what exactly the other reviewers were wanting from it, other than a handy scratching post. The general attitude seems to be, "It could have been a good movie if it wasn't Speed Racer." Well, to them I cordially say, "Bite me, it's fun." If you're given something with as strong an identity as Speed Racer, dammit, you GO with it! (So to speak.) You put in corny gangsters, and Spridle and Chim-Chim doing candy raids and stowing away in the trunk, and Racer X being badass and smirking the whole time. Because to do anything else would be to get it totally wrong.
I'm so very, very glad to say, the Wachowskis got it totally right.
Thanks, guys. :) I've been waiting 35 years for this movie, and you didn't disappoint me. :)
PS: Spridle and Chim-Chim are totally likeable. That is an impressive feat.