Speed Racer debuted this weekend to some truly bad reviews and only made an estimated $20,210,000 at the box office. Neither is a particularly auspicious start for a motion picture. While I am a loss to explain why more people didn't see Speed Racer (I can only figured they went to see Iron Man again instead), I think I can explain why it received so many bad reviews. Critics were expecting an action movie about a race car driver. What they got was a live action cartoon. And that is the key to enjoying Speed Racer. Once you accept that it is essentially live action cartoon, you can simply sit back and enjoy the ride.
Indeed, the strongest point of Speed Racer may well be its amazing, over the top visuals. This is literally a live action cartoon that the Wachowski Brothers have directed. The colours are bright and flamboyant. The cars in the races do things that absolutely defy both the laws of physics and gravity--catapulting over each other, spinning through the air to land safely and continue on their way, driving up cliffs... It should then come as no surprise that the movie boasts 2,000 different special effects shots. With this many effects the Wachowski Brothers pull off what are some of the most amazing race scenes ever shot on film. Arguably, it is when Speed is behind the wheel that the film really comes alive.
The remarkable visual sense of this movie goes beyond its often incredible effects. Particularly when it comes to the Racer home (where Mom, Pop, Speed, little brother Spritle, Chim-Chim the Chimp, girlfriend Trixie, and mechanic Sparky all live), the movie looks in some respects like it could be set in early to mid-Sixties. If it is the early to mid-Sixties, however, it is the Sixties of this century, as there is technology that is advanced even by today's standards. Indeed, I am not sure what the cars run on, but it is obviously not petrol.
Speed Racer starts slow. And early in the movie the plot feels somewhat disjointed, as the Racer family past is revealed and the various subplots involving Royalton Industries and Racer X are put into place. Once the movie kicks into high gear, however, it never lets up. And viewers are not simply treated to some exciting race scenes, but a story of family versus corporate interests--a story all to relevant to our times.
In the end Speed Racer is more than a faithful adaptation of the classic anime series of the Sixties. It is itself essentially a live action cartoon: bright, colourful, loud, and ultimately a whole lot of fun.