SPEED RACER - Setting the record straight

Speed Racer was the first glimpse of anime for most of us 'round eyes'. We were unaccustomed to this type of artwork and dialog, but I never thought about that. It was a cartoon about cool cars, it had relatable characters, and it had a monkey. What more does a little boy need for quality entertainment?

OK, Speed had a head-start in my cultural experience. Almost everything I liked involved cars in some way. Hot Wheels were indeed HOT and nothing was faster, except one car my brother had from Johnny Lightning, a competing toy race-car line. Speed Racer was and still is a great cartoon. If you didn't like it, that's fine. It simply wasn't your thing, but no matter how much you disliked it, it was far better than you remember. With a full-fledged family as the main characters there was a bridge of familiarity that made their world of insane racing and marvelous cars feel like it was just another day in the 'Brady' household.

The races took place in volcanoes, under water, in the desert, on tight-ropes, and often in the air for short spells. It's a fantasy racing world... exciting, dangerous, crazy, and ultimately ridiculous, but I learned that one monkey in the trunk of a car is more fun than a whole barrel of monkeys.

As a teen I sold off most of my Hot Wheels cars and tracks, but when I had a son there was an excuse to begin buying cars again. Alas, I hadn't considered that I grew up in a distinctly different setting than he, and cars just weren't going to be as cool for him as they had been for me. I grew up in a house with no carpeting.

NO carpet! Hardwood floors and tiles throughout made any room in the entire house a potential adventure speedway, whether we had those plastic orange tracks* or not! And our driveway was something of a secure area. We would spend hours drawing chalk roads and cities for our cars to inhabit. The driveway my son grew up with held 4 cars, max, and so was too crowded and close to the road to allow any lengthy playtime.

So, how does this all 'set the record straight' on Speed Racer? Well, Speed Racer is a fantasy world that related directly to one of our primary entertainment options, toy cars. Fights would break out over these cars, and occasionally they would be thrown as weapons... it was that important. Back then, before Star Wars, Transformers, and video games (two more things I enjoy), Speed Racer was the pinnacle of our car racing imaginations... and there wasn't a Mach 5 toy to be had, but we all wanted one. The Mach 5, like the TV Batmobile before it, became the ultimate driving machine at a time when we had only the vaguest idea what a driving machine was. So, here we are, 40-some years later, and I've finally got the greatest race car ever imagined in the form of the fastest toy cars ever made. Just what I've always wanted!

Counter-clockwise beginning in the lower left:
The red car is the Mach 4, possibly the car wrecked by Rex (get it?) Speed's missing brother.
The Mach 5 needs no introduction.
The Mach 6, star of the Speed Racer movie, appears here twice.
The dark purple car is the GRX, a car that has killed it's driver more than once.
And finally, #9, The Shooting Star, driven by the mysterious Racer X.

I still feel I haven't adequately 'set the record straight'. I'm experiencing B.A.D.D., Blogger Attention Deficit Disorder. These cars, as Hot Wheels, are a dream come true. As I've said before, every Hot Wheels kid wanted the Mach 5 and couldn't have it. Mattel created a copycat vehicle named "Second Wind" that was clearly meant to fill that gap, but without the tail-fins and that red and yellow 5 on the side it simply wasn't Speed Racer's car. It's the dream of owning that toy and racing it through the wild loops and jumps of a genuine Hot Wheels track that makes the Speed Racer movie such an exciting thing for me.

The Wachowski's didn't simply update an old cartoon and bring it to the big screen. They tapped into the childhood dreams of my generation! This movie puts that car on those tracks, all the while staying faithful to the history and fantasy of the cartoon, plus casting the whole thing into a future world where racing is everything, just like it was on my living room floor. The Wachowski's clearly shared this dream with me or knew very well someone who did.

And THAT, my friends, is setting the record straight, and why "Speed Racer" is the most exciting movie for me since the original "Star Wars". I'll be first in line to see this film!

*I've been remembering the tracks lately. [This post was started in the past but only posted today 4/23/08] Another post of mine, begun last night [4/22/08] and currently in draft, mentions Johnny Lightning tracks, which were red, perhaps with white stripes, and as I wrote the above bit about orange tracks I recalled the patriotic red, white, & blue Hot Wheels tracks released sometime around America's Bicentennial. Since then many colors of Hot Wheels track have been made.


patrick said...

The Wachowski bros certainly put a lot of effort into making Speed Racer... the movie overall looked and felt like a cross between anime, a kaleidoscope, that Flintstones movie, a video game and the Dukes of Hazard

BonK! said...

A lot of effort goes into the making of anything. Alas, there are times when the effort lacks knowledge, skill, talent, or all of the above, but this isn't one of those times.

"Anime" is that from which the "Speed Racer" movie came. Should it not retain a resemblance?

"Kaleidoscope" is frequently mentioned by attendees of the "Speed Racer" film. I'm amazed at how striking the opening sequence must be to stick in memory until a blog post can be made, since that sequence never appears again in the film. Honestly, the kaleidoscope sequence was a minor disappointment for me because I had a screensaver in the early 90's exactly like that, called "kaleid.exe."

Yours is the second mention I've seen online comparing the "Speed Racer" movie to "The Flintstones" movie. There were two live-action Flintstones movies, the second of which I've never seen. John Goodman is a respectable actor. I never once thought back to "The Flintstones" while seeing him play a completely different cartoon character.

Is there a CGI-heavy movie that does NOT resemble a video game? I was having a cinema CG discussion with a respected friend at work just this afternoon. The video game look is due to a collection of technical issues yet to be overcome. "Jumanji" was an extremely entertaining movie with perhaps the least realistic CG I've ever seen on the big screen, whereas the first "Jurassic Park" movie remains the benchmark for realism in my mind, though I confess I haven't seen it in quite some time.

I've never watched enough "Dukes of Hazzard" on TV (nor have I seen the movie) to know if there are similarities, but I guess any time a car flies through the air it must look like that to some people, as if a car had never gone airborne in entertainment prior to that series... But wait, the "Speed Racer" series predates "Dukes" by 12 years. Perhaps "Dukes" took a cue from "Speed" and not the other way around.