A couple weeks ago, Henry and I were in the toy section of Target. He was looking at Lego and I was checking out the newly-arrived Speed Racer toys. I loved Speed Racer as a kid. If you asked me what TV shows I watched when I was Henry’s age, I would immediately name Speed Racer, then have to think a while before I could name anything else. I’d hoped to find a nice Mach 5 to add to Henry and Charlie’s hot wheels collection.
Despite the impressive selection, though, I was thoroughly disappointed by the dreck they had available. Unlike the nice die cast Cars cars I keep tripping over all over our house, the Speed Racer cars were mostly very cheap looking plastic. I’ve seen better toys in a Happy Meal. Much better.
As I was about to leave, a guy about my age walked by, saying “you want it to be like the show we watched, but you know it won’t be.” Of course, he was right. Speed Racer was too charming and too Japanese to make it to the silver screen unscathed. So I’m not the least bit surprised that the reviews are in and the new Speed Racer movie is just as bad as the toys. It’s currently got a 35 on metacritic, right down there with College Road Trip and What Happens In Vegas. Hey, at least it’s beating The Hottie and the Nottie.
Reading A.O. Scott’s review in the New York Times this morning, it’s obvious he could have commiserated with the two of us in Target:
Many of us who grew up watching television in the 1960s and ’70s have fond if vague memories of “Speed Racer.” Those big-eyed characters (Trixie! Speed! Racer X!), their mouths never quite moving in sync with the dialogue; those bright colors and semiabstract backgrounds; those endless, episodic story lines. Whether we knew it or not, the series was a primer in the aesthetics of Japanese animation, the love of which we could later pass along to our children.
But, you just know the movie won’t be the same…
Like so many other expensive, technologically elaborate big-screen adaptations of venerable pop-culture staples, this movie sets out to honor and refresh a youthful enthusiasm from the past and winds up smothering the fun in self-conscious grandiosity. The childhood experience the Wachowskis evoke is not the easy delight of lolling in the den watching one cartoon after another, but rather the squirming tedium of sitting in the back seat on an endless family car trip, your cheek taking on the texture of the vinyl seat as some grown-up lectures you on the beauty of the passing scenery.
Sigh. Where’s Racer X when you need him?