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Not to be confused with 2008's commercially unsuccessful yet unfairly maligned live-action version of the classic 1967 Japanese animated series from The Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix, V for Vendetta), Speed Racer: The Next Generation is the third televised version of the cult-favorite franchise.
Originally the series started its engine as a May of 2008 Lionsgate produced Nicktoon and the channel's first in history “not to be based on an original property. While no doubt its air-date was set to help tie in with the theatrical release that would be shoved into the compactor (along with nearly everything else that month) by Marvel Studios' newborn project Iron Man-- in addition to the animated series, a series of high quality straight-to-DVD adventures were released as well.
The newest venture in the Speed Racer: The Next Generation home entertainment line that chronicles the tales of Speed's son (also named Speed) who inherited his father's passion for driving premiered this week from Lionsgate complete with a collectible replica of the character's famous Mach 6 car.
The attempts to continually improve the Mach 6-- which was built after his famous Mach 5 was destroyed-- has been a top secret priority headed up by Speed and his two best friends and fellow members of his racing team-- Lucy and Conor (who is the proud owner of the battery powered “Cyber chimp” monkey Chim Chim).
As the roughly sixty-six minute work Comet Run opens, Speed and Connor who are described by the budding photographer Lucy with amused disappointment as guys “who read Car and Driver for the articles,”are busy at work trying to invent an engine that will run completely without the need for gasoline.
However, their plans are interrupted by the announcement that the extremely short, bearded, British self-involved ridiculously wealthy trillionaire Dickie Radford has created a high-tech Eco-Car that can run a three day race on a single tank of gas.
And while Speed is inspired (at least, that is, until he meets Radford and realizes he's a jerk), Radford's automotive rival is filled with intense hate. Angered that the environmentalist tycoon has stolen the thunder away from the snake-like Zile Zazic-- who had bribed journalists to help hype his newest gas guzzling monstrosity-- Radford's arch-rival Zazic begins paying off racers to beat Radford with the lure that he'll offer them their own racing team.
Of course, while Speed's peers eagerly join up with Zazic when this particular carrot is dangled figuratively over the finish line, Speed's eyes are on a far bigger prize. And incidentally it's the exact same one that Zazic's after himself when the bragging Radford said he was so confident that his Eco-Car would finish first that if someone were to beat him, he would hand over the deed and ownership of Radford Automotive.
Soon caught between the intense rivalry and inflated egos of two of the wealthiest men on the planet, it isn't long before Speed, Lucy, Connor and even Chim-Chim realize that in addition to their diva-like behavior, there may be much more going on beneath the surface of their respective publicity stunts. But when they get some hard evidence, the gang and their Mach 6 are thrown into jeopardy as they push onward towards the finish line.
While admittedly the Radford character seems like an exaggerated and thinly disguised sinister version of the Virgin Mobile Mogul Sir Richard Branson that I'm not so sure would sit well with him-- the ideas of going green, hybrid energy, and reducing emissions are extremely topical as the film uses the kid-friendly racing platform to gently inform viewers about global warming and eco-responsibility for their own carbon footprint.
However, to kids and indeed to a reviewer who's frankly getting a bit tired of the extremely important yet far too repetitive record that's been played on the subject that made the phrase “going green” get listed as one of the most annoyingly over-used ones in the country last year (along with “staycation,” “chillax,” and “my bad,”)-- most importantly the DVD works because it's just so much fun.
Yes, the characters all feel a bit one-dimensional as their respective props kind of serve to differentiate them and provide them with a material based personality like Speed with his car, Connor with the Cyber Chimp, and Lucy with her camera but aside from some of the less than stellar animation during the walking and talking sequences-- the movie comes alive with its hyped up, extremely colorful and eye-popping racing sequences that feel essentially video game level in comparison to some of the other more stationary scenes.
Moreover, it's an exciting and cool, worthwhile message-movie that luckily "speeds" right past anything too heavy-handed with in regards to the "green" topic by making young viewers feel as though they're trying to be proactive in solving some of the obstacles faced by the animated trio (or quartet if you count Chim-Chim) as they try and avoid the usage gas in crossing the finish line with creative ingenuity. Additionally, it makes me curious about the previous titles that have so far sold more than 250,000 DVDs.
While times and cars have changed an awful lot over forty years since the Japanese version of the show first hit the airwaves-- the emphasis on speed, the character Speed, teamwork, moral integrity, and fast-paced engine revving entertainment still remains whether we're faced with Racer X, Radford, Zazic or global warming itself.