Artisan // 2003 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 14th, 2004
Buckle up and hold on tight.
This ain't your rusty, old die-cast metal Hot Wheels. A team of young hotshot drivers, led by "Vert" Wheeler, embarks on pedal-to-the-metal race through alternate dimensions in pursuit of a legendary prize and a trunkload of bragging rights in this first animated feature to sport the "Hot Wheels" moniker. Does the movie have enough fuel-injected coolness to satiate the kids, or does it throw a rod and die on the side of the road?
"Vert" Wheeler thinks he's so cool. And why not? He's king of the surfing and skating circuits, lives in a great house, and sports an astonishing blond coiffure. But one thing is missing: his driver's license. Needless to say, when his sixteenth birthday rolls around, he immediately heads for the DMV and cruises through his written and driving tests, scoring perfectly. Apparently, he does so well that the enigmatic Dr. Tezla, manufacturer of the finest racing vehicles in the world, recruits him, along with a handful of other drivers extraordinaire, to compete in the mother of all races.
Vert and his abundant cockiness are put to the test against the most talented -- and most ethnically and socially diverse -- assemblage of exhaust-sucking hotshots this side of The Fast and the Furious.
And like that, with a nifty pyrotechnic display, the portals open to the mysterious "Highway 35," an super-track built by an ancient race of beings cool enough to call themselves the "Accelerons." What lies at the end of this race is what Dr. Tezla craves: The Wheel of Power, a source of limitless, clean energy.
But before anyone makes it that far, Vert and the rest of his racers have to negotiate hairpin curves, treacherous lava slides, topsy-turvy tracks, and a dark, shrouded antagonist working for a bunch of wacky robots.
After hundreds of miles of alien terrain, Vert and his cronies must reconcile the mystery of The Wheel of Power, while also dealing with the assault from a new foe...
Wow, am I down with Hot Wheels World Race. Maybe it's the memories of my bygone days of driving those die-cast little beauties through mud and into puddles. Throwing the disc into my player I didn't quite know what to expect, perhaps a watered-down Herbie Goes Bananas knock-off, only animated. What I got, to my surprise, was a well-done actionfest, light on subtlety but rife with relentless racing and smooth, attractive computer animation.
In short, a fun little flick that would keep even the most jaded, low-attention-span-having kids entertained. Even fueled with five bowls of Sugar Coated Maple Syrup Chocolate-O's, the rugrats, methinks, would stay glued to the TV.
The plot, of course, leaves a lot to be desired, but the only people who are going to comment "Gee, Hot Wheels World Race sure could use a better plot," are not the target audience. Those that eat their own boogers, yeah maybe, that's more the target audience.
But the story does what it needs to do, providing a framework (based on a Hot Wheels TV series) in which a multitude of topsy-turvy wild and wooly races can happen. And that is what the viewer gets...sheer, non-stop racing, with little time in between for filler. Kudos to the production team that recognize the plus to keeping the action going. Character development and plot pacing may be important to Oscar contenders, but for the niche that Hot Wheels Road Race seeks to occupy, entertainment (and, yes, a positive moral message here and there, which the movie delivers as well) is what matters most. In my humble opinion.
New Year, so why not say something new? Here goes...Artisan did a good job with this DVD. And done. Wow, how exciting. The movie is offered in both full screen and widescreen versions, each sporting a surprisingly aggressive 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. True, bonus features are sparse -- an "interactive garage" that details the racers and their cars and six music videos. But again, you're a little kid, who gives a flying Frito?
For all my talk of the entertainment value, I should note that this is one looooooong movie, at least for a kiddie flick. 110 minutes, actually. Even at that length, wall-to-wall computer-generated sci-fi racing could presumably lose its luster. Oh, and the soundtrack becomes brutally tedious after twenty minutes or so.
I would highly recommend this as a kids' feature. Though I have yet to spawn my own diabolical hatchlings, this is a disc I'll hang onto until I do. It's inoffensive, fun to look at, and doesn't let up. And this is a safer Hot Wheels distraction than, say, setting little cars on fire and rolling them off the front porch.
Vert and his animated bunch of grease monkeys are given full acquittal, and freed to zip around beaucoup inter-dimensional racetracks to their heart's content.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Six Music Videos
* Interactive Hot Wheels Garage
* Hot Wheels