"Go! Speed Racer! Go!" shouts Judge Paul Pritchard, "Go and never come back, ya bum!"
Grab the wheel as you steer your way into the future of action with this full-throttle movie…
The age of remakes/reboots continues unabated, with the release of the Wachowski brothers' interpretation of the cult Sixties anime Speed Racer. Somewhat conveniently, along with the usual videogame and action figure tie-ins, a new animated series comes along, ready to introduce a whole new generation to the world of Speed Racer.
Facts of the Case
Set some decades after the original Speed Racer, Speed Racer: The Next Generation—The Beginning begins with Speed, an orphan, arriving at the elite Racing Academy. Before long, Speed falls in with Lucy, a feisty workaholic, and Connor, a genius mechanic who is a total geek for the original Speed Racer. With these new friends comes a rivalry with X, the academy's top student and a son of the original Speed Racer.
Before long, Speed makes two startling discoveries. Not only does he stumble upon plans for the Mach 6, the next evolution of the renowned Mach 5, but also discovers he, like X, is the son of the legendary Speed Racer, both of which bring Speed to the attention of academy owner and all-around villain Zile Zazic.
Let's get one thing straight right from the start; Speed Racer: The Next Generation—The Beginning reeks of a show cobbled together to capitalize on the (potential) success of the new Speed Racer movie. An amalgamation of other, often just as tepid, cartoon series, Speed Racer: The Next Generation—The Beginning has no soul and, like the talentless offspring of a celebrity, relies on its family name to get by.
Before we go any further, perhaps I should make known my relationship with the original Speed Racer, or rather, my lack of one. Sure, a few episodes have cropped up from time to time and what I saw seemed like goofy fun, but despite an undoubtedly eye-catching aesthetic, there really wasn't anything to make me embrace the show. With that now in the open, you'll understand my feelings towards Speed Racer: The Next Generation—The Beginning are not born from a passion for the original Speed Racer, but from being shocked at how such a cheap and uninspired show can be released, not only to support a new movie, but also act as the sequel to such an iconic series.
Once the title sequence, complete with admittedly catchy theme tune, comes to an end and the show proper begins, the ugly truth soon reveals itself; and when I say ugly I mean ugly. Truly, Speed Racer: The Next Generation—The Beginning is one of the most unattractive animated shows I've ever seen. Let's deal with the CGI first; those old enough to remember the Nintendo64 will be convinced Nintendo's console was used to render the cars and backgrounds on show here. Looking cheap and outdated, it totally fails to gel properly with the 2D characters. Talking of the characters, not only are they lacking in both originality and detail, they are so poorly animated they make South Park look like Disney.
If Speed Racer: The Next Generation—The Beginning had a solid storyline, any initial concerns raised by the show's visuals would have faded into obscurity. Unfortunately, that's not the case. As if to add insult to injury, the plot is as labored as the visuals. We are given no explanation to just where the original Speed and X are, or why they disappeared in the first place. The reasoning for why Speed's relationship to Speed Racer was kept a secret, while the whole world knows X is Speed Racer's son, is flimsy and hardly convincing, while a complete lack of any real structure or dramatic content leaves the viewer with no sense of closure at the story's conclusion. Exposing these shortcomings further is the show's insistence of replicating characters from the original Speed Racer with only minor tweaks, meaning Speed and his rival, Racer X, are brothers; Spritle, the only returning character, is now headmaster of the Racing Academy; we get a robot version of Chim Chim; and the Mach 5 makes its return.
There are ideas here that, perhaps better explored, had potential. The virtual track promises so much, yet, if I may use another videogame analogy, is more Gran Turismo than Mario Kart. In other words, despite having a device at their disposal that could offer up some of the most imaginative and exciting race tracks ever devised, a la Mario Kart, the show's creators seem content to have courses that never deviate very far from the same cliff-top setting, with only the occasional jump to spice things up.
Though bright and colorful, the show's transfer lacks any real pop and is only hindered further by the poor quality of the artwork on display. The discs audio is a little better, with race scenes benefiting most from the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
Speed Racer: The Next Generation—The Beginning goes some way toward redemption with the enjoyable, yet all too short, "Making Of" feature. This 10-minute piece shows there are some real Speed Racer fans involved in this project, which only makes the quality of the final product even more infuriating. Though limited and unlikely to entice repeated plays, the "Virtual Track Racing Game" is fun for youngsters as they go head to head in a race against X, using the arrow keys on their DVD remote.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Speed Racer: The Next Generation—The Beginning is not completely horrible. Maybe given the chance to develop into a full series, the (admittedly few) positives could be developed into something far more impressive.
Like the cash-in videogames that come out each year to support the latest summer blockbusters, Speed Racer: The Next Generation—The Beginning is a frustrating and ultimately unrewarding experience. Unlikely to appeal to fans of the original Speed Racer and lacking any real identity of its own, Speed Racer: The Next Generation—The Beginning doesn't look like a show with a future.
Guilty! Speed Racer! Guilty! Speed Racer! Guilty!
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Scales of Justice
• The Making of Speed Racer: The Next Generation
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