Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Updated technology and sleek animation drive the new "Speed Racer"

"Just watch me when I get on the track," Speed Racer tells the headmaster on his first day at the Racing Academy, where everyone's rather amused that he shares the name of the founder and major idol of the facility. So begins the journey of the animated "Speed Racer: The Next Generation," which takes Speed -- unaware that he's actually the son of the legendary Speed Racer -- on a quest to find his missing father and get to know his brother, X, who's developed quite a following of his own.

Thankfully, there are a few friendly faces at the academy: the sensible Lucy, the quirky Conor and Chim-Chim the pesky, monkeylike robot. After a little trash-talkin' with the other students at the academy, the kids hit the track (where the visuals -- lush, bright and heavy on the oranges and blues like the original until now -- turn more photographic and three-dimensional and CG). Despite a technical mishap with the clunker car he was given, Speed makes an impression. X, determined to reflect the legacy of his father, is getting a mite bit jealous.

Lionsgate launches the new Friday-night Nickelodeon animated series with this sleek pilot film. Bringing the original series, which ran for just 52 episodes in 1967 and 1968, up to speed, the movie allows its main character to discover his true identity rather quickly. He and his new friends find the "real" Speed Racer's car, the Mach 5, in pieces at the junkyard, and the key that was left with young Speed at the orphanage powers up the grand old machine!

As is often the case, this update of a classic TV icon requires an upgrade. Much like the new "Knight Rider" movie turned the 2000 KITT model into the 3000, the Mach 6 is now the engine to beat in this show, after the resurrected Mach 5 takes an unexpected spill. But the academy's wealthy (and sinister!) investor, Zile Zazic, doesn't want Speed or anyone else to take the wheel of this technologically advanced Mach 6, amazingly powered without gasoline (a timely issue!). Add in a "virtual" racetrack, and you've got some turbo-speed new-millennium fun.

Kurt Csolak voices Speed (above right), while Robbie Sublett is X (left). Peter Fernandez, who voiced Speed and Racer X in the original and even wrote the lyrics for the original theme song, voices Spritle, headmaster of the academy and brother of the legendary Speed Racer (Fernandez does a cameo on the live-action flick, too). Included in the movie's writing crew is Jimmy Palmiotti, the mastermind behind "Painkiller Jane" and the sweetie-pie that BRB used to love to say hello to at comic cons through the latter '90s. (Listed as "James Palmiotti" here -- so serious, Jimmy???)

The DVD's extras include a featurette on the making of the TV show (Fernandez and others offer their thoughts), full bios of the characters at the Racing Academy, a trailer gallery and the "Virtual Track Racing Game" (using the arrow keys on your DVD remote). Previews include a glimpse of Marvel's new DVD take on the Avengers (also "the next generation") coming in August. The movie's run time is 66 minutes.

Learn more about the "Speed Racer: The Next Generation -- The Beginning" DVD at Lionsgate's official site for the film. And, of course, there is a SpeedRacer.com.

Images are from Lionsgate Home Entertainment and used with permission;
copy at your own risk.

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