Its alternately quirky and campy rendering introduced American audiences to Japanese anime. Its premise of the swashbuckling child hero was liberating and scintillating to a child. The race car driver part was a clear bonus. But man, that insipid theme song.
Speed Racer, whose 52 episodes ran for nearly 20 years in weekday syndication beginning in 1967, imprinted itself on our pop culture.
Get a speeding ticket?
"Where ya goin' so fast, Speed Racer?"
This weekend's premiere of the Wachowski Brothers' adaptation gives us a chance to explore the inner Speed in all of us.
Mom Racer speaks
Susan Sarandon has a functional relationship with cars. She has a Prius for short junkets in New York City, a van for family trips. That Datsun wagon is still around somewhere. Had that forever. She knows her 18-year-old's new car is "wine-colored on the outside and white inside," but she has no idea what make or model it is. She does have a bit of a lead foot, she'll sheepishly admit — residue of her work in Thelma & Louise. But cars aren't what drew her to the role of Mom Racer. She spoke with the Times about transportation, corporatization and being heartbroken by Racer X.
So, how's your ticket situation?
I haven't gotten any tickets recently. I used to drive cross country, not regularly, but I've done it a few times and I might say there are some places where you just floor it and I have gotten tickets there. I don't accumulate a lot, no. Probably having kids slows you down somewhat.
What drew you to your Speed Racer role?
Initially, it was the Wachowskis, their involvement and the fact I loved The Matrix (trilogy) so much and I thought that was just so brilliant. … I like the fact that the (Racer) family is a mom-and-pop business taking on this huge goliath of the conglomerates that have taken over sports, and at that time when we were filming, actually, there were all these (Formula One) racing scandals. …I thought that was interesting, how the media has been kind of co-opted by big corporations and sports. These conglomerates have their hands everywhere, so you love to cheer for the individual who stands up to the business as usual, the done deal of corporate intervention in all these areas. And so, I thought that was kind of fun.
Do you play the doting mom like the cartoon version of the character?
I actually have the same hairdo that I had in my high school yearbook, this little flip. It's pretty funny. She's very brave emotionally, so when things happen, even though she kind of stays in the background, she is the one who puts her foot down when something needs to be said. At the same time she's flipping pancakes and making peanut butter sandwiches, she's also building the car with the rest of the family. Maybe she doesn't drive the way Trixie does and she's not really interested in racing herself because it kind of frightens her, but she's pretty brave in other ways.
Would Mom Racer be more proud of Speed or Racer X?
Mom doesn't know the other one survived. Not yet. I'm getting a weird vibe from him, but I don't know yet. So if there's a sequel, I think something is going to have to come out. But I think she would be very angry that he made us suffer that way, initially, and then maybe when she calms down she'll be proud. She's proud of even the chimp, I'm sure. That's the kind of mom she is.
Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Indy Racing League team, and son Graham, the 19-year-old winner of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, reviewed Speed Racer for TheMag.com. They were left wanting … out of the theater.
Graham: I certainly never watched Speed Racer, and maybe that's why I was so bored with the movie because I couldn't follow the plot. Of course, I understood the family story line and the Racer X stuff …but the rest of it? What a mess.
Bobby: I suspect you would have to be a religious Speed Racer fan to make much sense of it, but even still, this is a movie that I imagine mostly kids will enjoy, not their parents who grew up on the cartoon. The kids might like the racing scenes. Personally, the computer animation graphics assaulted my senses.
Real reviews say
"Previous Wachowski productions aspired to be something more than mindless sensation; Speed Racer is thrilled to be less. It's the delusions minus the grandeur." — The Village Voice
"Speed Racer is a hallucination with less meaning than usual, all perpetual motion and confectionery hues, with style to burn and a substance needle buried on 'E.' " — St. Petersburg Times Read the full review at tampabay.com/features/entertainment/
Who's the modern day Speed Racer cast?
Speed: Jimmie Johnson
Driven to justify the faith shown in him (No. 48 at Hendrick Motorsports = Mach 5) when he was an unknown, he excels wherever he races.
Racer X: Kyle Busch
From speedracer.com: "undeniably, Racer X is the least understood driver on the Formula One circuit. Both feared and revered, he inspires rumors that whenever he competes, crashes are sure to occur."
Trixie: Delana Harvick. Savvy, plucky, industrious and not one to back down.
Sparky: Chad Knaus. He is, after all, Speed's best friend and the master of the Mach 5.
Pops Racer: A.J. Foyt. A magician with a car, he can be boisterous and proud, and he likes fighting the fat cats.
Mom Racer: Martha Nemechek. The tie that binds.
Spritle: Jamie McMurray.
Chim-Chim: Mojo, Tony Stewart's pet monkey.