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Speed Racer : The Next Generation
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2008

Format: TV
By:   Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti (writers)
Genre:   Car-driving action
Review Date:   May 13, 2008
RevSF Rating:   5/10 (What Is This?)

"I wanted a real monkey, but I'm allergic to most mammals." -- Conor

Speed Racer: The Next Generation is a new series that rolled out on a Nickeolodeon channel, Nicktoons, and on DVD, within a week of the debut of Speed Racer the movie. So it gets credit for good timing.

Here are some clips on the show's YouTube channel.. It's not bad, if you only listen to it.

The the original Speed Racer is good because its crazy-assedness is not intentional or ironic. This is an action show with teenagers, not a crazy racing show with fightin' and such like the original.

The star is Speed, a newcomer to a racing school. The mean kids make fun of him. Their leader is Speed Racer's son, but he's a jerk. Young Speed gets a boy and a girl sidekick and they win a big race and Speed finds out he's Speed Racer's other son, put up for adoption as a baby when Speed Racer went missing.

Now, the show got me with this part. I'm compelled. What happened to Speed Racer? Is Trixie the kids' mom? Where is she? Most importantly, where is the awesomest guy on the original, Racer X?

I don't think the show will be about that. Unfortunately, that's the only thing I care about.

This is a trap that next-generation stories fall in: They either forge their own path, like Batman Beyond, or sequelize the original full-time.

I'm surprised that it really is a sequel to the original show; I assumed it would follow the usual route of modern-day DVD remakes and sequels by using the name and nothing else.

The only character that returns is Spritle, Speed's little brother who stowed away in the trunk with the real monkey Chim-Chim. Now he's the head of the academy. The cool thing is his voice is Peter Fernandez, the original voice of Speed Racer.

The show tries weighty emotional stuff when Spritle looks wistfully at a picture of Speed Racer on his desk (a still-frame from the original show). The new kids find the wreckage of the Mach 5.

But if the show is not all about finding Speed Racer, why not? That's all I want it to be about. Don't play the next-generation story beat if you don't use it.

The dialogue is the best part. The writers are Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, comic book writers. I like their Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters series. The dialogue isn't lame. There is funny banter, mostly involving the robot monkey.

The show setup is a total swipe of Harry Potter, which is fine since everyone on the planet knows how that works. Speed has a mysterious destiny, his sidekicks are a loveable doofus and a smart girl, and the kindly headmaster helps him find his way.

The animation is just not good. Complaining about animation in a Speed Racer cartoon feels wrong, since the original is an icon of bad cartooning.

The new one is worse than the old one, because presumably, the new folks had a choice. When the characters walk, they float on top of the show's flat background. The heads and bodies remain still while only mouths move. The academy's racetrack is like a holodeck or Danger Room, except it doesn't look real. It looks like the races are held in Tetris.

But if you close your eyes and just listen, the show is fine. There are funny lines, mostly about the robot monkey.

Joe Crowe is RevolutionSF's big brother, the jerk.

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