Around 1996, I got a call from my girlfriend at the time.  She was calling to inform me that Disney, having succesfully adapted Beauty And The Beast for Broadway, was now eating its own tail with a film adaptation of the musical adaptation of the film.  And to make matters worse, she insisted, Fran Drescher was playing Belle.  Turned out she had read about the then-upcoming Beautician And The Beast.

I knew she had to be wrong (both because of the ridiculousness of the idea, and because she was wrong about…well, most things), but I still think about that story whenever I hear about another cartoon being adapted to live-action.  Because the thought of Fran Drescher belting the song “Home” is ridiculous, but no less so than a movie where Fat Albert is zapped out of the TV and into the “real world” to have an adventure with the granddaughter of the guy who inspired the Bill Cosby routines on which the cartoon was based.  Somebody actually thought that was a good idea, and enough people agreed with that person that money was spent making that idea a reality.

Because Hollywood – if “Hollywood” can be spoken of as an entity, for our purposes – never trusts the source material, do they?  The Smurfs?  Let’s make it about a guy making billboards!  Avatar: The Last Airbender? Make everybody white!  Okay, we’ll get Slumdog and that guy from The Daily Show as the villains.  Casper?  Well…isn’t making a Casper movie a bad enough idea already?

And that’s why Speed Racer was such a revelation.

Speed Racer never gets any love.  Even when discussing the Wachowskis body of work, it’s always “THE MATRIX and THE SEQUELS TO THE MATRIX andSpeedRacerwasintheretooIguess and CLOUD ATLAS and soon JUPITER ASCENDING!”  Beyond that it’s just a bunch of snickering about Larry’s transition to Lana.  Well, knock it off and pay attention, because you need to know that this movie FUCKING RULES.

Here’s the genius of Speed Racer: think of being a kid, watching Speed Racer, the original cartoon (or if that was before your time, substitute a similarly beloved show from your childhood.  Think He-Man or Spider-Man: The Animated Series, or whatever the hell kids were watching in 2000 or so.  Beast Wars, maybe?   Four year-old Richmond couldn’t get enough of that show.  I couldn’t wait to get up in the mornings, because after Bugs Bunny on channel 11 was Speed Racer.  I cheered when Speed won a race, I laughed when Spridle and Chim-Chim would stow away in the trunk that all race cars have.  I oohed and aahed at the drama; would Speed ever learn that Racer X was secretly his brother Rex Racer who left home years ago?  
Flash-forward to the early 90s, the era when Gen-X nostalgia overwhelmed the culture.  Along with all the Schoolhouse Rock singalongs and finding drug references in H.R. Pufnstuf, came a full-on Speed Racer revival, with comics, innuendo-laden techno remixes, and a compilation film made up of four episodes of the show.  That was when, freed from the rose-colored glasses of early childhood, I had to admit; this show is really boring.
(However, I’m pleased to report that Star Blazers holds up. Mostly.)
Now here’s the genius of The Wachowskis’ Speed Racer: it’s almost nothing like the show.  But…it’s exactly how my four-year-old mind remembers the show.  The colors are brighter, the action faster, the character development…exists.  It’s like the Wachowskis jacked into the memories of a generation and put that on the screen.
The opening sequence is a masterclass on balancing plot, backstory, and action.  Cutting back and forth in time, the Wachowskis show us Speed’s (and yes, that really is his name) childhood, his idolization of his brother Rex, and his family.  And then he begins the race of a lifetime.

And the old announcer with the hat?  Peter Fernandez, the original voice of Speed.  And this is all in the first ten minutes.  By the end, things get positively psychedelic, and I say that in the best possible way.

So, take heed, Hollywood.  If you’re going to continue to insist on making movies of Casper and Rocky and Bullwinkle and Underdog, follow the Wachowskis’ lead.  Don’t make the cartoon as it was.  Make it how we remember it.

And, if you’re smart…

..make this a reality.

Man, Mowrer’s art has gotten really sloppy, hasn’t it?