A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Speed Racer is a fast-paced, visually kinetic car racing movie -- which is the first family-targeted movie from Matrix creators Larry and Andy Wachowski -- seems tailor-made for kids under 12 who've been raised on video games and anime adventures. The central family sticks together, which is nice to see, and there's hardly any swearing or sexual content. But some of the fairly frequent fight scenes are quite vicious, with tons of bone-crunching noises and other sounds (though there's not that much in the way of blood). One beating fairly early in the story is somewhat brutal (and includes the threat of a hand getting eaten by piranhas) and could upset young children. The basic good-vs.-evil story will entertain kids, but it may leave older teens and adults -- especially those who love the original '60s animated series -- indifferent.
What's the story?
Based on a 1960s Japanese cartoon of the same name, SPEED RACER stars Emile Hirsch as Speed, the 18-year-old middle son in a car racing family who has, as his name suggests, a gift for speed. But all is not fun and games: Speed's older brother appears to have died in a horrible accident that may have been engineered by an evil conglomerate -- which starts gunning for him after he turns down their offer of a lucrative contract so long as he races for them. Luckily, Speed has tons of support, including his race-car builder dad (John Goodman), encouraging mother (Susan Sarandon), feisty girlfriend (Christina Ricci), cheerleading brother (Paulie Litt), and the family's pet chimp. And then there's Racer X (Matthew Fox), an enigmatic driver who recruits Speed to fight for justice.
Is it any good?
It's not entirely clear why the Wachowski brothers, the CGI geniuses behind the Matrix trilogy, didn't make Speed Racer into an animated feature; the film certainly feels like it wants to be one. In the best sense, it has that hyperbolic feel of a Road Runner cartoon, all whiz-bang and excitement (though, that said, the first act is pretty slow). The race scenes look as if they're taking place inside a flashing pinball machine -- all the more appealing for young fans. But parents shouldn't worry: Except for a few salty words and some painful fight scenes, it's squeaky clean. Perhaps a little too squeaky clean, in fact, for Matrix fans looking for an edge. There isn't one (only the Mach 5's turns are sharp).
Speed Racer also suffers from some of the pitfalls of many animated adventures -- it's light on storytelling (the underlying theme about sports being too beholden to large corporations barely gets out of the gate) and burdened with earnest, snoozy dialogue. The actors have so little to do -- clearly, emphasis was placed on the special effects -- that the movie almost doesn't need its big-name stars. And the mightily stylized look goes into overdrive, potentially leaving older audiences with a migraine. Some may find themselves longing for a good, old-fashioned race, one that takes place on a real track, to give them some non-computer-generated excitement.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Speed Racer feels more like a live-action film or a cartoon. Why? What do you think the filmmakers wanted watching it to feel like?é
If family members have seen the Matrix movies, you can talk about what they have in common with Speed Racer, if anything.
Families can also discuss how the movie portrays Speed's family. How does it compare to families in other movies?
- In theaters: September 16, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: September 15, 2008
- Cast: Christina Ricci, Emile Hirsch, Susan Sarandon
- Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Cars and Trucks, Sports and Martial Arts, Brothers and Sisters, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 129 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sequences of action, some violence, language and brief smoking.
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.