Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer. But will he be a demon on wheels?
Out of all the summer '08 blockbusters, few are as enigmatic as the Wachowskis' big-budget adaptation of the 1960s Japanese series originally titled "Mach GoGoGo." They've told us that the movie will bring the cartoon to life, they've told us that it's like nothing we've ever seen, and they've even told us to come see it because the "Twilight" trailer will be attached. But the key question of whether it will be eye-popping or headache-inducing remains as mysterious as the identity of Racer X.
In making the film, "Matrix" masterminds Larry and Andy Wachowski had to sample from the original like hip-hop artists, keeping the attractive elements of the show while steering clear of its cheesiness. Somewhere in the middle, they hope, is a hit.
"In the show, [Speed] talks really, really, really fast, and he says the same thing over and over," explained star Emile Hirsch, pointing out a few of the twists and turns they had to navigate. "He'll be like, 'I wanna go on a race, because then I can win!' And then he'll say, 'When I win, I'll have won the race!' We couldn't do that for the movie."
"It was something I wrestled with a lot," agreed Matthew Fox, who appears in the film as the secretive racer who may or may not be Speed's older brother. "To put too much of a cartoon thing on your voice could be potentially alienating."
Fox's outfit didn't help matters. "There's a lot of ways being dressed in a leather suit can go wrong — there's a lot of ways that can end up being not such a cool thing," he laughed. "[I needed to bring] a certain complexity and human level to him."
"Everyone has always said to me, 'You should play Trixie!' because I kind of look like anime, so I always had that in my head, that if they make 'Speed Racer,' I'll go and audition," said Christina Ricci, cast in the flick as Speed's wide-eyed girlfriend. "I guess I have the eyes and the small chin, like anime."
The actress joked that the only drawback is that every time she starts to run somewhere, the backgrounds get blurry behind her. "That's so irritating," she laughed.
In real life, however, the stars insist that their experiences behind the wheel aren't nearly as animated.
"I am stuck in a very long lease that I got into before I saw the Al Gore movie. [I drive] a large black sedan, and it's not particularly fuel-efficient," Ricci revealed, adding that her big vehicle isn't exactly built for racing around a track. "I would love to have the [button on Speed's Mach 5 car] that jumps you over other cars, because then you could get out of traffic. And those people who don't pull far enough into the intersection when they're making a left turn? You could just be like, 'Boop! Sorry, I need to be over here!' That'd be great."
"I drive a black Toyota Prius right now," said Hirsch, wishing he could pimp his ride. "I want the saws that come out of the side. Those are cool."
"My drive-around car is just an Acura," said Fox, who presumably doesn't wear head-to-toe leather while driving his sedan. "I would love X's Gatling guns that pop out of the side of the car — that's pretty badass."
And if the movie is badass as well, then who knows? Perhaps "Speed Racer" could finally reverse the trend established by "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle," "Inspector Gadget" and "Underdog" and get people once again hungering for cartoon-to-movie adaptations.
"I want to make 'Ren & Stimpy' and play Ren," Hirsch laughed, doing his best impression of the neurotic Chihuahua. " 'Dammit, Stimpy!' "
"I was that girl who loved 'The Care Bears' and 'My Little Pony,' and 'He-Man' somehow got in there, but I don't know that I would want to be in any of those, or if I'd even want to see any of those become movies," Ricci said. "There was a cartoon 'Rainbow Brite' movie that was sort of trippy, and it made me feel horrible."
What few fans might remember, however, is that Ricci previously starred in a cartoon-to-movie adaptation. It was the 1995 film "Casper," and it helped launch her career.
"With 'Casper,' we were on real sets, but [the ghost] would just be a ball on a stick that they were floating around, showing us where the marks would be," she said of the key differences between the two films. "On this movie, we literally walked onto a giant soundstage that was bright green, and that's it. Some days there would be half a car or half a jet or something like that [and the rest was added in later with CGI]."
Ricci also found it a lot easier to create a believable romance with her "Speed Racer" leading man. "Kissing Casper was really embarrassing, because he was supposed to be see-through, so I had to make kissing faces, and I was 13, and I was so mortified," she recalled. "Oh, that was terrible. It was much better kissing Emile."
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