By all accounts a television movie based on a children’s animated series on a basic cable channel like the Cartoon Network shouldn’t look this good. And yet, here we are with great special effects, good direction, and a live action adaptation that’s about ninety-nine percent loyal to the source material.
I won’t make any denial about it, I love cartoons, and I love “Ben 10.” I’ve followed it since it premiered and haven’t looked back since. I follow the mythos, and the prospect of the live action movie made me giddy. Why it hasn’t been taken to theaters for some cash grab I’ll never know, but a movie based on a hit series that’s pretty much like Spider-Man meets TMNT, should be in theaters. Hell, I’d see it.
“Ben 10: Race Against Time” is a considerably downplayed version of the series. Ben is no longer a charismatic child, but a wise allecky tween, Gwen is no longer a loud shrill big cousin, but a more authoritative moral center, and Lee Majors is great as Grandpa Max, a casting decision that threw me for a loop.
Cartoon Network and Alex Winter go to great pains to keep this an accurate film for the audience. Ben looks just like Ben, Gwen looks as if she lifted off the one dimensional series, and Max is pretty close. The story goes: an irresponsible kid discovers an alien watch after a meteor shower. This watch bonds to his skin and allows him to become ten aliens of assorted powers and skills at his command. The watch can only be used for a short time before it needs to recharge a la “Green Lantern,” and then–Ben has to wing it from there. From there, Ben, his cousin Gwen, and their grandpa travel around America for Summer and come across various criminal threats; this is where the watch comes in.
It’s a typical mold on life lessons, maturing in the face of responsibility, and basically having another kid as a hero. “Race Against Time” sets down directly after the series where Ben has arrived from Summer vacation, and this is made mention of numerously to remind us of the series, and Winter brings the tone of the franchise into a darker atmosphere, and it works very well.
The stand out among others is Lee Majors who takes the role of Grandpa and basically makes it his own. He’s funny, he’s sympathetic, and he’s still a great force of logic and common sense to the brash Ben Tenneson, who is compelled to either abuse his powers, or give up altogether.
After writer Mitch Watson gets past the typical angst of school bullies, elitist popular girls, and inept uninvolved parents, “Race Against Time” finally picks up as the newest villain Eon arrives to seize the “Hands of Armageddon,” and now Ben needs the help of Grandpa Max and The Plumbers, an elite unknown army of alien fighters pre-omnitrix, who arrive to clean up alien messes and disappear into the night. The remaining plumbers are comprised of Grandpa Max, and notable character actors like Aloma Wright best known from “Scrubs,” and Robert Picardo.
“Race Against Time” is not without its flaws though. How did Max convince Ben’s parents to let him go out of town during a school year? Why was Ben incredibly unaware of the Plumbers when he spent a great portion of the series fighting alongside them? How exactly could Eon mess with the Omnitrix again? Regardless, there’s a lot to be taken into consideration, such as the budget for the film which only allows a few of the aliens from the watch to be featured.
But this is a television movie on Cartoon Network, I obviously wasn’t expecting an incredible film, even as a big fan of the series. There are flaws to be expected and flaws I forgave, but overall Majors is a nice touch as Grandpa Max, and the live action format works in the series favor. A higher budget, tighter writing, and a sequel would compliment the franchise in the long run.