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SPEED RACER THE MOVIE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Peter Fernandez, Corinne Orr
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Pioneer
Features:  See Review
Length:  68 Minutes
Release Date:  February 7, 2001

“Go, Speed Racer, go!”

Film ***1/2 (on the cheese scale)

Speed Racer introduced a lot of American kids to anime when it had its run on television…maybe not the best possible way to do it, but it did get us thinking there was more to animation than just cuddly forest creatures and wascawy wabbits.

Many changes had to be made in order to turn Mach Go Go Go into Speed Racer.  The violence and harsher car crashes had to be toned down.  English voices had to be dubbed in, often at hyperactive speed to match the Japanese syllables.  And, of course, the immortal theme song was added.

Speed Racer The Movie is not a movie per se, but a combination of two of the show’s popular episodes blended together with a new techno version of the theme song to lead in.  But for fans of the show, it represents everything we loved about it rolled into a nice, easy 68 minute package.  All our favorite characters are on board, from Speed, Trixie, Sparky and Pops to the lovable Spritle and Chim-Chim.  Even Racer X makes an appearance to save the day (“there’s something about him that reminds me of my long lost brother Rex, who ran away from home many years ago…”).

The first episode is “The Car Hater”, in which Speed and Trixie try to help a pretty young girl whose father has an unhealthy animosity towards automobiles.  His anger causes much trouble and mayhem, and may end up costing his daughter’s life unless the Mach 5 team can save the day.

The longer episode, “The Race Against the Mammoth Car”, is one of my all time favorites.  A ridiculously big and long red car challenges Speed and the Mach 5 to a deadly showdown, while the car’s evil owner Cruncher Block has an even more dire purpose that winning the race.

The episodes are both action packed and laughable…who can help but chuckle at the fast talking American versions of these characters who say things like, “Hey, how do we stop this thing, we’d better find the brakes and use them.”

Speed Racer the Movie is a fast, cheesy funfest of anime…not the best thing to ever come out of Japan, but certainly one of the most well known and significant.

Video ***

The Speed Racer programs are actually quite old, dating back to the 60s and 70s.  It doesn’t look as good as modern animation does on DVD, but it still renders fairly nicely, with good though somewhat limited coloring and sharp images.  Some tell tale splotches, scratches and scars indicate the film’s true age, but apart from that, it’s a satisfactory viewing experience.

Audio **

The two channel mono soundtrack is perfectly fine…not great, not bad.  It services the movie well with clear dialogue and a few punchy audio effects, but limited dynamic range and fullness.

Features ***

The most enjoyable and entertaining feature is a commentary track by voiceover actors Peter Fernandez (Speed, Racer X, various villains) and Corinne Orr (Trixie, Spritle, Mom Racer and others).  Peter was also responsible for turning the Japanese voices into a workable American soundtrack, and he explains how he did so with some story knowledge and a lot of fine tuning to make the English words match up.  Both are good speakers and fun to listen to; Corinne even breaks into her Spritle, and she sounds just as good as ever!  (By the way, is it just me, or did Spritle always sound like he needed to kick the cigarette habit?)

There is also a 10 question trivia game, with Peter and Corinne’s voices…if you finish it, you get to go to the cheesy Colonel Bleep cartoon short that was part of the original VHS package (you’ll never think Rocky and Bullwinkle are minimally animated again after seeing this cartoon).  Keep an eye out for a cool Easter egg during question #5, and you'll get to see a trio of animated commercials that were originally included in Pioneer's VHS release of the title!  

There is also a music video of “Speed” by Alpha Team, the great techno version of the theme song, plus a short Mach 5 demo and the car’s specs as well.

Summary:

Adventure’s waiting just ahead with the DVD release of Speed Racer the Movie.  This old cartoon is just as much fun as you remember, and if you happen NOT to remember the cool extra clips included on the VHS version but absent on the disc, you’ll have an even better time.