Lionsgate // 1967 // 184 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // April 13th, 2006
He's gonna be racing after someone...
It's amazing that 30 years later, Speed Racer remains one of the most fondly remembered cartoons of all time. This innovative, early Japanamation hit, chronicling the adventures of a young teenage boy and his suped-up supercar, seems to have gotten stuck in neutral in the memories of all who have seen it, thanks to its outlandish stories, off-kilter dubbing, and fiery, crash-filled races. Speed Racer: Volume Four is the latest release in Lionsgate's ongoing collection of the show, another solid release that breaks away from the pack in an effort to capture the checkered flag. Go Speed Racer, go!.
In the cult classic series, world class driver Speed Racer is the proud driver of the Mach Five, a technologically advanced automobile built by his genius mechanic father, Pops Racer. Speed and his girlfriend (and navigator) Trixie travel to exotic locales with his marvelous racing machine where he routinely matches skills with competitors like Snake Oiler, Zoomer Slick and the not-so-mysterious Racer X. When not winning the latest Grand Prix, however, Speed spends his downtime thwarting the nefarious schemes of incredible villains and mobsters intent on exploiting the International Racing Circuit for their own evil gain. Helping Speed both on and off the track are his friend and mechanic Sparky, as well as his little brother Spritle, and Spritle's pet monkey Chim Chim, who often stow way in the Mach Five's trunk to join in the wacky fun.
Picking up where Speed Racer: Volume Three left off, Speed Racer: Volume Four features eight episodes of the motor-revvin' series:
* "The Terrifying Gambler"
Gambler Mr. Fastbucks hijacks the Mach Five to make his getaway from a bank robbery. Speed's having none of that, though. Speed tracks the man down and learns of his master plan: He wants to control the world's energy supply! There's nothing of particular interest in this episode except for some erratic behavior by the villain of the piece, and Speed's odd assertion that learning about Mr. Fastbucks' roulette skills will help him with his driving. 7/10
* "The Secret Invaders (Part 1)"
When Princess Gracious of Ambrocia is almost killed by a sniper at the start of the Mystic Grand Prix, Speed leaps into action, convincing the offending terrorist group that he is an undercover agent. When the killers target President Mountebank of Avalonia next by planting a bomb in his microphone, Speed rushes in to save his life as the building collapses. Unfortunately, this is another boring episode, full of talk and exposition with little car racing and action to shift things into overdrive. 6/10
* "The Secret Invaders (Part 2)"
The excitement picks up in the second part, as Speed is recovering in a hospital bed. He is invited to the Vice President's home for dinner. Once he arrives, he realizes it's a trap set by the villains, who are in cahoots with the crooked Vice President. Speed is thrown into the trunk of the car and pushed into a lake, but he reappears at his own funeral and thwarts the evildoers with the help of Trixie and Racer X. The plot may be as twisty as a cross-country road race, but there's just too much political intrigue and not enough action in this two-parter, the only multi-episode arc on the set. 7/10
* "Man Behind the Mask"
Finally, here's the Speed Racer we all know and love: a crazy evil genius in a hideous green mask kidnaps the whole gang and forced Speed to do his evil bidding by planting a bomb in the Mach Five. He then straps our young hero in the car and sends him to the art galleries of the world to demand that the citizens load up his giant rocket with art treasures. Ah, sweet, sweet nonsense! There's just no reason in the world for the masked man to use Speed Racer in his grandiose art thefts, except for the contrivance of having him put a stop to the criminal's plan later. The fact that he also has a rocket ship and the story is a classic Scooby-Doo-styled whodunit? Just the icing on the cake. 9/10
* "The Car Destroyer"
Another eccentric episode, in which a bitter man seizes control of all automobiles by sticking tiny, remote-controlled cars to their undercarriage, and then driving them off to his evil lair where he turns them into a giant, uninhabited theme park made entirely of recycled metal. This almost hallucinogenic episode is by far one of the strangest episodes of the show and a personal favorite. I love when Chim Chim meets his Car Destroyer-forged metal duplicate! 10/10
* "The Desperate Racer"
In Hawaii, the entrants in the Pineapple Grand-Prix have to carry the titular fruit in their car for the entire race. But when a diamond smuggler sticks a precious diamond inside one of the pineapples, his traitorous partners must steal them all one at a time to find it. Here's another great episode which features lots of wild action, and even a nice little subplot where Speed is asked to throw the race by another racer's crippled sister. He flatly refuses, but Trixie intervenes. 8/10
* "The Dangerous Witness"
In Hong Kong, Speed gets caught up in another assassination attempt, as the beautiful Middle Eastern Princess Petal comes under fire. She hires Speed to protect her, but he soon becomes a target as well. This episode features more Machiavellian plotting, and easily remains one of the lesser episodes on the set despite a few humorous moments, such as Trixie's repeated jealousy over Princess Petal. 7/10
* "Race the Laser Tank"
Ending the set on a high note, this adventure (also partially set in Hawaii) has Speed and Trixie attacked after they receive a microfilm with plans for a top secret laser gun. Everyone is captured by the evil gangster Omar, who wants to tests his completed weapon on them, but they barely escape from his clutches and are pursued by the the newly constructed Laser Tank. Another classic episode, "Race the Laser Tank" is a more typical "Speed races a crazy death car" episode that-until now-had been absent on this disc. The tank itself probably isn't what you're expecting, but it is pretty cool, with flexible laser shooting arms highly reminiscent of the invaders in George Pal's War of the Worlds. 8/10
Now, I'll be the first to admit that Speed Racer isn't a very well-made show. The constantly recycled animation, dangerously low frame rate, and almost nonsensical dubbed dialogue certainly indicate that the show was lazily crafted, and yet, as fans will testify, the technical shortcomings are really the charm of the series, especially when combined with the bizarre plot lines. And this volume has lots to offer fans of the strange, with grotesque art thieves, attacking swarms of model airplanes, and flying sword attacks. Not being a fan of cartoons with complicated story arcs, I really liked the fact that this set contains only one two-part episode-the rest are stand-alone shows that you can pop in any time, anywhere, for a quick 22-minute hit of Speed's mildly psychedelic antics.
The first thing you're going to notice about Speed Racer Vol. 4 is that there are only eight episodes here rather than the 11 or 12 found on earlier volumes -- a move that has allowed Lionsgate to stretch the series to one more volume (and wheedle another 20 bucks out of fans). The second thing you're going to notice is the cool extra: a die-cast Mach Five that you can drive around your desk while singing the Speed Racer theme song while your co-workers look at you like you've lost your mind. I'm perfectly aware that this gimmicky giveaway toy is meant to distract my attention from the fact that there aren't any substantial supplements on the disc, but apparently, it worked. Other than that, you can expect Lionsgate's usual passable presentation-tinny mono sound and source-artifact littered frames. It's pretty much on par with other '60s animation classics, so I won't give Speed a hard time on the technical details.
This is likely a release that's only going to appeal to fans that grew up watching Speed's odd adventures, but I wouldn't have it any other way. With only one more DVD left until the entire series has hit the market, you bet your life Speed Racer's gonna see it through!
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 184 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Die Cast Mach Five
* Official Site