Lionsgate // 1967 // 184 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // November 15th, 2006
He's busy revving up the powerful Mach 5!
With thousands upon thousands of competitors, it's amazing that even after 30 years, Speed Racer remains one of the most fondly remembered cartoons of all time. This innovative, early Japanamation hit that chronicled the adventures of a young teenage boy and his souped-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. Patient fans have waited over three years (!) for all 52 episodes to finally hit DVD, and Speed Racer: Volume Five represents the show's final digital hurrah, as fans across the country can finally wave the checkered flag on their collection.
In the cult classic series, world-class driver Speed Racer is the proud owner 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 handily winning the latest Grand Prix, 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 away in the Mach Five's trunk to join in the wacky fun.
Picking up where Speed Racer: Volume Four left off, Speed Racer: Volume Five features the motor-revvin' series' final eight episodes:
* The Great Car Wrestling Match
We're introduced to the unlikely sport of "car wrestling," a demolition derby-type event in which participants try to destroy each other's cars. Speed meets a now-crippled former International Racing Circuit competitor who is so desperate to feed his annoying son that he has secretly become the car wrestling champ. Covertly entering the Mach 5 in a match, Speed prepares to bore the viewer with yet another of his cautionary "it's much too dangerous!" speeches -- but only after we get to see dozens of fiery wrecks, of course! 9/10
* Motorcycle Apaches
Mr. Skyhigh from the "Office of Space Development" convinces Speed to drive a shipment of uranium through the American west, vaguely explaining how his efforts will result in world peace. A team of motorcycle-riding Apaches have different ideas, however, and try to ambush the Mach 5-led caravan. The only thing more ludicrous than the Apache's accents in this episode is the unnecessary and gratuitous dream sequence, in which Spritle imagines that he's a bad-ass gunslinger. 7/10
* Car with a Brain
In this Frankenstein spoof, a mad doctor creates a monster vehicle that demolishes everything in its path. Speed springs to action and watches it smash buildings and suck up a little girl with a vacuum tube before using an electronic brain scrambler to put the motorized behemoth out of action. Standard Speed Race stuff. 7/10
* Junk Car Grand Prix
Things finally begin to get interesting on the disc, as the writers start to play around with new ideas and try something different from their earlier clichés. This time, Trixie enters the all-female "Junk Car Grand Prix," which is held by a filthy rich industrialist in honor of his missing daughter. Speed and Trixie build a car from scrap metal according to the rules, but during the race they meet the parentless Ivonna, who is trying to make some money for the orphanage where she lives. Interesting concept, and it's great to see Trixie behind the wheel finally, but if you can't guess how this one ends, then you probably haven't seen enough episodes. 8/10
* The Car in the Sky
After their plane crashes on a deserted island, Speed and his friends use everything they can find to transform the Mach 5 into a hydrogen-powered dirigible to go for help. A suspiciously rich passenger with a suitcase full of gold tries to sabotage the mission. "The Car in the Sky" is another great break from Speed Racer's tried and true formula, but this episodes' lengthy journey back to civilization eventually begins to get tiresome. 8/10
* The Trick Race
The Car Acrobatic Team (from Episode 9) returns for a rematch in this cut-and-paste exercise, which is made up almost entirely of recycled footage from earlier shows. There's some confusing plot about spies luring out Racer X by putting bombs in the Car Acrobatic Team's vehicles. Just when all seems lost, though, Speed actually confronts Racer X and asks if they are brothers. Racer X's response? He punches him in the stomach! Speed appears to have figured it out though, and runs off into the sunset shouting his brother's name. 8/10
* Race Around the World (Part 1)
A strong finish to the series, this two-parter kicks off as yet another super-wealthy patron decides to hold a globetrotting race. The prize? The victor will be crowned champion of the world, and then receive his daughter Lovelace's hand in marriage. Lovelace doesn't like that idea, and decides to disguise herself as a boy and enter the race herself. Instead of the Mach 5, Sparky and Speed have to compete with a variety of vehicles in the most ambitious race of the series, from Formula One cars to speedboats, and biplanes to submarines. Along the way, Speed fights off the cheaters on Team 4 and helps Lovelace when she's in trouble, despite her clear hatred of him. It all makes for an excellent, frequently exciting episode. 10/10
* Race Around the World (Part 2)
Remember when Speed figured out who Racer X was two episodes ago? Well, all that's forgotten when Speed gives away his excess petrol to Lovelace and then runs out of gas himself, forcing his still-masked sibling to help him out. In a strange twist, Racer X also lectures selfless Speed on helping others too much, as it may cost him the championship. For the final leg of the race, Speed and Lovelace go head-to-head, while Trixie looks on with jealous eyes. 8/10
As with Speed Racer Volume 4, 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 a needless five volumes -- not cool, especially where your wallet is concerned. Also, the latest gimmicky giveaway designed to distract attention from the fact that there aren't any substantial supplements on the disc is a miniature Speed Racer license plate, one of the least impressive giveaways yet, topped only by Volume 3's oddly chosen, round tin packaging. 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.
It's about time, Lionsgate -- seriously. As much as it's a relief to finally have all of Speed's vehicular adventures available, next time just release a box set like everybody else, okay?
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 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
* Mach Five Mini License Plate
* Official Site