speedRacerClassicsCompleteJust in time for the holidays, the complete Speed Racer series has been re-released in a groovy collector’s set.  If you’re a fan of the popular anime cartoon that came to the U.S. in the ’60s, you’ll totally dig what Lionsgate has done: All 52 episodes come packaged in a metal tin shaped like the Mach 5 (Speed Racer’s car, in case you’re not hip) and are housed in a classy softcover book (colorful and environmentally thoughtful!).  As much as possible, the original filmed episodes have been cleaned up and the sound has been spruced up to make the show as fresh as possible

When we look back on entertainment from our childhood, whether it’s books, movies, or in this case, an animated series, you always run the risk of that beloved piece of entertainment losing its luster. That’s why some people warn about looking back on those visceral memories. Still, we can’t resist, can we? We want to feel young again.  I’ll admit, the animation is still very limited, the pacing is a tad slow, and the lip assignment never matches the dialogue.  But it never did when we were kids! Speed Racer was always a limiting experience when it came to its animation.  But the stories were and remain fun and cool.  Furthermore, there is a sincerity to the trust and love these characters have for each other that manages to come thorough even though Speed Racer is a flatly drawn cartoon.  I think that’s why the show continues to delight kids despite the wildly outlandish Wachowski Brothers feature film and the highly inferior Speed Racer: Next Generation series (more on that later).

Speaking from experience, I also know that young kids still get into the show: my son watches with fascination each time it comes on. There’s enough action to keep him entertained, and enough humor to make him guffaw. As a parent, I’m glad that he likes Speed, Racer X, Spiddle and the rest of the gang.  So much children’s entertainment has an edge, either in its humor or in the level of action/violence, that I appreciate not having to worry when I walk away from the TV set when he’s watching Speed Racer.

In addition to the pleasure of watching every episode of Speed Racer in order, or having the option to view your favorite episodes with the touch of a finger (I still love the seminal episode when Racer X finally revealed his identity to Speed), there are some other nifty features in this box set that make it fun for collectors.  First, there are trivia facts in the first disc explaining how Speed Racer came to the U.S.  Additionally, the producers of the new box set also give details about the voice actors who brought the characters to life for English-speaking audiences.  How great to see voice-over actors acknowledged for their performances.

The final disc in the set contains a featurette on the history of Speed Racer as well as an episode of Speed Racer: The Next Generation, a new animated series that’s been airing on Nickelodeon for the past year, and a featurette on that show. The Next Generation episodes are part of a larger marketing scheme to help promote the release of the Next Generation animated movie entitled The Fast Track: The Movie. If you’re a fan of the original Speed Racer series, or even the live-action film, you should avoid The Fast Track altogether. This movie and the series that spawned it feel like nothing more than a marketing decision made to capitalize on the live-action film.  The animation is cheaply done and the voice actors are adequate at best.

I know, criticizing animation as cheap when we’re talking about Speed Racer seems ridiculous. However, there is a difference between 1960s TV animation and 2000s TV animation. The bar has been raised, and there’s no reason a kids’ animated series or straight-to-video movie should look this crappy. That said, I am positive that I’m not the intended audience.  I know a certain 7-year-old who may be thrilled to watch The Fast Track The Movie, though I wonder how many times he’d actually sit through it after the initial excitement wore off.

Bottom line: stick with the classic series.  More thought and care has gone into preserving the original series with this unique, fun box.  Stay clear of the Speed Racer: The Next Generation Fast Track The Movie, unless you have kids clamoring for it.