The Wachowskis' Speed Racer movie isn't the first reinvention of the rubber-burning cartoon since its 1960s heyday. There's been a long line of Racer relaunches, sequels and spin-offs, many of them huge disasters. That doesn't stop people from trying to reinvent the wheel for the franchise, including the new animated series Speed Racer: The Next Generation, which premieres Friday on NickToons, and then comes out on DVD next week.

The original Speed Racer series was made in Japan as Mach GoGoGo, and the English dubbed version was shown in 1967 to 1968, then shown in syndication for several years afterward. It finally disappeared from TV screens for a while in the mid-1970s. "Speed Racer, the superviolent, antieducational cartoon series that lived by the sword, is dead," proclaimed the Chicago Tribune on Jul. 12, 1974.

It took 25 years for a new Speed Racer cartoon to appear on American television:

The New Adventures of Speed Racer (1993). This show only lasted 13 episodes, and was widely regarded as a shallow reinvention of the original series. For one thing, Speed could now travel in time, which seems kind of like a weird tangent. And the paranoid conspiracy subplots of the original cartoon were missing, replaced with scifi-ish plots, such as Speed racing against aliens. As a scifi enthusiast, I aprove — except that the end result doesn't look that great. It was created by Fred Wolf Productions (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and featured more American-style animation.

"Winston Smith" wrote on Usenet:

In my opinion the "new Speedracer" really has nothing to do with the "Speed Racer" of the 1960's. It has the characters and a car, but has very little to do with the original. The "new Speedracer" is spiritually closer to the animation of "James Bond Junior", which is funny since "James Bond Junior" has more of the "Speed Racer" feel to it than the "new Speedracer". I would consider it "James Bond Junior, PART VI" with racing cars. There are none of the emotional social dynamics that make up the original. Either the creators are intimidated by the original, or they have no concept of what the idea of "family" means. It is more like a series of adult divorced people running around and masquerading as a family.


Volkswagen commercials. (1997) VW did a series of 30-second spots that formed sort of a continuing adventures of Speed Racer — and they were a horrendous travesty of everything we hold dear. In a typical ad, Speed is driving along when the Mach-5 is sabotaged... so he's forced to drive a Volkswagen GTI instead. Says producer J.J. Sedelmaier:

They were doing a cool, Baby Boomer-type campaign. I don't know if it's Baby Boomer or Generation X or whatever, but they were obviously hitting people my age (41) and a little younger, trying to sell Volkswagens, specifically the GTI.


Speed Racer X (2002). Another short-lived cartoon, this time on Nickelodeon, which pulled it after only a few episodes. At least this one was made by Japanese animation studio Tatsunoko Productions, back in 1997, before being imported to the U.S. In this version, the Mach 5 can fly. Also, some of the buttons on the steering wheel were different: "A" was "aero jack" instead of "auto jack," "B" was "balloon tires instead of "belt tires," "E" was "emergency wire" (a grappling hook) instead of "evening light" (a floodlamp), and "F" was "fish diver" instead of "frogger mode" (so the car's wheels would turn inwards and it would become a full submarine.) The animation was supposed to have a "darker" and more "grown-up" feel to it.

Speed Racer Lives (2006). A series of webtoons to tie in with a new toy line, it looks as though this series only lasted three brief installments before being killed. It features Speed Jr., the son of the original Speed Racer — who's still hanging around as Speed Sr., complete with Reed Richards-style white streaks over his temples. Speed Jr. is supposed to be hip and trendy, and hangs out with people with names like Nitro, Clutch and Vortex. (NItro is a girl with purple hair, Vortex wears a sort of Tron-looking jumpsuit.)


Speed Racer: The Next Generation (2008). A new animated series airing on NickToons and then coming out almost immediately on DVD, this series looks like it'll consist of three 30-minute episodes squished into 90-minute TV movies. Like Speed Racer Lives, this is all about the son of the original Speed Racer, who goes to a racing school where Speed's younger brother Spridle is the headmaster. And there's a new Racer X as well as an evil racing girl named Annalise. New characters include Speed's friends Conor and Lucy, plus a robot monkey named Chim Chim. The new Speed has to prove his worth, probably by winning a really important race.