Peter Fernandez, the Voice of Speed Racer, Dies at 83
The man behind the voice of one of the most iconic cartoon characters of all time passes.
Here he comes... and there he goes...
Peter Fernandez, the man behind the voice of Speed Racer, has finally crossed the finish line.
In the world of anime, many names and titles are well known and popular amongst all of the various anime communities. But only a select few of these ever have the charm and lovableness to gain international and mainstream popularity, and even fewer get to go down as true landmarks in animation. Speed Racer was one of these lucky shows: a story of high octane, adrenaline pumping, fuel burning action that had kids hooked from the very beginning. How can we not be familiar with the bright colors, the fun and energetic music, and of course, the delightfully rapid-fire dialogue? One of the great pop-icons of the 60's, Speed Racer has maintained one of the best legacies in cartoon history, and it was all thanks to the man who voiced the titular character himself.
The star of this show was a plucky young daredevil named Speed Racer, voiced by a much younger Peter Fernandez. In the show, he balanced his life of racing cars (in races that he could not race in because they were MUCH too dangerous, but he had to race in those races anyway), to spending time with his family and girlfriend Trixie, as well as trying to discover the unknown fate of his brother who supposedly died in a car crash when he was younger. Little did he know that one of his rivals, the mysterious Racer X, was actually his brother in disguise.
Peter began working in showbiz at a young age, appearing in Broadway plays and children's radio shows and then moved onto writing for various fiction magazines. But it wasn't until Fred Ladd showed up that Petey got his brake, as Fred had hired him to write scripts for a new imported cartoon for Japan named Astro Boy. After the success of that, followed by the subsequent hit Gigantor, Peter was later hired to write and voice in the show that would define his career, Speed Racer. Fernandez brought a genuine sense of energy to the series, having both voiced Speed as well as Racer X, and even made contributions in the writings of scripts as well as directed some of the other voice actors. He is most noted for the amount of words that he could fit into dialogue, one of the staples of the show. “A lot of syllables were used in Japanese,” Egan Loo, news editor for Anime News Network said, “and to match the mouth flaps, he filled in the English dialogue with as many words as were needed. He took a quintessentially Japanese title and made it so Americans could enjoy it. Speed Racer was one of the first titles that turned Americans into fans of Japanese animation.”
Truly a man of his craft, Peter Fernandez is a true pioneer of anime dubbing, a tricky business that can spark adoration or hatred from fans alike. But unlike some anime that hired their dub actors off the street, Fernandez proved that even when anime was still barely managing it's way into American markets, that it still be done with care and precision. He even wrote the lyrics to the legendary theme song.
Since then, Speed Racer had evolved into a major intellectual property, featuring all sorts of merchandise ranging from toys to lunchboxes and anything else you could think of. And of course, it has also met with various re-imaginings and reboots, as well as the plethora of hilarious parodies (my personal favorite being the "Mock 5" episode of Dexter's Laboratory, in which Dexter's father laments the loss of his sister in the same manner as Speed's brother, despite her being very much alive and often trying to get her father's attention to re-iterate that she was, in fact, very much alive. Yet she still went rogue as a masked racer and yet people couldn't tell who she was despite how painfully obvious she tried to make it). In 2008, a live-action film was made by the Wachowski Bros. starring an all-star cast including Emile Hirsch as Speed Racer, Matthew Fox as Racer X, Christina Ricci as Trixie, and John Goodman as Pops Racer, among many others. Peter Fernandez cameo-ed as a newscaster in the first and last races in the movie.
Throughout the years in which we grow older, it's comforting to know that many things we all love will live on long after we do, and be there for our children and their children and so forth. Speed Racer was one of those very things. It was their for our parents, and it was there for us, too. And now as the legend behind the hero passes on and leaves his legacy in our hands as he pulled into the great big garage in the sky, it is important that we decide how we will honor and cherish it, and pass it on to the next group of little demons on wheels as they chase after their own dream and aspirations.
Or maybe he faked his death to become Voice Actor X.
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