Sunday, 22 January 2012

Wacky Races (1968-1969)


I don't know about you guys, but I love Wacky Races, the animated television series produced by Hana - Barbera. The series features 11 different cars racing against each other in various road rallies throughout North America, with each driver hoping to win the title of the "World's Wackiest Racer." Wacky Races ran on CBS from September 14, 1968, to January 4, 1969. Seventeen episodes were produced, with each episode featuring two different races.
The cartoon had an unusually large number of regular characters, with twenty-three people and animals spread among the 11 race cars, plus the unseen (and never identified) race announcer. Reruns of the series currently air several times a day on Cartoon Network's classic animation network Boomerang.
One of the unused plans for the series was that the races would be part of a live-action quiz show made by Merrill Heater and Bob Quigley Productions in which contestants would bet on which Wacky Racer would cross the finish line first. Although the game show concept was eventually scrapped, the series still retained a Hanna-Barbera/Heatter-Quigley dual production credit.
It is one of the few Heatter-Quigley series not currently owned by successor company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio where the Hanna-Barbera team got its start with Puss get the Boot. In 1988, a made-for-TV movie, Around the World with the Wacky Racers, was planned as part of Hanna-Barbera's Superstars 10 series of TV movies, but it never got past the concept stage.

Dick Dastardly and Muttley:

The antagonists of the series, in a purple, rocket-powered car with an abundance of concealed weapons and the ability to fly. Dastardly (voiced by Paul Winchell, in a manner that Winchell would use several years later to portray the Smurfs' nemesis Gargamel) is an archetypal mustache-twirling villain; Muttley (voiced by Don Messick) is his wheezily snickering, anthropomorphic dog henchman. Dastardly concocts plans and traps in order to maintain a lead, but most of his plans backfire, causing him to finish in last place.
Because of this, Dastardly has never won a Wacky Race or even officially finished in the top three. In fact, he has only crossed the line five times: thrice in last place, once in fifth place (beating the Surplus Special) and even once in first place (but in the replay was "disqualified for stretching a point"). He is often foiled by the finishing line itself, where he makes a sprint at the end to gain the lead but whilst sneering and looking behind him at the other competitors fails to notice that parts protruding from the mean machine (often sails or rockets) are too big to get under the finish banner and he subsequently crashes into it. Dick Dastardly and Muttley would also appear in Fender Bender 500, racing against characters like Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw. In this series they were actually able to pull off a win.
The Mean Machine appears to have been by far the fastest vehicle, providing Dastardly with a theoretically unbeatable advantage. But in every episode, after blazing far ahead of the others, Dastardly would stop to set up various booby traps for the other racers and this would eventually cost him the race. It never seems to occur to him to race fairly even though he would presumably triumph every time.

The Slag Brothers in the Bouldermobile 1:

Rock and Gravel Slag (voiced by Daws Butler and Don Messick) are Cavemen driving a wheeled boulder. The Slag Brothers sometimes reconstruct their car from scratch just by using their clubs on any large boulder that is available. The Slag Brothers can summon up a Pterandon to help them. They accelerate by hitting the car (or at times, each other) with their clubs. Often they directly attack other drivers with their clubs and various rock attacks. If the whole Wacky Races series had been scored according to the Grand Prix point scoring of the period the Slag Brothers would have been the champions. The Slag Brothers' character design was re-used for Captain Caveman!

The Gruesome Twosome in the Creepy Coupe 2:
Big Gruesome (a lurching, huge humanoid character voiced by Daws Butler) and Little Gruesome (a purple-skinned vampire voiced by Don Messick) are monsters driving a hearse-like car with a belfry which houses a dragon, ghosts, serpents, and other horror-themed characters as well as storm clouds. The Gruesomes can summon these creatures to either help them along in the race or fend off other drivers. The Gruesome Twosome are often prone to foul play and use their range of creatures to scare off or sabotage the other competitors. Little Gruesome acts as the brains of the duo while Big Gruesome acts as the muscle.

Professor Pat Pending in the Convert-a-Car 3:

A scientist (voiced by Don Messick) in a boat-shaped plane like car which can change into just about anything that moves, from mundane vehicles (such as a motorcycle) to outlandish ones (such as a giant bowling ball). He often uses his car's multitude of gadgets to help out the other drivers if they all get caught in the same trap. His alternative name is a pun on the phrase "Patent Pending". Most of his gadgets seem to be defensive as opposed to Dastardly's offensive devices.


The Red Max in the Crimson Haybailer 4:

An air ace (voiced by Daws Butler) whose name is a combination of the Red Baron and the Blue Max, in a car/plane hybrid that is capable of limited flight, usually just enough to leapfrog over racers or obstacles in its path. The Haybailer has a mounted machine gun which is used sporadically. The machine gun can fire bullets, pepper, and other substances. The Haybailer's transformation from plane to car seems to have significantly weakened its flying ability, and Max often has to bail out when the Haybailer breaks down.

Penelope Pitstop in the Compact Pussycat 5:

Penelope Pitstop (voiced by Janet Waldo) is the lone female among the Wacky Racers. She is a Southern Belle who drives the Compact Pussycat, a fancy pink car fitted out with all manner of girlie beauty supplies—effectively, a beauty parlour on wheels. Penelope often takes time during the race to maintain her appearance, which causes the other racers to lose ground when her gadgets malfunction. The other male racers are very chivalrous towards her, and rarely attack her car, sometimes even allowing her to pass them. Turbo Terrific driver Peter Perfect is particularly fond of her, frequently calling her "Pretty Penny." Penelope also had her own cartoon, The Perils of Penelpoe Pitstop, which featured the Ant Hill Mob.

Sergeant Blast and Private Meekly in the Army Surplus Special 6:

Two soldiers, one a sergeant (voiced by Daws Butler) and the other a private (voiced by Paul Winchell), racing in an armytank/jeep hybrid with a small steamroller‘s wheel attached to the front. The Army Surplus Special makes use of its tank facilities while racing, including its cannon, which can spin around to face forward or back, and the hatch, where Sergeant Blast rides. The Surplus Special is equipped with a supply of land mines and back-mounted thrusters. The Surplus Special fires its gun backwards to propel itself forwards for extra speed. As their names suggest, Private Meekly is very meek and merely follows orders without question, while Sergeant Blast "blasts" orders in a stereotypical drill-sergeant voice.

The Ant Hill Mob in the Bulletproof Bomb 7:

The Bulletproof Bomb (occasionally referred to as the "Roaring 20s") is a 1920s sedan, driven by a group of 7 pint-sized gangsters (a play on the Seven Dwarfs): leader Clyde (voiced by Paul Winchell), Ring-A-Ding (voiced by Don Messick), and five others. Clyde is a parody of Edward G. Robinson's character in the film Little Caeser and of the male half of Bonnie & Clyde. Their usual method of improving the speed of their car is "Getaway Power", which is achieved by extending their feet through the floor of the car and running, in a reference to The Flintstones. On occasion the Ant Hill Mob would use their tommy guns against the other racers.
The Ant Hill Mob re-appeared in the spin-off series The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, with Clyde in a silver outfit and his wingmen, with new names, wearing blue outfits and riding in a living car, Chugga-Boom. The Mob were the protagonists in this series, along with Penelope herself, and were constantly rushing to her rescue.

Luke and Blubber Bear in the Arkansas Chuggabug 8:

Luke (voiced by John Stephenson) is a Hillbilly who tends to drive steering with his feet while half-asleep; Blubber (also voiced by Stephenson) is his timid pet bear, clad in a scarf and early aviator's helmet with goggles. The Chuggabug is constructed of wood and is powered by a coal-fired pot-bellied stove in the rear of the vehicle. The stove can be prone to exploding, usually if another competitor blocks the exhaust. Luke tends to use low-tech means of improving the performance of his car. He pours various liquors into the stove for a quick speed boost (but the stove would often explode afterward). He has also been shown using various balloons and gum type traps.

Peter Perfect in the Turbo Terrific 9:

A gentleman driver (voiced by Daws Butler) driving a dragster. The Turbo Terrific, despite its name and Peter's adulation, is highly unreliable; it often falls to pieces in the middle of a race, usually after Peter praises it for how well it is doing. Peter Perfect has a crush on Penelope "Pretty Penny" Pitstop, who often returns his affections. The Turbo Terrific seems to be able to sprout an additional four rear wheels, giving eight wheels in total, for extra speed.

Rufus Ruffcut and Sawtooth in the Buzzwagon 10:

Rufus Ruffcut (voiced by Daws Butler) is a tough, muscle-bound lumberjack, while Sawtooth (voiced by Don Messick) is his anthropomorphic pet beaver. The Buzzwagon is a wagon made of logs, with buzzsaws for wheels, hence its name. The buzzsaws gave the car the ability to cut through almost anything, destroying the object in the process.

Every episode is introduced and commented on by an unseen Narrator (Dave Wilcock), who often communicates with the racers as they drive. The racers respond by speaking to the audience, breaking the Fourth Wall. Dick Dastardly has oddly nicknamed the Narrator 'Boopsie,' used as a female character's nickname in Doonesbury shortly thereafter.

The other characters seem to get on with each other, they are often seen (especially Pat Pending and usually Peter Perfect and Penelope Pitstop) helping each other out of traps set by Dastardly. They also at times use "dirty tricks" on each other (Army Surplus shooting other cars or Gruesome Twosome using their Dragon). Some of these tricks are as bad as Dastardly's, but they seem to get away with them.

Penelope Pitstop and the Ant Hill Mob were spun off into another cartoon series in 1969 titled The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. Also in 1969, Dick Dastardly and Muttley were given a spin-off series titled Dastardly & Mutley in their Flying machines. The series is sometimes mistakenly known as Stop The Pigeon, after the show's working title and theme song. Both series ran for two seasons.

The basic ideas behind Wacky Races and some of the characters were used again by Hanna-Barbera in later years:
  • The new character of Mumbly (star of the 1976 The Mumbly Cartoon Show) bears a strong resemblance to Muttley.
  • The new character of Captain Caveman (star of the 1977 Captain Caveman & The Teenagels series) bears a strong resemblance to the Slag Brothers.
  • In 1977, Mumbly (who, in contrast to his role as a detective on his solo series, is now depicted as a villain) and Dread Baron (who strongly resembles Dick Dastardly) became the leaders of the Really Rottens team on the Laff-A-Lympics cartoon, which featured three teams of Hanna-Barbera characters (including Mumbly's villainous "Really Rottens" team, Yogi Bear's "Yogi Yahooeys" team that consisted of many of his friends from Yogi's Gang, and Scooby Doo's "Scooby Doobies" team that included many of the crime-solving characters from that era, including Captain Caveman) competing in races and competitions around the world. However, in the Latin American version ofLaff-A-Lympics, the Dread Baron and Mumbly were credited as Dick Dastardly and Muttley.
  • The 1978 series Yogi's Space Race featured Hanna-Barbera stalwarts such as Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and others racing against each other throughout outer space while fending off a tall, thin villain (Phantom Phink) and his snickering dog (Sinister Sludge).
  • Dick Dastardly and Muttley returned in the 1985 series Yogi's Treasure Hunt as they competed in a treasure hunt against Yogi Bear and many of his prior "Yogi Yahooeys" teammates. Instead of driving the Mean Machine, Dastardly piloted a submarine called The SS Dirty Tricks and a World War 1 biplane in this series.
  • Dread Baron and Mumbly (once again replacing Dick Dastardly and Muttley) return to antagonize Yogi and many of his "Yogi Yahooeys" teammates in the 1987 film Yogi Bear & the Magical Flight of the Spruce Goose.
  • The 1990 syndicated series Wake, Rattle & Roll featured a segment called Fender Bender 500. It featured Dick Dastardly and Muttley (and a revamped "Mean Machine" that is renamed "Dirty Truckster") racing against Yogi Bear, Winsome Witch, Quick Draw McGraw, and other Hanna-Barbera stars.
  • In 1991, teenage versions of Dick Dastardly and Muttley appeared on the Yo Yogi! series with Yogi Bear, Boo-Boo Bear, Cindy Bear, Snagglepuss, and Huckleberry Hound.
  • In 2006, the pilot for a spin-off series titled Wacky Races Forever was produced for Cartoon Network. The series depicted the sons and daughters of the original racers competing against each other, including Parker and Piper Perfect, the children of now married Penelope Pitstop and Peter Perfect. Other characters included Dick Dastardly and Muttley (working for Mr. Viceroy), the Slag Brothers, Professor Pat Pending, and a teenage version of the Gruesome Twosome. This series was not picked up by Cartoon Network.
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