Wacky Races: The Complete Series
May 25, 2005
Wacky Races debuted on CBS on September 14, 1968 and was Hanna-Barbera’s animated reworking of the Blake Edwards film, The Great Race (1965) that featured a slapstick journey around the world during the early stages of the automobile. Wacky Races was a short lived cartoon only lasting 13 episodes broadcast over two seasons. It featured an ambitious collection of cartoon characters (designed by Jerry Eisenberg and Iwao Takamoto) pitted against one another in a cross country contest. Every episode would feature a race in a different state. Even though everyone was trying to best each other, Dick Dastardly and his snickering sidekick, Muttley, were the main villains of the series and drove the appropriately named Mean Machine. Ostensibly, if anyone could be called the hero of the series, it probably would be Penelope Pitstop, driver of The Compact Pussycat. Not surprisingly, both characters went on to their own spin-off shows.
The first episode, “See Saw to Arkansas,” immediately immerses the viewer in the middle of the race and features an obvious parody of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The narrator lets the audience know who is in the lead just like an actual televised race. Each racer has their own uniquely customized vehicle that reflects and personifies their character. For example, the Ant Hill Mob drives The Bullet Proof Bomb, a vintage ‘40s roadster typical of gangsters. The Gruesomes car, The Creepy Coupe, looks like the Munsters’ mansion merged with a hot rod. Each vehicle gives their racer an advantage (or disadvantage) depending on the terrain. Each one has its own unique gadgets that are used to try and get the upper hand on everyone else.
To a certain degree, Wacky Races is reminiscent of the old Road Runner cartoons with lots of inventive roadside mishaps and plenty of slapstick action as vehicles are squashed by huge trees or boulders send drivers crashing through the roof. In one episode, Dastardly even uses Wile E. Coyote’s old standby, dynamite, to cause a landslide and send the other racers on a dangerous detour.
Two episodes on the first disc feature a “Wacky Facts Trivia Track” option that allows various factoids to appear on the bottom of the screen. For someone new to this show this is an invaluable extra. For example, the track points out that the show did not use an opening theme song as is commonly done, opting instead for a voiceover narration to establish the characters and the premise.
The second disc features a 20-minute retrospective featurette entitled, “Rearview Mirror: A Look Back at Wacky Races.” The show was a response to the concern of increasing violence in cartoons and a conscious decision to go back to more slapstick humour. Interestingly, many of the voice actors came from a radio background and often voiced multiple characters. This is a nice, affectionate look back at this forgotten show.
The third disc includes four audio commentaries for “Ballpoint, Penn. Or Bust”, “Fast Track to Hackensack”, “Overseas Hi-Way Race” and “The Ski Resort Road Race.” The commentators include Jerry Eisenberg, Iwao Takamoto, Earl Kress and Scott Shaw. It’s a good mix as two newer animators are teamed-up with two veterans who actually worked on the show. Eisenberg and Takamoto try to remember who designed which vehicles on the show as they laugh and joke with each other. Everyone talks about the style and look of the episodes. For example, ‘60s psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll posters influenced some of the background art in the opening credits.
Finally, there is “Spin-Out Spin-Offs,” an 11-minute look at Dick Dastardly and Penelope Pitstop’s own shows after Wacky Races finished its run. Penelope’s show featured her going through melodramas in each episode while she traveled around the world, getting in trouble. On Dastardly’s show, he went airborne, flying tweaked World War I airplanes and chasing Yankee Doodle Pigeon. He, of course, failed miserably. His show also featured the insanely catchy theme song, “Stop That Pigeon,” which the Reverend Horton Heat covered so well on the Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits album.
The simple premise of the show does tend to get repetitive after a few episodes and it is easy to see why the show didn’t last any longer than it did. However, there is a lot of fun to be had in the simple concept and it is the characters and their wild vehicles that makes the show work as well as it does. Fans of this series will enjoy the gorgeous transfers of each episode and the fun extras that certainly keep in the spirit of the show.