I have sort of a love/hate relationship with Hannah-Barbera, the creators of this ancient work of art. I mean, sure, they've single-handedly defined an entire decade (or decades, depending on how nice you want to be) of animation, but at the same time, they're pretty renowned for basically cranking show after show after show and being one of the harbingers of the animation dark ages. They have great characters, but for every Huckleberry Hound and Tom and Jerry, you have pale knockoffs like Goober and the Ghost Chasers (hint: Goober is a dog) or just plain failtastic ideas like The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang.
That being said, I can't bring myself to hate Wacky Races. This was truly one of Hannah-Barbera's better ideas and I like it more than I like Scooby-Doo. Sorry Scooby, but your antics just can't top Pat Pending's Convert-a-Car no matter how hard you try.
For those of you who don't know about Wacky Races (which would make me sad if you didn't, because it's one of the landmark shows of the 60's and 70's), it was a 17 episode racing show produced in the late 60's that was wacky, pretty much. One of the things that made it unique was that, unlike a lot of Hannah-Barbera's other shows, it had a pretty big cast. It had eleven vehicles and twenty three characters spread among these cars, so if you got bored with one guy, there was always at least twenty other racers to watch instead. It was formulaic, but then again, racing as a whole has a formula to it so you end up not minding too much. Probably because you're watching a cartoon that has mobsters, scientists, cavemen, vampires, and freaking Dick Dastardly. A little formula isn't going to deter you too much from watching someone in a biplane shoot a gun at some hillbilly on the road.
And, like Scooby-Doo, the reason I'm so familiar with this show is because, before the Cartoon Cartoons were created, Cartoon Network used to air reruns of this show all the freakin' time in the early 90's, when the channel was first created. So much that I'm surprised this show only had 17 full episodes.
|Pictured: The inspiration for Mario Kart. Don't deny it.|
That being said, the easiest way to cover a show is to look at its first episode, (or in this case, the first half of the first episode, since each episode contains two 11 minute segments) so let's see how our loveable racers deal with their most insidious obstacle yet, for they're going to dive into the dark, clammy, largely unexplored evil that is...Arkansas.
Let's look at an episode that literally has nothing to do with actual Seesaws and just made up a pun on the fly, See-Saw to Arkansas.
Availability: On DVD
Before I talk about the show proper, I'm going to take the time and introduce every car individually, in order of how the intro introduces them (which doesn't introduce them by number, because that would be silly!), since this show did have a very large cast with very unique cars and I can't expect anybody to instantly remember them off the top of their heads. Be sure to grab a cup of coffee, because with eleven race cars, this will take a while.
|You wish your chin was as epic as his.|
He also has a crush on Penelope Pitstop, who helpfully drives a car called the Pussycat that has big fat lips on the front. I have to wonder what it would look like if those two cars got into a front end collision with one another.
Although, to be fair, he's one of the few drivers actually driving a vehicle built for racing. You'll see in a moment.
|"Trees can go to hell!"|
So yeah, he's basically a lumberjack and he's okay, because he sleeps all night and works all day. Expect rugged things to come out of his larynx. Also, there is no way this thing is street legal, because it has honest to god buzzsaws for wheels. I'm not even going to question the mindboggling physics or even how he manages to get it down the road without the blades wearing down, because just think of the street damage!
|Beetle Bailey goes to the races.|
These two get the distinction of being the worst racers, because compared to the rest of the racers (I'm not even counting Dick Dastardly because he has a clean 0-0-0 streak), Blast has the least amount of wins to his name. His car has only been in the Top Three four times in the entire series' run, which is really sad when there's a good 34 races in this show. Maybe racing actual vehicles in a machine running on caterpillar tracks wasn't such a smart move.
But yeah, they're not very interesting. It would be wise to just ignore these two and let the grown-ups do the winning for them.
|I think the number one reason people join the mob is to get sweet rides like this.|
And for some reason even though that car could easily seat all of them comfortably, they all choose to bunch up in the front. I'm guessing it's because that's where the air conditioner is.
Out of the four cars that placed First Place four times, they're the ones that placed the most in second place, so some people consider them to be the winners of the first Wacky Races. Also, they were protagonists in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, making them one of the few examples where there were characters from the mafia driving around, firing off machine guns...and they were heroes. I wonder if Hannah-Barbera got any mysterious unmarked packages in the mail full of flowers and presents for being one of the few people to depict the mob in such a positive light.
|Never build a motor vehicle while drunk.|
His car probably has the most appealing design out of the lot (well, that, and The Ant Hill Mob's car; I freaking love 1920's cars) because you can tell the designers just went nuts on making the single most ridiculous thing on three wheels. His car has parts from all forms of transportation, including boat parts. Pat Pending is a credit to his fellow scientist.
But despite that, he doesn't go the full mile and turn his car into some sort of death bot capable of smashing the other cars to bits, probably because he's full of sportsmanship as much as he full of science. No seriously, this man will oftentimes step on the brakes and then use his brilliant invention to help the other cars. All of his car's features are purely defensive, even though he can fully exercise his right to use lethal force considering The Ant Hill Mob uses tommy guns and Sergeant Blast has military artillery. He's just that noble of a person, I guess, and considering how mad scientists are often portrayed negatively in cartoons, we should be thankful for this upstanding guy in our roster.
|Man, that car has some shapely hips.|
Since she's the only person on the track with boobs, the male racers will avoid shooting at her and will often let her pass them. I love how absolutely useless her windshield and her umbrella are too, when you stop and think about the speed she's typically driving.
She also got a spinoff called The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, where her best friends with The Ant Hill Mob. Yes, my friends. After all of that flirting with Peter Perfect, she ends up with a gang of mobsters. Them's the breaks.
|"Back in Oog's day, things weren't so commercial."|
Although, personally, them being here just raises a lot of questions. Save for the anthropomorphic beaver and the midget gangsters who are still trapped in Prohibition Times, up until now, the racers were pretty grounded in reality. And then, suddenly, we get anachronistic neanderthals. They shouldn't even be able to survive in our modern atmosphere with these strange, exotic germs assaulting their ancient immune systems, let alone be able to work a rock-based form of our modern technology! How do they exist.
Incidentally, wanna hear something that's wildly unfair? If the whole Wacky Races series had been scored according to the Grand Prix point scoring of the period, the Slag Brothers would've been the champions. Think about how unfair it is, the fact that a 1920's sedan, a dragster, a tank, and car that can turn into an airplane were beaten by a freaking rock with an engine inside! The hell.
|Don't even try to sing The Monster Mash in front of them. They will not be responsible for their actions.|
Anyways, The Gruesome Twosome consists of Big Gruesome and Little Gruesome. While Big Gruesome doesn't look too monstrous save for his size (and that could just be the factor of an overactive pituitary gland), Little Gruesome is a purple-skinned vampire whose powers seem to be the ability to summon an eternal raincloud over his car and various horror-themed monsters out of that belfry attached to the roof of his car.
Since anyone who can summon a dragon out of their car is instantly cool in my book, keep an eye out for these guys if Pat Pending or The Ant Hill Mob are nowhere to be seen.
|"Suck it, gravity!"|
What is also disappointing for The Red Max is that, in his attempt to make his airplane into a car that can qualify for the Wacky Races, he nearly completely robbed his aircraft of its ability to fly. What Red Max did was basically clip the wings of a vehicle that most people don't even get the opportunity to drive. Good going there, dude.
|"Haters gonna hate!"|
When I was a kid, I thought Luke was kind of boring and always mixed him up with Rufus, but now that I'm older, I just find this idea radically ingenious. That a good look at the jalopy Luke is piloting; that thing is clearly the most unsafe ride in the history of existence, and yet this barefooted slack-jawed yokel often drives this thing while asleep. The fact that he's still alive is a testament to this man's resourcefulness.
Oh, and he often powers that sucker up by pouring whiskey into the stove pot engine strapped to the back of that thing. Again, this guy is still alive and with all of his body parts intact. Luke spits in your book learnings, you yankees, because he can drive with his eyes closed and still beat a dragster, two airplanes, and a tank.
|Apparently pure evil wears a locomotive engineer hat and a trenchcoat.|
Anyways, they probably have the best car, because they can get miles ahead of everyone else and still have time to stop the car and set up an elaborate trap involving rigging dynamite or putting some sort of trap that will destroy the other racers. It's a set rule that Dick Dastardly must never win, because he can't just race like a normal person. It's his own hubris and constant cheating that is the result of his failures, not the other racers. It's kind of sad when you think about it. In modern times, there'd be an episode where Dick Dastardly dives into his past and gives us a reason why he's become the monster he is now, but since this is Hannah-Barbera, we're going to assume that the "Dick" in his name also describes his personality.
And now, with those incredibly long, almost gratuitously lengthy introductions that no one's going to read out of the way, time to hit the show proper. Helpfully, the first thing we see is the actual route the Wacky Racers are going down, and it turns out they're neck-deep in hillbilly country because they have to drive various unpaved roads to get to Mustard Spread, Arkansas. Since typing up "Mustard Spread" in Google Maps only gave me the results to various sandwich shops, I'm going to assume that, if this town did exist back in the 60's, it certainly doesn't exist now.
By the way, check out the other town names hidden in there. I'm the most fond of Villville and Blatt. I would sell my right foot to live in a town called Blatt, so long as Blatt had Internet access and a Target.
We tune into the actual racers, and the very first thing we see happening between combatants is Dick Dastardly cheating, this time employing some sort of extendable nose cone thing (which, judging from the angle of it, is clipping through the rest of the car) to completely smash the Slag Brothers' car into bits, which then form into the title for this cartoon. Kind of a gruesome way to start an episode there, Hannah-Barbera, having Dick Dastardly getting crushed by a boulder/car hybrid. Imagine tuning into this show, probably because of word-of-mouth, and seeing four people die onscreen within the first ten seconds. It probably made quite an impression.
But hey, it lets the kiddies know that they're not dealing with your basic run-of-the-mill Scooby-Doo where it's just some guy in a mask. The Wacky Racers play for keeps!
|Rocks fall. Everybody dies.|
|Or they're the world's first T-1000s. Either way, I'm scared.|
|Okay, I am so naming a heavy metal band "Horror Power".|
And before you ask, I'm not going to point out every single power-up the Wacky Racers use, because then this blog post will read like I've turned into some sort of racing announcer. I'm just pointing Dragon Power out because this was the one powerup I looked forward to as a kid. Even if now I question whether the dragon is always in the belfry or is conveniently stored in some sort of pocket dimension.
...aaaand I just wasted two whole paragraphs on a kind of pointless sight gag. Good going, me.
|What do dragons have to do with movie monsters anyways?|
...right before he falls off a bridge and lands into a large body of water. Hey, idiot. Typically when we pilot aircraft, we tend to face ahead and look where we're going. At this point, I hope he drowns and we get that pirate-themed racer I just made up in my head.
|And then he gets shot down by a white beagle riding a doghouse.|
I think part of the reason I'm going to let this assault of stock footage slide on by is the announcer character, an unseen force of nature that both does his job as a man who has to point out who's leading and manages to let his feelings be heard in the way he describes the racers. This is especially apparent when he mentions that The Ant Hill Mob is in last place (although you'd think landing in a river would put The Red Max in last), because he almost sounds like he's mocking them with the tone of voice he uses. Sounds like someone's going to end up getting fitted with some nice concrete shoes if he keeps talking like that. They still haven't found the previous announcer's body.
|Gangsters have an inability to respect personal space.|
|Because men picking up a car and running is somehow faster than driving at maximum speed. Of course.|
Luckily, the coupe can tap into the police radios and they happen to hear this critically insane man blabbing to his fellow cop buddies that he's going to chase the mob down on his piddly motorcycle, which offers absolutely no protection to his body against bullets. No back-up arrives, so I'm just going to assume that the Arkansas police force just cleared his desk and applied the "Help Wanted" sign to the front window.
|"I know I'm only supposed to be supervising road traffic, but I'm confident |
I can fight the mafia with my bare hands."
|And they can only watch in horror as that beautiful antique car crashes into a rock cliff and explodes.|
And yes, if I'm going to be covering Wacky Races episodes, I might as well point out the logic fail on Dick Dastardly's part. Mainly, the fact that he's far enough in the lead to stand around in binoculars and plant a trap for all of the racers behind him when he could just be driving his stupid car and cross the finish line fairly. Although I can be optimistic and assume the guy took a shortcut, instantly disqualifying him. He is a dick, after all.
...although that never stops the other racers from using shortcuts. I think the judges just really hated this guy.
|"Man, bird watching sucks. I'm taking up a new hobby."|
I just love the music for this scene by the way. You know that stereotypical frantic old-timey piano music when some woman tied to the railroad tracks is going to get run over? That's exactly what plays while Muttley is burying the dynamite. This cartoon doesn't just use cliches; it embraces them. Hannah-Barbera; while Warner Bros wrote the book on slapstick cliches, we certainly know how to read it!
Also, I sure hope those rocky mountain walls aren't some sort of historical landmark in Arkansas or else Dick Dastardly is basically destroying a national treasure for the sake of being an asshole to his fellow drivers.
And here's another classic gag, one that should be instantly familiar to any fan of the Roadrunner cartoons. The dynamite doesn't go off when the racers drive past it, and it only chooses to go off when Dick Dastardly is standing right over the dynamite complaining about how his trap went so horribly wrong without sensing the irony in his particular situation. Come on, we were all expecting it. What I don't get is how the dynamite is still able to go off even though nine different cars (including a giant several ton tank and a car with freaking buzzsaw wheels) ran right over it, but then again, who knows how durable bright red sticks of cartoon dynamite are.
For some reason, it's kind of fun seeing this gag just played completely straight. If there's one thing older cartoons can get right, it's cartoon violence. Nowadays, a cartoon wouldn't even think of using something like this and, if it did, it would then try to subvert it or do some sort of "Oh, look how cliche this situation is! We're pointing it out right in the dialogue! How clever!" thing that pops up all the damn time recently in modern cartoons.
And yes, standing right next to dynamite somehow doesn't reduce Dick Dastardly into a fine red mist even though that same explosion was able to cause an avalanche. It gets established pretty early that our red glove-toting madman is impervious to all forms of damage and is basically immortal as well as immoral.
|Man, that dynamite made his clothes all furry and made all of his body hair disappear.|
|Oh thanks, Dick Dastardly. That road is the only way some of these small towns in Arkansas |
can get contact from the outside world. Thanks a whole damn lot.
...also, I hate the fact that Pat Pending is so honest and is going to follow the road anyways, because if he has a completely working aircraft in a car race, he can basically just float over everybody while flashing the middle finger to The Red Max.
|"Yep, I'm just going to let this boulders continue blocking the road! Eat it, locals!"|
I also just noticed that it's nearly halfway through the episode and not once have I spotted Rufus in his Buzzwagon anywhere. And Red Max has been missing since he fell off that bridge. I'm finding their absence deeply unsettling.
|Nobody likes a showoff, Pat Pending.|
|"Ya sure dis is where ya buried the stiffs, Clyde?"|
...and now I just realized that I kind of need a horror movie with this premise in my life. There's too many films where college students or drunken teenagers find a mysterious shack in the middle of the woods only to get picked off one by one by the monster; they can totally make a fresh spin on the horror genre by having the victims be a gang of mobsters. I guarantee it will kill at the box office.
|Or it turns out the house is occupied by porridge eating bears. Either way, they're screwed.|
It turns out the Ant Hill Mob found the house of the Seven Dwarfs.
Excuse me. I'm going to repeat what I just said. The Ant Hill Mob found the house of the Seven Dwarfs. Mobsters found the house of the Seven Dwarfs. In Arkansas. The famous dwarfs in the storybook live in Arkansas of all places.
...what. WHAT. You lost me, cartoon.
|Oh geez, the eye-searing pain. Take a color theory class, colorists!|
Uh, cartoon? I have a question. What does this have to do with Arkansas? I was expecting like lumber mills, Little Rock, or the Mississippi River. Not criminals dressing up like fairy tale creatures. Even if I did like the little animation they do where the gang just kind of splits up and runs in multiple directions.
|"If only we had some sort of gun to defend ourselves!"|
Also, Penelope? Abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere. You probably shouldn't be driving up to it and knocking on the door. Just saying...
|You know, logically, if they're really off-course and stopping at houses, they should be |
disqualified from the race...
I sure hope the real Seven Dwarfs don't mind that some smelly crooks stole their clothing in order to hide from the law. Even if they look just darling in those little hats.
|I'm just picturing the Seven Dwarfs just slaving away for hours, making sure that |
their house is the perfect shade of retina-searing orange.
Also, it's mighty convenient there were seven mobsters for seven dwarfs. It probably would've ruined the illusion if there was only six of them or if they had one guy too many and he had to prance around in his underwear.
|"I hate street performers."|
Oh, they gave him directions alright.
|They seem trustworthy enough...|
Looking back on the situation, it's actually kind of dark if you sit and dwell on about it. What looks like a harmless sight gag is honestly how some people die whenever there's a mud slide or if someone accidentally drives their car into mud deep enough to suck the vehicle under. And The Ant Hill Mob drives up to this giant patch of mud and laughs as two people they know are hopelessly trapped in their vehicle and are sinking at a pretty fast rate thanks to directions they gave the poor sap. There's even a long scene where Muttley laughs, delirious from the lack of oxygen, while his face disappears underneath the mud. It's pretty chilling.
Yes, we're basically watching criminals murder someone in cold blood and then drive off laughing. And they get away with it. Ladies and gentlemen, this is why The Ant Hill Mob is amazing.
|Ironically, they make better villains than the show's designated villain.|
Also, the looping animation for several different tracks creates the optical illusion that some of the racers somehow manifested doppelganger cars on the roads. And as a Mario Kart racer who just hated Rainbow Road in Mario Kart Wii, just looking at that clover leaf and its lack of guard rails makes me cringe.
|You know what Dick Dastardly needs? A blue shell.|
Oh right. Hannah-Barbera. They never make sense. I should probably just not dwell on it too much, unless you want to hear my theory on how there are really multiple Dick Dastardlys (either clones or just insane cult members) placed at given points of every single race because of some sort of secret organization trying to put an end to the Wacky Races. Shut up, I'm totally right.
|Oh geez, his chin is shaped like a boot.|
And how did we go from a heavily wooded area with cottages, dwarfs, and crap to a giant metropolis with sprawling road structures? Man, Arkansas can do anything!
|"You know, I could just be taking advantage of my giant lead and driving my racing vehicle over the finish line, |
but I'd rather give away my entire villain scheme and look like an idiot."
Anyways, this scene kind of defies words, because it's just so bizarre and out there. Rufus runs over some road bumps (notice how we're back at heavily wooded areas and unpaved roads again?) and the car starts to fall apart, so Sawtooth has to hammer it back together like some sort of miracle levitating beaver thing. And then he spends way too long trying to pull a nail out of a lumberjack's ass. This scene just gave me cancer.
|Gentlemen, do that after the race!|
Again, I'm just going to point out the powers that I find extremely noteworthy, and in this segment. There's two of them. The first one is "Bat Power", used by what else but the Creepy Coupe. It involves the little vampire actually getting out of the vehicle, attaching cables to his stomach, jumping out of the car, and flapping his arms while flipping the bird to Issac Newton.
Why am I noting it? Because just picture what happens if he happens to get tired and falls to the ground. Vampires can be killed in many ways, and I'm sure getting run over at racing speeds is one of them.
...and how the hell is he handling the sunlight?
|"Hey, thanks for not helping and just sitting there!"|
Allow Peter Perfect to answer that question for you.
|"My rigid grill structure is bearing down on your unprotected cargo door."|
What kind of confused me is the announcer's distress at this train and the fact that now none of the racers will ever get to the finish line now. Uh, unless the train stops and sits there, it's bound to pass through eventually. Not sure why this is a problem.
|Everybody`s doing a brand new dance now,|
(Come on baby, do The Loco-Motion)
I know you`ll get to like it if you give it a chance now...
And Dick Dastardly happens to get run over by every single rider, because he was stupid enough to be on the other side of the tracks and still not take advantage of the fact that he's in the lead. Dude, seriously, the whole point of you cheating is so that you get an unfair advantage, right? So why don't you hop in your car and actually drive after you get your advantage? You had a train stop the other contestants! You had a big enough opening to cross the finish line and get first place!
Now I know what Dick Dastardly's gimmick is. He's supposed to teach the young children watching this how to swear at their TV.
|I love how Rufus's reaction to a man in front of his vehicle is to drive faster. What an ass.|
But hey, at least he's actually driving instead of getting out of the vehicle and pulling out his binoculars.
In fact, he's even tied with...wait a second, Red Max? But he fell into a ravine and disappeared for most of the episode! Get back in last place where you belong, Red Max. Nobody likes you or your stupid laugh!
|Now would be a good time to actually use your power-ups, guys!|
Although I should be happy the Creepy Coupe got second place and Rufus got third. I'm pretty sure an episode where The Red Max, those boring army guys, and The Slag Brothers all take the top three spots would be an episode devoid of all that is wholesome and good, an abomination designed to suck out the happiness out of everything.
|You know what else is sad? The fact that the Arkansas Chuggabug can't even win a race in its native state.|
|It's kind of poetic. He loses to his own ego.|
|"TOO BAD. DICK DASTARDLY TIME."|
The Moral of this Cartoon
If you come across a house in the middle of Arkansas full of little men in purple outfits, dancing around and claiming they're The Seven Dwarfs while using thick Chicago accents, call the cops.
Well, okay, obviously this cartoon is outdated in several areas, but it's considered a classic for a reason.
Wacky Races is one of those shows I like to call "dated but timeless". It's kind of a oxymoron, but hear me out. This is a show that you'll instantly get everything regardless of what decade it is, but the animation instantly places it in the Hannah-Barbera age. I feel it's a great example of what was being produced in this era, and for the most part, the jokes still work.
Plus think of it this way. I was way more embarrassed rewatching He-Man than I was watching this show, which is twenty years older than He-Man. Think about that.
I like that, for a cartoon about racing, there are segments in the cartoon that aren't about the actual race. As you can tell from the beginning and the ending, just watching cars doing various gimmicks isn't very exciting, so the fact that we actually see the Ant Hill Mob getting pursued by cops or the Dick Dastardly plots is really fun. But again, it relies on how much you can stomach recycled footage, sort of formulaic plots (Dick Dastardly must always cheat), and Hannah-Barbera level physics and physical humor.
Really, you just have to approach this with the fact that it's a made-for-TV production from the 1960's. Animation has evolved since then and has no need for so much recycling, but for what it's worth, they do quite a lot with what they have. Quite a few of the characters are really fun and I really like the art design coupled with the character and vehicle designs. Hell, the fact that you can tell all the vehicles and characters apart when there's so many should speak wonders for how good this character design still reads.
So again, like Scooby-Doo, don't expected fully inbetweened works of art that present subtle political commentary and constantly hang a lampshade on what is cartoon physics, but if you're looking for a fun way to burn 10 minutes, by all means, watch an episode. It's a great 60's show.