Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races: More than meets the eye
This Throwback Thursday offering features not only the complete Hanna-Barbera series but intriguing insight into the show. There’s more to it than your childhood remembers.
To start things off, let’s get the 800 pound gorilla out of the room, shall we?
If you’re a fan of Wacky Races this won’t come as a surprise to you. If you’re a casual observer or you’re new to the show, consider this your only warning: The next paragraph reveals a series spoiler.
Ready? All right, here goes. Dick Dastardly? His sidekick Muttley? And Dastardly’s race car The Mean Machine? They never won a single Wacky Race. The closest Dick Dastardly ever got to winning was a fourth place finish. (And the reason he didn’t win that particular race, one which he could have won rather handily? His narcissism got in the way — he stopped to pose for photos before crossing the finish line.)
Just goes to show you bad guys don’t win.
Hanna-Barbera’s unique series aired from 1968-1970 and this particular collection is packed with all 34 original episodes plus a nice dose of extras. 400+ minutes of high speed hijinks featuring the likes of evil Dick Dastardly, the snickering Muttley, luscious Penelope Pitstop, The Slag Brothers and all their rivals.
The appeal of this set is obviously in the nostalgic value it possesses. But there’s a lot more to glean within it. As an example, look closely at the scenery in each episode. Often interesting, you’ll appreciate the effort put in those backgrounds. There are a lot of lush features and wily consideration put into them. Speaking of effort, pay special attention to the added extras entrenched in the design of the vehicles and what they’re capable of doing. Each successive episode reveals added details about them, effectively bringing them to life. You have character/layout designer Jerry Eisenberg and production designer Iwao Takamoto to thank for that. (Both gentlemen also discuss details of the series in the extras found on the discs.)
Many of the delights while watching the stories unfold came courtesy of the terrific voice characterizations on the show — Daws Butler, Don Messick, John Stephenson, Janet Waldo, Paul Winchell and the show’s narrator Dave Willock. I’ve met many of them over the years at various conventions and events. (Only two are still around today — Waldo, who voiced the lovely Penelope Pitstop, and Stephenson, who not only spoke for several Wacky Races characters but is the singular voice of Mr. Slate from The Flintstones.) Not only do these actors give specificity to the characters they play but they enhance the talents of the crew who visually fleshed them out. Together the cast and crew have engrained Wacky Races’ characters into our memories. There’s no getting Muttley’s snickering out of your head when you think of him. Dick Dastardly? You’d know that mustache twirl anywhere. Penelope Pitstop’s endearing southern drawl? Classic. Each is special and unique. Want to be “wowwed” even more by the actors behind the voices? Do a little research on any of them and you’ll be amazed at the characters who pop up as part of their repertoires, characters you’re certain to be familiar with.
Additionally, there were some nice asides in Wacky Races you won’t see in other animated programs. It broke the fourth wall with characters talking to the narrator. (Dastardly did this episode in and episode out.) The show’s credits were used as comedic “props” in episodes and interacted with the characters, something innovative at the time. You’d be hard pressed to see this anywhere else in kids’ programming, let alone in any other show back in the 60s and 70s.
The extras in the set? A history of the series, a look at a few of the spinoffs Wacky Races spawned (Dastardly And Muttley In Their Flying Machines and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop with many other HB series giving nod and/or using various characters from the show), “pop up” trivia and commentaries from several of the show’s crew. These commentaries reveal some real jewels — not so much in the behind-the-scenes aspects, but in the creators’ personal memories of their times on the show itself and working with the Hanna-Barbera production staff. Additionally, you’ll learn some rather eye-opening details about the legacy of Wacky Races, one such item being its international appeal 40+ years after its debut, testament to its appeal and staying power.
This box set comes closed-captioned, in English, French and Spanish, subtitled, full color and with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The collection reviewed was originally released in 2004 with many other incarnations coming before it, but none of them as complete as this one.