Wacky Races, a cartoon series created by Hanna Barbera, was first broadcast on 14 September, 1968. Hanna Barbera is a cartoon production company formed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera in 1957 in the US, after they met while working at MGM studios, Joe doing drawings and Bill doing scripts. Hanna Barbera productions produced many famous cartoons, which have retained their popularity since aired in the '50s and '60s. One such cartoon is Wacky Races.
Wacky Races was based on films such as Monte Carlo or Bust, which generally involve frantic cross-country car rallies. The teams race against each other over various terrains and in all sorts of weather to secure victory. They all compete for the same title: The World's Wackiest Racer.
There are 11 teams all together, numbered from 00 to 10. They are:
01 - The Boulder-mobile - driven by the Slagg brothers Rock and Gravel, who were apparently based on Captain Caveman, another cartoon character. The car is a giant rock which is never capable of particularly astonishing speeds, yet they often succeeded by sheer determination and momentum.
02 - The Creepy Coupe - driven by the Gruesome Twosome, Big and L'il. Their car is basically a giant haunted house, with a dragon living in the tower which occasionally flaps its wings and flies them into the lead. They bear more than a passing resemblence to The Addams Family.
03 - The Convert-a-car - driven by Professor Pat Pending. The ingenious Professor has a truly extraordinary car: it is capable of flying, walking and transforming itself into any shape imaginable at the touch of a button.
04 - The Crimson Haybailer - driven by the Red Max. Based on the Red Baron, the infamous German flying ace of World War I, the car is actually a World War II biplane, painted bright red with a machine-gun on the front.
05 - The Pink Compact aka The Compact Pussycat - driven by Penelope Pitstop. The heiress has a pretty pink car, but don't be fooled - she can drive as well as anyone. The car has countless amazing contraptions which keep her looking glamorous while she keeps both eyes on the road. She also has the advantage of having two teams perfectly willing to rescue her: Peter Perfect and The Ant Hill Mob.
06 - The Army Surplus Special - driven by Meekley and Sarge. Well, actually Meekley does all the driving, while Sarge looks out of the top shouting orders. The car is a tank, complete with cannon and caterpillar tracks.
07 - The Bullet Proof Bomb - driven by The Ant Hill Mob, consisting of Danny, Ring-A-Ding, Kurby, Rug-Bug, Benny, Mac, Clyde and Willy. They are diminutive Chicago gansters who, as well as having a race to compete in, have the added distraction of rescuing Penelope Pitstop and evading the police.
08 - The Arkansas Chug-a-bug - driven by Luke and Blubber Bear. This car amazingly manages to keep pace, which, considering it's powered by a very old steam boiler, is impressive. Luke barely bats an eyelid at anything, while Blubber bear is a permanent nervous wreck.
09 - The Turbo Terrific - driven by Peter Perfect, the one with the ego. He's always on the lookout for an opportunity to rescue Penelope Pitstop and impress her with his good looks and charm. He's basically a caricature of every square-jawed hunk anywhere.
10 - The Buzz Wagon - driven by Rufus Ruffcut, assisted by Sawtooth the beaver. This car has circular saws serving as wheels, and is made of wood, to drive the point home that Rufus is a tough lumberjack. It doesn't do to mess them about, as they get rather irritable.
00 - The Mean Machine, driven by Dastardly and Muttley the dog. Dick Dastardly is the baddie of the series, and the only one who resorts to cheating. His wicked schemes are always foiled at the last minute, causing him to let out his trademark curse of 'Drat, drat and double-drat!' to the sound of his sidekick Muttley's characteristic wheezing laugh. The Mean Machine is impressive to behold: it has rockets at the back, and spikes on the wheels. It also has a nasty point on the front, just to make it look as menacing as possible.
Instead of a theme tune, Wacky Races has a commentator guiding the viewer through all the cars at the start of the race. He then explains that Dastardly is chaining the cars to a post, and there is a false start when all the cars try to pull away but are not able to move because of the chains. Dastardly tries to accelerate away leaving all the other cars tied up, but shifts into the wrong gear and hits the post, shaking the chain loose and freeing all the other cars. The Mean Machine is left motionless while the race, and the episode, starts.
The venue for the race is always somewhere in North America, but that doesn't prevent the teams from meeting various characters from other countries, such as the Yeti. The climate varies from desert to snow-covered, and the terrain is different from race to race: flat roads to very steep mountains.
The laws of cartoon physics apply even less vigorously than in other cartoons, with things tending to keep their own shape (except the convert-a-car) but with no 'get-out clauses' like painting tunnels which become real, no animals which can hold conversations1 and no outright defiance of the laws of real-life physics. The Wacky Races world, though bizarre, always functions like the real world, with the exception of the people, whose behavior is abstract to say the least and is more than an exaggeration of reality: it tends to depart from it altogether.
There is always a sub-plot involving one of the teams, and there is always a plot line involving one of Dastardly's schemes. Dastardly generally drives far ahead of the other cars and sets up an ambush for them. The question has been raised that if Dastardly can get so far ahead of the others, why not just drive a normal race and win it like that, but of course that would defeat the object. He is a cheat, that is what he does. The scheme is always foiled at the last minute. Generally, the Mean Machine is accelerating towards the finish line, but stops a couple of yards short of it. Dastardly then watches, cursing away, while the other cars race over the line and leaving him last.
There have been two Wacky Races spin-offs:
The Perils of Penelope Pitstop
A popular series aired in 1969, it centres around Penelope being heiress to millions, an issue only touched upon during Wacky Races. Penelope's evil guardian, Sylvester Sneekly is after her fortune, and, under the secret identity of 'The Hooded Claw', he concocts various plots to relieve her of her inheritance, accompanied by the Bully Brothers, his henchmen.
However, she was always aided and rescued by The Ant Hill Mob, now consisting of Clyde, Dum Dum, Zippy, Pockets, Snoozy, Softly and Yak Yak, and also featuring the Chug-a-Boom, the new version of the Bullet Proof Bomb complete with a personality. The series was a homage to The Perils of Pauline, a series of silent films.
Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines
Aired at the same time as The Perils of Penelope Pitstop and based on Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, this spin-off features Dastardly, accompanied by Muttley, who has retired from the races and is now in the army, controlling the Vulture Squad, whose one task is 'to stop the pigeon'. The series is best known for its unforgettable theme, the 'Stop the Pigeon' song, and for that reason the series is known by that name.
- Dastardly as commander
- Muttley as a pilot with a medal fixation
- Zilly, a cowardly pilot who tries to escape every episode
- Klunk, an inventor with an inability to talk properly but a wonderful line in bizarre planes
- Yankee Doodle Pigeon, a carrier-pigeon who they are continually trying to catch
- The General, who is never seen but who always phones just when they are all in trouble.
There are also short cartoons within each episode, such as Magnificent Muttley, featuring Muttley daydreaming that he is rescuing his girlfriend from a villain who has more than a passing resemblence to Dick Dastardly.
Yogi Bear had several of his own unsuccessful spin-offs which bore more than a passing resemblence to Wacky Races. Yogi's Space Race was a flop, which featured the same format as Wacky Races, except it was held in space, even featuring a villian with an uncanny likeness to you-know-who. However, the audience was not fooled: they knew a cheap imitation when they saw it. The other Yogi spin-off, Yogi's Treasure Trail actually featured Dick Dastardly in it, and had an equally pitiful reception.
Granted, Wacky Races never achieved the phenomenal success of The Flintstones, but nethertheless enjoys an enduring popularity even today. Why? Well, Wacky Races not only appeals to children but to adults too, in two instances. Firstly, it brings back the nostalgia for their youth, and secondly it contains many jokes clearly inserted for the benefit of adults2, such as the name of Pat Pending for a professor, or the caricatures of well-known people such as the Red Baron. The show also contains the tried-and-tested formulae for cartoon success - villains, heroes, incompetents and dim sidekicks - and manages to put them into a fresh format. Wacky Races has its own personality which cannot easily be imitated.