Wacky Races (1968–1970 USA)

I admit this is a bit of a waste of time ‘reviewing’ such a limited animated TV series for kids but what the heck. Wacky Races was Hanna-Barbera’s hilarious cartoon spoof of the 1960’s comedy films The Great Race and Those Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies. The characters are all here; the perfect hero, the lovely damsel, the wacky inventor, the evil villain, plus an assortment of new characters including cavemen, gangsters, monsters, a WWI flying ace, soldiers, a hillbilly and his pet bear, a lumberjack and his pet beaver, plus many more. 

At the time of this show’s release upon the airwaves, Hanna-Barbera had come under fire from worried parents for the violence present in their adventure programs such as Space Ghost, Birdman And The Galaxy Trio, Frankenstein Jr. And The Impossible, and The Herculoids. HB responded with this series, which not only returned them to wild slapstick comedy as featured in Huckleberry Hound, but gave them their first recurring cartoon villains: the ignoble, treacherous, completely inefficient Dick Dastardly and his wheezing, snickering canine sidekick Muttley. The plot of each episode is simple: eleven cars, each one a distinctly and fantastically customized vehicle (see other reviews for the complete lineup) compete in car races throughout North America for the title of The World’s Wackiest Racer.

The rules seem to be highly flexible: each car has certain attributes that allow its owner(s) to gain the advantage from time to time, often in ways that would be considered unsporting in a real-life car race. Despite this, Dick Dastardly and Muttley (voiced by Paul Winchell and Don Messick) still spend most of each race trying to win through extremely elaborate and badly-planned booby-traps (sometimes contributing heartily to their own demise: in the very first episode, D.D. has the race in the bag until the narrator (Dave Willock) mentions “photo finish” at which point Dastardly stops mere inches from the finish line to pose for a photo.

Where the plot thickens is in the diverse range of cars and racers: this is Hanna-Barbera’s largest ensemble cast, scoping a wide range of personalities; nutty inventor Pat Pending; overenthusiastic Rufus Ruffcut and his pet beaver Sawtooth; the incoherent cavemen Slag Brothers (Rock and Gravel); laid-back hillbilly Lazy Luke and his fretful pet Blubber Bear, to name a few. The cars, all tailor-made to their racers, are excellently designed and the source of numerous gags: the Gruesome Twosome and their Creepy Coupe’s “dragon power” with a real dragon; the Compact Pussycat, which dispenses full salon conveniences to its owner Penelope Pitstop; the Red Max’s Crimson Haybailer, both car & aeroplane. There’s even a bit of irony: bumbling Peter Perfect’s Turbo Terrific falls apart constantly. Anyway, this is a dvd collection worth purchasing if you are in the mood for a funny, simple cartoon adventure. 🙂

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