So after reviewing The Flintstones: On the Rocks and Night of the Living Doo, I figured I’d look for more obscure turn-of-the-Millennium era Hanna-Barbera revival stuff. And Wacky Races Forever is about as obscure as it gets: A short pilot pitch that Cartoon Network ultimately passed on back in 2006.
But since it’s kinda hard to wring a full review out of a five-minute cartoon, let’s talk about some Wacky Races background, first.
So as anyone with Boomerang attached to their cable package knows, Wacky Races was a 1965 animated series created by Hanna-Barbera. You know what it’s about, right? A colorful cast of characters in crazy cars with special upgrades who try to beat each other in cross country road races while Dick Dastardly and Muttley cheat themselves into an early grave? Yeah, that one.
Despite only accruing 17 episodes, it was one of HB’s more popular ventures, launching two spinoffs (Dick Dastardly & Muttley in their Flying Machines and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop). And as much as we liked it here in the States, it was really popular in Japan. Like, stupidly popular. The Japanese love Wacky Races almost as much as Mexicans love Top Cat. And holy shit, Mexicans fucking LOVE Top Cat. You have no idea.
In 2011, they made a movie. Just for themselves and no one else. To meet Mexico’s overwhelming demand for Top Cat.
Anyhow, while Wacky Races never made a comeback as Wacky Races, there were several attempts over the decades to revive the formula. 1978 gave us Yogi’s Space Race, which took the whole “Hanna-Barbera characters try to kill each other for a trophy” concept and launched it into the vacuum of outer space. 1990 made a more earnest attempt with Fender Bender 500, which once again saw the Hanna-Barbera IPs at each other’s throats, but back to doing so on four wheels (also, it restored Dick Dastardly and Muttley as the antagonists rather than those weird place-holder characters).
They were better off wallowing in obscurity.
Neither attempt managed to recapture the intangible magic of Wacky Races. The last venture by Time Warner (inheritors of the Hanna-Barbera library) to relaunch Wacky Races, and the only instance to revive it AS “Wacky Races” and not something stupid, was in the fourth and final season of Dexter’s Laboratory. Dexter’s Wacky Races aired in 2003, under a genuine Wacky Races motif, featuring the cast of Dexter’s Lab racing for no discernible reason. It was also one of the only genuinely good episodes to come from those lamentable post “Ego Trip” seasons (I rather liked Daran Norris as the narrator).
But there was one more effort on the Cartoon Network front to drag Wacky Races kicking and screaming back into relevance. Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone, the visionary animators who most recently gave us The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age SmackDown, pitched a pilot called Wacky Races Forever in 2006. It was an honest-to-gosh sequel to the original 1965 series, featuring the original racers (or their descendants) and none of that Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound bullshit.
You can watch it for yourself, at least for the time being (the video’s been available since 2010, but it could always disappear from You Tube in the blink of an eye):
Honestly, I really liked it. Brandt and Cervone find a nice middle-ground, updating the formula of the series with centralized protagonist characters and an ongoing plot, but not at the expense of the original “this is the only thing crazier than Speed Racer” gimmick.
Essentially, Peter Perfect (Jeff Bennett) and Penelope Pitstop (Tara Strong) got married in-between shows (more on that in a minute) and their offspring, Parker and Piper, now carry on their legacy of competitive vehicular manslaughter. Peter and Penelope have also founded Perfect Industries and become obscenely wealthy, though seemingly unaware that their R&D guy, Viceroy (Bennett), schemes to seize the company. To this end, Viceroy employs Dick Dastardly (Jim Cummings) and Muttley to sabotage/win the races. You can imagine their success rate.
Other racers exist in the show, though whatever importance they may have contributed to the plot isn’t evident in this pilot. Professor Pat Pending is there, though he’s now a cackling lunatic. The Slag Brothers are also back and more or less unchanged. The Gruesome Twosome have been replaced by a younger breed and one of them has got a Gothic Lolita/Vampira thing going on.
Yeah, I know. Something as simple as Wacky Races doesn’t really need an ongoing narrative or serialized storytelling. We’re in it for the racing hijinks, not so much character development and season-long story arcs. Well, maybe those of us older than 20 are. The sad fact is that wholly episodic storytelling in kid’s cartoons is going the way of the dodo and I think youngsters now ‘n days prefer ongoing stories to something with no consequences. Even shows that are superficially episodic, like Adventure Time, offer mythology-building and ongoing character development if sometimes just in the background.
I don’t mind it so much. It provides a hook and, like I said, Brandt and Cervone seemed to reach a reasonable compromise in their approach with the pilot. The Perfects being the main characters does potentially rob the other racers of receiving attention, but let’s face it: Even in the original Wacky Races, none of the “good guy” racers ever had the spotlight. Dastardly and Muttley were the stars of that show and they’re given ample focus in this incarnation.
Perhaps banking on the show’s inexplicable popularity in Japan, the visual style intimates a slight (SLIGHT) anime twinge to it; overdesigned outfits, speed lines, some expressions, the aforementioned Gothic Lolita character and a few other aesthetic clichés. It’s still more Western in execution than Japanese, employing our sense of comic timing and snappy dialogue.
The animation, predictably, looks to be done through Flash or Toon Boom. There’s stiff puppetry stuff in a few places, but for the most part it looks pretty kinetic and fast. The actual vehicles look good in motion (and were hard to screenshot; sorry), so the stiffness mostly comes down to the characters. It’s better than a lot of other Flash/Toon Boom shows from 2006, anyway.
As for the cast, there’s no credits so I could only pick out the ones I instantly recognized (could not identify Parker and Piper). Jeff Bennett’s Peter Perfect drops the Dudley Do-Right thing the original version had going and is instead more insufferably arrogant and masculine; it’s a good fit. Tara Strong’s Penelope Pitstop nails the Southern Belle accent for what little dialogue she has. I like how the pair, despite being married, are clearly still competing which each other and are living out their glory days vicariously through their kids.
Jim Cummings as Dick Dastardly I’m not so sold on. I mean, I know why they cast him. He replaced Paul Winchell as Tigger across the Winnie the Pooh franchise, so it only makes sense to cast him as another one of Winchell’s characters. But there’s still something, I dunno, OFF about his performance. Whereas Cummings’ Tigger impression is pretty spot-on, his Dastardly just doesn’t hit the mark, mostly just sounding like his Darkwing Duck voice. I actually think Michael Bell was a better substitute Dastardly.
Oh yeah, and that stuff about Peter Perfect and Penelope Pitstop being married. That is some obscure Cartoon Network history, there.
Okay, so when Cartoon Network was first getting off the ground, it only had reruns of ancient Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros. and MGM cartoons to work with; original content was slow going. So what they did to make the reruns seem fresh was package them as “events”. For example, they once took a bunch of random cartoons that had rock songs in them (or what passed for rock songs), aired them together in a day-long marathon and promoted it as Toonapalooza, an animated music festival.
It was actually one of the most charming things about the early years of Cartoon Network. As a kid, I was pretty easily lured into watching reruns just because of the advertising and promotion; many of these blocks featured original interstitial segments with the classic characters interacting (recycled animation coupled with new dialogue from the original/surviving voice actors). Suddenly, reruns of the Chattanooga Cats felt like can’t-miss television.
Well, one of the events they did way the Hell back in June of 1995 was the wedding of Peter Perfect and Penelope Pitstop. Basically, it was just reruns of Wacky Races and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop with a few original interstitials, but they made an event out of it. And somehow, Brandt and Cervone remembered this nugget and made it a plot point in their Wacky Races Forever pilot. I didn’t know Cartoon Network commercials were part of Hanna-Barbera canon. Hell, I didn’t know Hanna-Barbera HAD a canon!
Also, I hope you people appreciate how long it took me to find that video (wedding clip is at the end). I think I watched 5 years-worth of Cartoon Network bumpers and commercials just to find that damn advertisement. Partly because I wanted to prove to you that it happened, yeah, but also because I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t just imagine it.
Now if only I could find footage of Terry Bradshaw hosting the Digimon Super Bowl Marathon. I keep telling people that it happened, but no one believes me.