The Wacky Racers ride again on this 3-disc set, the first in a classic Hanna-Barbera triptych consisting of WACKY RACES, DASTARDLY AND MUTTLEY IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES and THE PERILS OF PENELOPE PITSTOP.
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 IMPOSSIBLES, and THE HERCULOIDS. (Incidentally, we're still waiting for proper releases of these on DVD, Warner Brothers. Ahem.) HB responded with this series, which not only returned them to wild slapstick comedy as featured in YOGI BEAR and 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 at mere INCHES from the finish line to pose for a photo).
Where the plot thickens is in the diverse range of cars and racers: though Dastardly, Muttley and Penelope Pitstop were the obvious breakout stars, this is Hanna-Barbera's largest ensemble cast (23 characters!), scoping a wide range of personalities; nutty inventor Pat Pending; hyperenthusiastic 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, and the ubitiquous Ant-Hill Mob, to name but 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 real dragon; the Compact Pussycat, which dispenses full salon conveniences to its owner Penelope Pitstop; and the Red Max's Crimson Haybailer, both car AND aeroplane in one. There's even a bit of irony: bumbling Peter Perfect's Turbo Terrific falls apart constantly, while Dick Dastardly, whose Mean Machine is perhaps the fastest car of the lot, could have won a race if he just didn't stop to cheat.
The three-disc set is colorfully packaged with nice artwork featuring a group shot of all the Wacky Racers in the foldouts. The discs themselves contain commentary on four episodes from noted personnel at HB and two featurettes detailing the history of WACKY RACES and a look at its spinoffs DASTARDLY AND MUTTLEY IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES and THE PERILS OF PENELOPE PITSTOP.
This package is a nicely conceived set, and showcases one of Hanna-Barbera's most fondly remembered series; its release can only mean that more of HB's finest is soon to come. (Warner Brothers: please re-read the above. AHEM.)