WACKY RACESMedium: TV animation
Produced by: Hanna-Barbera
First Appeared: 1968
Creators: Jerry Eisenberg and Iwao Takamoto (designers)
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In the late 1960s, the big thing in TV cartoons was adventure. Hanna-Barbera, the industry leader, got into the act with
The Mighty Mightor, Shazzan and many other non-humorous offerings — but even at the height of trend, they were doing a few things to buck it. Wacky Races, which was pure funny stuff from the word "go", debuted on CBS on September 14, 1968.
Like most Hanna-Barbera cartoons, the set-up of Wacky Races was "borrowed" from elsewhere — in this case, the Blake Edward movie The Great Race, which had come out three years earlier, chronicling a slapstick race across America, Asia and Europe back in the early days of automobiles. And it wasn't the first cartoon to rip off that premise — Jay Ward's Tom Slick, one of the back segments on George of the Jungle's show, beat this one onto the small screen by a year.
Where Wacky Races outdid both was in having a large cast of colorful competitors, all designed by Jerry Eisenberg and Iwao Takamoto. The Compact Pussycat was driven by Penelope Pitstop, who was voiced by Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson). The Buzz Wagon was driven by Rufus Ruffcut, voiced by Daws Butler (Chilly Willy). The Bullet Proof Bomb was driven by The Ant Hill Mob, which consisted of Clyde, Ding-a-Ling, Zippy (no relation), Rockets, Snoozy, Softy and Yak-Yak, all of whom were voiced by Mel Blanc (who practically ran the Warner Bros. voice department single-handed). Ring-a-Ding Convert-a-Car was driven by Prof. Pat Pending, voiced by Don Messick (Pixie of Pixie & Dixie). The Turbo Terrific was driven by Peter Perfect (Butler). The Creepy Coupe was driven by the Gruesome Twosome (Big Gruesome and Little Gruesome, voiced by Butler and Messick, respectively). The Bouldermobile was driven by the Slag Brothers, Rock and Gravel (Messick and Butler, respectively). The Crimson Haybailer was driven by The Red Max (Butler). The Arkansas Chuga-bug's driver was known only as Luke, voiced by John Stephenson (narrator of Ruff & Reddy). The Army Surplus Special was driven by The Sarge (Butler) and Pvt. Meekly (Paul Winchell, Gargamel in Smurfs). The villain, the only one who actually cheated, was Dick Dastardly, also voiced by Winchell, who drove The Mean Machine. Luke, Rufus and Dastardly had animal companions. Rufus's Sawtooth, a beaver, and Dastardly's Muttley, a dog, were both voiced by Messick; and Luke's Blubber Bear by Stephenson.
This made for rather a well-packed half-hour, and it's not surprising the show didn't exceed its 13-episode allotment, broadcast over two seasons. But it seems to have made a hit with viewers anyway, as both Penelope Pitstop and Dick Dastardly, were spun off into shows of their own. Years later, a similar premise was used in the less crowded Yogi's Space Race.
Wacky Races underwent the usual merchandising route, including a comic book from Gold Key that ran seven issues (August, 1969 through April, 1972). As recently as 2000, it was made into a popular video game. But nowadays, it's mostly seen in a very occasional rerun.