Wheelie and Rota build a sand castle.


Original Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Hanna-Barbera
First Appeared: 1974
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While anthropomorphic animals are a mainstay of animation, you don't see all that many anthropomorphic vehicles. Thomas the Tank Engine and his pals, of course, and Transformers if you happen to count them, but most people can't name another. But from Tex Avery's

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… 1950s families of cars and planes at MGM to Roger Rabbit's Benny the Cab, they've been around. Speed Buggy (1973) was Hanna-Barbera's first vehicle protagonist, but the following year's Wheelie & the Chopper Bunch was a lot more anthropomorphic.

Wheelie and his girlfriend, Rota Ree (sounds like an ordinary car term, "rotary", as in "rotary engine", but it also reminded many viewers of actress, game show celebrity and human rights activist Ruta Lee), did get around on all fours. But they could also use their front wheels as hands — grasping and manipulating objects despite lacking any visual evidence of fingers, and that's about as anthropomorphic as it gets. Speed Buggy mostly just talked — the one way Wheelie, and no other character in the show, was deficient in anthropomorphic behavior (he communicated by displaying icons on his windshield).

Human owners or drivers were not seen. Wheelie and Rota were on their own in a vehicle world. Even the bad guys, the four-member Chopper Bunch (Chopper himself, Revs, Hi-Riser and Scrambles) were motorcycles who liked to harass and thwart the two lovers.

Wheelie & the Chopper Bunch debuted on NBC, on Saturday, September 7, 1974. It ran one season of 13 half-hour shows, each divided into three episodes about as long as an old theatrical cartoon — just like many previous Hanna-Barbera shows except all three segments had the same set of stars.

Wheelie and Chopper were both voiced by Frank Welker, who also did Jabberjaw, Dynomutt and many others. Rota was Judy Strangis (Groovia in The Roman Holidays, several voices in several versions of Batman). Paul Winchell (Gargamel in Smurfs) did Revs; Lennie Weinrib (Inch High, Private Eye) did Hi-Riser; and Don Messick (Hamton Pig in Tiny Toon Adventures) did Scrambles.

Wheelie etc. appeared in comic book form, when Charlton Comics put out seven issues between May, 1975 and July, 1976. There was other merchandise, but not an extraordinary amount.

As an homage to the show's original broadcaster, Wheelie's horn made the chiming sound heard in NBC's promotional spots. That sound is less appropriate on USA Network, Cartoon Network and Boomerang, where the cartoon has been rerun over the years.


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Text ©2007 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hanna-Barbera.