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Perils of Penelope Pitstop: The Complete Series

Hanna-Barbera (1969), Warner Home Video (May 10, 2005), 3 discs, 355 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $34.98

Storyboard:

Charming Penelope is constantly chased by the nefarious Hooded Claw, in reality her own guardian Sylvester Sneekly. The Claw forces her to endure a variety of deathtraps, which she escapes with assist from her helpers, the Ant Hill Mob.

The Sweatbox Review:

When considering Wacky Races and its two spin-offs, I am firmly of the belief that The Perils of Penelope Pitstop is the most entertaining of the three shows, even if none of them are exceptional. Like Dastardly& Muttley in Their Flying Machines, Penelope first aired in 1969. Unlike the other two shows, each episode of Penelope had a full-length story. The general plots did not differ much from one story to the next, concerning as they did the efforts of Sylvester Sneekly to terminate his charge in order to gain her large inheritance. He went about his nefarious business disguised as the Hooded Claw, complete with mask, cape, and maniacal laugh. Penelope was not alone, however; she was aided by her fellow Wacky Races co-stars, the Ant Hill Mob. Meanwhile, the Hooded Claw had his henchmen, the Bully Brothers, to help him carry out his plans.

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Penelope was undoubtedly the same character as seen in Wacky Races, but a subtle re-design was done to give her more complex goggles, a new helmet, and riding pants. It’s really the white boots, however, that set off the whole ensemble. Ahem. The Ant Hill Mob, all seven little mobsters, were given unique personalities more than reminiscent of Disney’s seven dwarfs. (Their names were Clyde, Dum Dum, Pockets, Snoozy— who for some reason was allowed to drive far too often, Softy, the laughing Yak Yak, and the speedy Zippy.) Their nearly anthropomorphic car, now named Chugga-boom, was redesigned too, and had learned a few more tricks since the prior season.

The charm of the show came from its attempt to recreate the adventure of a Saturday matinee serial, as Penelope had to escape from one deathtrap after another. The deathtraps were typically overdone affairs, that make one wonder why the villain didn’t just use a gun and get it over with. Of course, that would ruin the fun of seeing Penelope escape from a ridiculously complex death device. She did usually have to escape on her own, too, since the Ant Hill Mob was not particularly good at rescuing. Penelope was always grateful for their kind assistance, however, polite lass that she was.

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Aside from the constant escapes, the other things I like about the show is the variety of locations used. Penelope seems to travel the world, lending an air of the exotic to the shows. It’s not clear why she travels so much, but one thing is certain— whether she is in the jungle or in London, that rotten Hooded Claw is trying to kill her! The variety of locations helps to keep the show from getting as stale as it could have otherwise. Still, it’s much the same show episode after episode, even if each one is entertaining by itself. It may be just a Saturday morning cartoon, but it’s a pretty decent one.

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Visually, Penelope suffers from the same weak drawing that its sister shows do. Facial features often appear awkward, especially on Penelope herself. The character design is great, though. The backgrounds are very artsy, having more in common with UPA’s graphic, often minimalist approach than earlier Hanna-Barbera shows. It is so much more interesting than Dastardly & Muttley’s endless sky-blue backgrounds, and grants the show much of its appeal.

This DVD set has all 17 episodes from the show’s Saturday morning run. Actually, that’s not quite true. It has been reported online that these are really syndication prints, given that there were originally cliffhanger tags at the end of each episode that no longer appear here. This is a major disappointment, and may keep purists from considering this set for a purchase. For more on this issue, see the Audio section.

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Is This Thing Loaded?

Hmmm… The episode menus are not as creative as with the other Hanna-Barbera sets. We still get scene changes as each episode is highlighted, and an appropriate old-time font is used, but the presentation is rather plain— nice, but plain. I would have suggested that the image of each scene appear on a movie screen, in an old-style movie theater. Oh, well. Maybe they ran out of time while producing this set. When speaking of bonus features, there are more important things with which to concern us.

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There are two Audio Commentaries on the first disc, with the episodes “Jungle Jeopardy” and “The Treacherous Movie Lot Plot”. The participants include star Janet Waldo, designer Iwao Takamoto, narrator Gary Owens, and former Hanna-Barbera staff members Scott Awley and Scott Jeralds. These tracks have a bit of downtime, but generally are pretty entertaining and informative. They offer comments on Paul Lynde, Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, how Hanna-Barbera shows were scored, and more.

Disc Two has two video supplements. The Players in “Perils” offers a total of five minutes of clips in the form of a montage spotlighting Penelope, the Ant Hill Mob, and the Hooded Claw. Watching an actual episode is much more rewarding. Next!

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Penelope Pitstop’s Spin-Outs (5:25) is a much better bonus, featuring interviews with Earl Kress, Janet Waldo, Paul Dini, Scott Shaw!, and more. They discuss how the show was spun off of Wacky Races, and what made the show so appealing. It’s not all that great, however, when you consider that the same footage can also be found already on the Wacky Races set, and there are no behind-the-scenes photos or artwork. And as much as we hear about Paul Lynde’s wonderful contribution, we never even get to see a picture of him. So much more could have been shown here (say, what about Bill and Joe, for that matter?), but I guess that just having all the episodes together in one place is a neat feat.

Disc 3 has some Trailers for more Warner Home Video cartoon product, but you knew that, right?

Case Study:

The package here is another winner from Warner Home Video. You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful set, with colorful graphics adorning every part of the foldout digipack, the discs, and the clear outer case. As with the past couple of Hanna-Barbera releases, the “Golden Collection” tag has been dropped in favor of “Classic Collection”, and the habit of numbering a release of a complete series has been wisely dropped. Inside the package, one will find a “collectible cell replica”, albeit a naturally miniature one. The inside of the digipack lists all episodes in addition to the bonus features.

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Ink And Paint:

The image here is similar to what was seen on Dastardly & Muttley, not quite as soft as on the Wacky Racesset, but with other physical problems. Some are related to the source material, though, and much of it was present when the show was first televised— smudges and dust, in addition to what is likely some age-related dirt. The picture is often grainy, but at a tolerable level. There is no noticeable shimmering, but there does appear to be significant edge enhancement shadows, unless I’m seeing “cel shadows”, if there is such a thing.

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Scratch Tracks:

The “cliffhanger” feel of the show is greatly enhanced by the “player piano” music, not to mention the dynamic narration by the talented Gary Owens. Janet Waldo does a nice Southern Belle voice for Penelope, while the Ant Hill Mob were voiced by Mel Blanc, Don Messick, and Paul Winchell. The icing on the cake, of course, was the casting of Paul Lynde as the treacherous Hooded Claw. Lynde had a remarkable way of making the Hooded Claw sound both dangerous and buffoonish. There was no doubt that the Claw meant business, but at the same time you just can’t take him too seriously. While others could have handled the other parts without too much change in the outcome, it is hard to imagine the show without Lynde. And that great, evil laugh!

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As for the actual quality of the audio track, the mono sound is… fine. I’m running out of ways to describe the sound quality of decades-old TV shows, so I’ll leave it at that.

There is something else, though, that bears further comment: According to various sources, the opening music has been altered. There is a claim out there that the opening theme that appears here is from the syndicated prints, and that the closing theme (which correctly appears here) should also play under the opening. I can’t remember the show well enough from when I saw it in the early 70s, but others on the Internet certainly seem sure about this, and this would seem to go along with the issue of the cliffhanger endings missing as well.

Final Cut:

I really like this show, though in truth it’s probably mediocre. It does have a sense of fun, has some great voice talent, and a unique look. It’s just too bad that Warner goofed with giving us the apparently syndicated versions. For those of you on the fence, and recognizing that the extras are just so-so, the inclusion of these versions will likely be the deciding factor against a purchase. For Hanna-Barbera buffs, however, this is likely the only opportunity you will have to buy the complete series on DVD. I’m torn, but overall I’m glad I have this set in my collection. There are too few cartoons with a female lead that I can enjoy watching with my daughter, and this fits the bill nicely. And y’know— For a show all about a nut trying to kill his pretty young charge, it all seems so fun and innocent!

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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