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"The Perils Of Penelope Pitstop": Perilous for All

Penelope Pitstop is heir to a vast fortune, one that her guardian, Sylvester Sneekly, wants to take from her under the guise of The Hooded Claw. Saving Penelope from her plural perilous pit stops is the Ant Hill Mob, knee-high mafia men who have nothing better to do than look out for this southern belle. But should they give up this heroic quest and go back to a life of crime?

Ow.

Rarely does a DVD put me in physical pain, except when I get my pinky finger stuck in the spindle hole.

Remember the show Wacky Races? Many seem to have a soft spot for that show, and it apparently did well enough in the ratings to warrant two spin-off series, Dick Dastardly and His Flying Machines and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.

I will say, any series that has Paul Lynde as the villain instantly gets a few bonus points, but the repetitive plots and jokes of this series mostly kill the entertainment.

Made in 1969, it’s definitely a product of its time. Now, I have a reverence for some old Hanna-Barbera cartoons; I watched my fair share of Flintstones and Jetsons and a few others back in the day. But the characters and plots in this one are incredibly one dimensional—the Ant Hill Mob, for example, are modeled after the seven dwarves, with each having one trait (Dum Dum is dumb, for example). It’s never explained how Penelope came to be the “heir to a vast fortune” (okay, yes, logic would dictate via biology), why Sylvester Sneekly is her guardian, or why the Ant Hill Mob constantly saves her. The jokes are also incredibly lame. The Hooded Claw at one point ties Penelope to a torpedo and sets its dial to “China.” My questions:

1. Torpedoes have dials?
2. You can set them to China?

While the characters are fun, the plots are horrendous. Actually, I take that back. There are no plots. Each episode starts off with a “Last time, when we saw our heroine Penelope Pitstop, she was off in Japan to find the deadly Fugu fish!” or something, throwing you straight into a story where she’s already kidnapped. I believe she’s kidnapped about four or five times an episode. We get to see some of The Hooded Claw’s innovative traps, but it gets incredibly tiring after a little while.

Paul Lynde as The Hooded Claw is easily the biggest star of the series. His laugh is infectious, but the character plays by Bond-villain rules. His plots to get rid of Penelope Pitstop are ridiculously overcomplicated. If you want to get rid of the gal, whip out a gun and cap her. While Penelope is the star of the series, you just end up rooting for him. The other standout is the narrator, voiced by veteran Gary Owens.

Extras on the complete box set are rather light. There are two commentaries by Janet Waldo, who gave Penelope her distinctive voice and unmistakable cry of “Help!”; designer Iwao Takamoto; narrator Gary Owens; and, from Warner Bros. Animation, Scott Awley and Scott Jeralds. A featured called “The Players In ‘Perils’” are montages of the main three characters (Penelope, Hooded Claw, and the Ant Hill Mob, which is pretty much one character despite being seven people). More interesting is “Penelope Pitstop’s Spin Outs,” with interviews from various people. Two of the ones I recognized not affiliated with Penelope were Scott Shaw (an original Sonic the Hedgehog comic book artist) and Paul Dini (who, I think, did some sort of comic book cartoon).

While the age of the show is definitely noticeable, Warner Home Video has apparently gone to great lengths to restore the footage, and it looks as good as it probably can without a massive restoration effort not seen since the likes of Star Wars: Special Edition.

Did you like the show back in the day? Think long and hard about whether you would still enjoy it. Never saw it? Run far, run fast, and don’t take any pit stops on the way.

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