Judge Dennis Prince always wanted a snickering sidekick dog that could fly with his tail. What he got was a sneering cat that would spray out his backside. Drat, and double drat!
"Razza-frazza-prazza, Rrick Rrastard-ree."
Facts of the Case
After having tirelessly terrorized the tracks at the Wacky Races, the nefarious Dick Dastardly and his snickering sidekick dog, Muttley, found a new purpose for their wily ways when the General assigns them to stop that pigeon! As leader of the newly-formed Vulture Squadron, Dastardly is joined by Muttley as well as the cowardly Zilly and the unintelligible inventor, Klunk, on their ongoing mission to capture Yankee Doodle Pigeon and prevent him from delivering his top-priority messages. But this pigeon is no birdbrain, proving time and again that he's just a bit craftier than the marauding Vulture Squadron, despite their arsenal of wild inventions and ingenious traps. Thanks to their misguided leader and his dysfunctional squadmates, Dastardly and company find themselves on the losing end of their pigeon-nabbing proposition and only Muttley, that medal-mongering mongrel who seeks decorative ribbons and medallions for his every effort, seems to escape the proceedings unscathed. When he's not aloft, seated alongside his lame-brained leader on another pigeon-stopping exploit, he's happily daydreaming of himself as the Magnificent Muttley, a self-made hero who can save the damsel dog in distress from whatever unexpected situation might arise.
And, in a nutshell, you have the complete formula to be played and replayed throughout the full 17 episodes of Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines. Having emerged as a proven and popular character duo from Wacky Races, the folks at Hanna-Barbera Studios elected to spin the characters off into their own adventure where they would never cease in their quest to stop Yankee Doodle Pigeon, though we never really understand why or what it is that the brave bird is carrying in his leather satchel. No matter, because when catering to the Saturday morning crowd of 1969, explanation was rarely needed so long as the madcap misadventures never let up. So, here we find what was essentially an airborne wacky races where rubber-mouthed Klunk (voiced magnificently by cartoon legend Don Messick) would deliver all manner of weird and unlikely flying machines, some sporting giant hand-mixers, others lugging giant hammers and anvils, and others working in tandem to stretch mammoth badminton nets across the sky, all designed to stop the pigeon. Naturally, Dastardly would be at the lead of the proceedings, hoping to once and for all to capture the pigeon and gain respite from the bellowing of the unseen General. Dastardly's plans would universally fail, usually with him getting entangled in the squadron's snares. The bemused Muttley would wheezily snicker at his boss' fate while the cowering Zilly and zany Klunk would remain loyal to the unending mission.
It's great to see the folks at Hanna-Barbera continue to release stylish and content-rich boxed-set releases of their vintage cartoons, here with the complete (albeit short) 17-episode run in Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines—The Complete Series. Spread across three single-sided discs, each 30-minute episode would include the original lineup of three adventures of the Vulture Squadron with an extra brief escapade of "The Magnificent Muttley" squeezed in as well. Nicely, Hanna-Barbera continues to recognize the fan value of the original episode and commercial break bumpers and includes those as well.
This boxed-set is presented in the now-recognizable foldout digipak holder, that which is contained within the translucent outer sleeve. Inside you'll find a colorful layout with individual episode titles and character artwork. In this set, there's also a limited reproduction animation cell, measuring roughly 2.5" x 5." As for the episodes themselves, they look quite nice with strong colors and sharp lines, thankfully not overburdened by excessive edge enhancement. The source material looks pretty solid, though you should expect to see numerous production imperfections inherent to the original cell animation process. So, when you see those occasional specks and spots dance around the action, just consider it the charming artifacts of a production process that's now nearly extinct. The audio for the episodes is presented in a rather distant-sounding Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix that relies entirely on your center channel to deliver the sound. This is the only real disappointment of the set as I would prefer a 2.0 Mono delivery any day.
There are some nice extras on board here as Hanna-Barbera continues to resist the temptation to skimp on their classic catalog. First, you'll find two episodes that include optional commentary tracks with character designers and producers, including the prolific Iwao Takamoto as well as the fellow who conjured up all the wacky flying contraptions, Jerry Eisenberg. They tend to be a bit quiet as they watch the episodes, yet do manage to dredge up some entertaining anecdotes and fascinating facts about the show. There are also two mini-featurettes here, including a retrospective of the Vulture Squadron's ineptness in "The Vulture Squadron's Greatest Misses" and a look back at the origin and effect of the show in "Dastardly & Muttley's Spin Offs: What Wacky Races Wrought." Both are light and fun, and well worth a look.
In all, it makes for a pleasant trip down Memory Lane to the days of those silly and sugar-powered Saturday mornings. If you're a purveyor of classic cartooning, you'll love this set. It's a bit pricey at $34.98 but recommended nonetheless.
There's little to complain about here and this court hopes the fine folks at Hanna-Barbera will keep feeding us these terrific cartoon sets.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Audio Commentaries
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