I was planning on taking today to write about a new YouTube series I’ve come to love.
However, that’s on the back-burner after I discovered something more wacky to discuss from a more traditional visual medium.
I’m not blind to the fact that the 2010’s media landscape is a minefield of reboots, remakes and sequels.
Properties that aren’t based on comic books or old television and movies struggle to break into blockbuster budget range. Just look at this line-up for remakes and reboots in 2019, which doesn’t include the glut of tentpole cinematic sequels.
From The Walt Disney Company alone we have Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars Episode 9, Frozen 2 — and now X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
I wager this proliferation of content comes largely from two areas.
Firstly, Internet remix culture. This 2015 Tech Crunch piece elaborates further, but in essence the Internet has created a people interested in re-consuming the same ideas with transformed variations and assimilated elements.
If the blanket of ‘memes’ don’t cover that idea in a personal enough manner, I’m in the process of writing a book that’s essentially just assimilating other fantasy genre properties.
There are no new ideas.
The second cause is the success of recognizable brands. Remakes are safer investments for studios than novel properties, as general audiences are more likely to pay for a movie featuring iconography they know and love.
It’s a phenomenon you see way before 2019 in all sorts of entertainment mediums.
So to reiterate: Content generally does better if it has an established name and does something to re-contextualize old idea.
Now, with all that said…
Who the fuck decided it was a good idea to bring Wacky Races back?
I discovered the 1968 Hanna-Barbera cartoon’s 2017 reboot while watching Cartoon Network’s IP graveyard Boomerang with my Mom this afternoon.
My two-year late discovery of the show might be a bad sign. But to be fair, I’m not as avid a Cartoon Network viewer as I was in the 2000s.
Considering the show has two seasons, perhaps it’s popularity in circles I don’t frequent.
Based on the two episodes I watched with morbid curiosity, I can’t imagine that’s the case.
It has a quickly cobbled together, rubbery and unappealing visual style akin to later seasons of Johnny Test (a show I enjoyed before its decade run gave way to factory-churned quality).
The show also has weird tonal inconsistencies. The original was true to its name, as every episode was a different wacky race with bizarre stipulations.
In the first episode of the 2017 series I watched, there was a wacky race in which the original Dastardly returned, suggesting less of a reboot and more of a continuation.
The next episode was in space, and wacky racers were now garbage collectors. For no explained reason. Even though they kept their individualized get-ups, there were no races.
A good sign for a show called “Wacky Races.”
That said, the show’s character designs are visually appealing and the theme song is iterated upon well for a decent soundtrack.
But these are elements lifted directly from the old series, and the 2017 characters are paper-thin archetypes at best that rely on forced, surrealist humor and returning elements like Muttley’s snickering that are somehow both referential and current, all-encompassing character traits.
I’m willing to bet the pitch for the show was simply bringing that iconic laugh back into mainstream consciousness.
One thing that stood out in my viewing: I’m not sure what audience this reboot is targeting. Its simplicity is bland even for a younger Cartoon Network demographic, but there is a heavy leaning on dated references for fans of the ’68 version.
For example: In the spacefaring episode, Dastardly pretends to be Space Ghost so he can sneak onto the garbage collecting ship.
This joke was actually the catalyst for my post, because… Really? Space Ghost?
I know Adult Swim and Channel Chasers kept him relevant well beyond his shelf life, but what kid in 2019 is going to know what Space Ghost was?
In fact, this lazily executed “fellow 60’s cartoon” reference raises more questions. Why would these characters know who Space Ghost is if, as the other episode suggested, they are the grandchildren of the original Wacky Racers?
Full disclosure, I know I’m overthinking things. But when your show is so dull that this is all I can think about, there’s something wrong.
Frankly this whole post probably seems like needlessly overthinking children’s entertainment. Why does Wacky Races matter as much as I seem to suggest?
The thing is… It doesn’t. Which is kind of the point.
I have fond memories watching re-runs of the 1968 show, but I’m under no delusion that it was perfect television.
Wacky Races suffered from the same budget shortcuts of endless animation loops and recycling story ideas as The Flintstones and other serialized Hanna-Barbara cartoons in its mold.
They were flawed, but incredibly important and popular parts of animation history.
The YouTuber Saberspark has a wonderful series on the rise-and-fall of different animation companies, and recently featured Hanna-Barbara.
It’s a great tribute, but perhaps it primed me to quickly perceive this reboot as a lazy cash grab. The kind of product that retroactively degrades a show’s popular perception, or even dissuades a consumer from seeking the original they may be unaware exists.
But to be honest, Wacky Races (2017) could just as easily be a catalyst for curious youngsters to seek out the original piece of animation history.
I would hope such a mediocre reboot at least succeeds in keeping its predecessor alive.
Featured Image, as well as ,  and  courtesy of big-ashb via Wikimedia Commons