Spun off from the classic Wacky Racers animated series that was a smash hit for Hanna-Barbara in the late sixties, Dastardly And Muttley In Their Flying Machines lasted only one season from September of 1969 until it was cancelled after seventeen episodes in January of 1970. While it didn't stick around too long, the show's theme song, Stop The Pigeon remains instantly recognizable and the show benefited from the great voice work of Don Messick (Don did Muttley, Klunk and Zilly) and Paul Winchell (Paul did Dick Dastardly and The General) who previously voiced such classic cartoon characters as Scooby Doo and Tigger respectively.
The premise of the show is extremely simple. Dick Dastardly and his sniveling dog Muttley lead the Vulture Squadron, made up of Dick, Muttley, the cowardly Zilly and the incomprehensible Klunk. Together, these five fearless flyers have to stop Yankee Doodle Pigeon from delivering something to someone for some reason – it's never made clear or they'll fall into bad graces with The General. To do this, Klunk is constantly inventing all manner of crazy devices which the Vulture Squadron can attach to their planes in order to stop the pigeon from doing whatever it is that he's doing.
Within this simple concept lay the gags that the show revolves around. In pretty much every episode Klunk devises a strange pigeon capturing technique that, when executed, inevitably leads to Dastardly falling out of his plane and crashing on the ground. Sometimes Muttley, in order to earn a medal, will try to save him, and sometimes, as Dastardly is falling to the ground, the general will call and yell at him (or even reach out through the phone to punch him in the head).
In between the two main cartoons contained in each of the episodes (except for the unaired seventeenth episode which only contains one story) there are Wing Dings (which are simple little animated gags featuring the members of the Vulture Squadron) and some funny little daydream sequences in which Muttley, while doing boring tasks such as mopping the floor, daydreams and experiences some delusions of grandeur.
While the episodes are quite funny in moderation, to sit down and watch all seventeen of them can get a little tiresome. While the airplane designs and characters are quite inventive and very amusing, the gags are repetitive and because of that, you always know how it's all going to end. The voice work is very unique though, and gives the series a distinct sound whether it be Muttley's sniveling, Klunk's whooping and whirling or Dastardly's groveling. Likewise, the actual animation itself is very nicely done with plenty of great colors and smooth line work that gives the series a very nice look.
The seventeen episodes in this set are:
Follow That Feather / Operation Anvil
Far Out Furlough / Sky Hi-IQ
Sappy Birthday / A Plain Shortage of Planes
Stop That Pigeon / Barnstormers
Shape Up Or Ship Out / Zilly's A Dilly
The Cuckoo Patrol / The Swiss Yelps
Eagle-Beagle / Pest Pilots
Fly By Knights / There's No Fool Like A Re-Fuel
Lens A Hand / Movies Are Badder Than Ever
Home Sweet Homing Pigeon / Vacation Trip Trap
Ceiling Zero Zero / Stop Which Pigeon?
Operation Birdbrain / Who's Who?
Go South Young Pigeon / Medal Muddle
Ice See You / Too Many Kooks
Balmy Swami / Camouflage Hop-Aroo
Have Plane Will Travel / Windy Windmill
Happy Bird Day / Plane Talk
What New Old Bean (unaired)
Each episode is presented as it was originally broadcast in 1.33.1 fullframe. The colors on these episodes look very nice. While there is a small amount of film grain, the overall picture quality on this set is definitely above average with some very nice detail evident throughout the series. There aren't any big issues with edge enhancement, though if you're looking for it you'll see it in a couple of spots, and there are no problems with mpeg compression at all. The series has been cleaned up nicely and there's next to no print damage present either.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix is pretty solid. There are a few moments that sound a little hollow but overall, for a forty year old cartoon, things hold up pretty well. Dialogue is clean and clear and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion. The theme song and the background music all sound nice without any audible defects of any kind marring the experience. The set contains a basic mix, but it isn't ineffective at all.
There are alternate language dubs available in French and Spanish as well as optional subtitles available in French, Spanish and English.
On the first disc, there's a recap called The Vulture Squadron's Greatest Misses in which we get to see a few minutes or so worth of clips featuring the fearless flyers almost stopping the pigeon. While it's kind of fun to watch them all happen at the same time, there's nothing here that we haven't already seen in the episodes themselves.
On disc two there's a featurette entitled Dastardly And Muttley's Spin-Offs: What Wacky Racers Wrought in which many of the people (including two of the designers, IwaoTakamoto and Jerry Eisenberg) who worked on the series are interviewed on camera about their time spent on this show. This is a pretty interesting look back at the series as we learn how it was originally conceived for two different brand new characters and then reworked for Dastardly and Muttley once Wacky Racers exploded in popularity. They discuss the insanity of the plane and contraption designs as well as the seemingly random decisions to give Muttley the ability to fly under the power of his own tail. It's a fun look back at the show and it's got some interesting facts in it as well.
There are also two commentary tracks on the set. There's one on the Stop Which Pigeon? episode on disc two, and one on the Balmy Swami episode on disc three. The participants include designers IwaoTakamoto and Jerry Eisenberg, joined by Scott Awley and Scott Jeralds of Warner Brothers Animation. The first commentary repeats a lot of the same information that was gone over in the documentary but it's still fun listening to them rattle off a few anecdotes about the specific episode as it plays through. The second commentary also repeats a fair bit of information but regardless, the participants are pretty enthusiastic about the material which always makes listening in on them a little more fun than usual.
Finally, inside the slipcase packaging is a collectible animation cell reproduction and an episode listing for each of the three DVDs in the set.
Dastardly And Muttley In Their Flying Machines is a fun little series that is unfortunately very repetitive. The bulk of the reason to watch the show is to check out the insane airplane designs as the gags get a little old after a while. That being said, the animation, the characters are a lot of fun, and the theme song is the catchiest thing ever. For fans of vintage cartoons, this one comes recommended thanks to some decent extra features and very nice audio and video quality.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.