"Penelope Pitstop, heiress to a vast fortune, is in perpetual peril from her fortune-seeking guardian, Sylvester Sneekly, who unknown to her is really that villain of villains, The Hooded Claw! But foiling this fiend's foul plots are Penelope's ever-present protectors, The Ant Hill Mob, and their courageous car, Chugga-Boom!"
The partnership of Hanna-Barbera delivered a whole lot of well-remembered kiddie cartoons throughout the 1960s and 70s, from The Flintstones & The Jetsons to Scooby-Doo & Super Friends. Young children who had no idea what an animation producer actually was knew the names "Hanna" and "Barbera" - mainly because their names were on 75% of the cartoons out there!
One of of my own "off the beaten track" favorites was The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. Frankly I'm not sure why that was, even after sitting down for a DVD-assisted trip down memory lane. Like most of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, there's a colorful goofiness and frequently clever sense of humor to Penelope Pitstop, but it's also full of escapes & adventures ... which, I suppose, is why it appealed to me as a ten-year-old.
Penelope Pitstop is a lovely lil' southern belle who also happens to be a rather wealthy young heiress. Penelope's guardian is Sylvester Sneekly, a two-faced malcontent who moonlights under a disguise known as "The Hooded Claw." Along with his twin idiot henchmen, The Claw does practically everything in his power to kidnap, harass, and irritate poor Penelope. But The Ant Hill Gang, a septet of lovable "little person" gangsters, are always there to defend Ms. Pitstop from the villain's nefarious (and often unnecessarily elaborate) schemes!
Penelope Pitstop first appeared in an earlier Hanna-Barbera cartoon series entitled Wacky Races, but earned her very own series in 1969. Well, 17 episodes worth, anyway. Aside from the enjoyably circuitous adventures found in each episode, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop benefits from a great cast of old-school voice actors. The ever-narrating Gary Owens feeds us the plot updates while Janet Waldo gives Ms. Penelope a lovely southern lilt (and just a bit of the attitude). Paul Winchell, Don Messick, and the immortal Mel Blanc play a variety of roles as well, but the standout of Penelope Pitstop has got to be the late, great Paul Lynde as Sneekly / The Claw. Toss in an old-style matinee musical score and a bunch of silly surprises, and you're looking at one of Hanna-Barbera's most underrated little chestnuts. (Or maybe it's not underrated at all; heck, it earned a DVD release!)
This three-disc DVD set breaks down as follows:
1. Jungle Jeopardy
2. The Terrible Trolley Trap
3. The Boardwalk Booby Trap
4. Wild West Peril
5. Carnival Calamity
6. The Treacherous Movie Lot Plot
Two separate audio commentaries are offered with "Jungle Jeopardy" and "The Treacherous Movie Lot Plot." Voice actors Janet Waldo & Gary Owens, animation designer Iwao Takamoto, and Warner Bros. animators Scott Awley & Scott Jeralds look back on this semi-obscure little series with a strong sense of warm nostalgia. The yak-tracks consist of anecdotes, remembrances, and a small dose of technical information, which makes them both worth a listen if you're a fan of the animated arts.
7. Arabian Desert Danger
8. The Diabolical Department Store Danger
9. Hair Raising Harness Race
10. North Pole Peril
11. Tall Timber Treachery
12. Cross Country Double Cross
Two small featurettes are included here: The Players in "Perils" is a collection of brief clips from Penelope's various adventures, most of which feature the main characters in some sort of danger involving pratfalls, explosives, and the omnipresent dangers of gravity. Penelope Pitstop's Spin Outs (5:22) is a brief yet informative behind-the-scenes look at the cartoon series. It features Animation Historian Erik Kress, voice actor Janet Waldo, writer/director Paul Dini, cartoonist Scott Shaw, Hanna-Barbera designer Scott Awley, and Warner Bros. Animation Producer Scott Jeralds.
13. Big Baghdad Danger
14. Bad Fortune in a Chinese Fortune Cookie
15. Big Top Trap
16. Game of Peril
17. London Town Treachery
The only extras on Disc 3 are a bunch of trailers for various WB animation DVD releases: Wacky Races: The Complete Series, Dastardly & Muttley and Penelope Pitstop, The Flintstones: Season 3, Top Cat: The Complete Series, Samurai Jack: Season 2, and The Best of the New Scooby-Doo Movies. One extra treat is a sweet little animation cel that comes inside Penelope Pitstop's colorful foldout package.
On the audio/video side of the equation, I suspect that the old-school animation enthusiasts will be quite happy with the presentation that WB has delivered here. The fullscreen transfers are bright and vibrant, yet the cartoons still retain the old artifacts and minor visual flaws that make these great old cartoons feel rustic and familiar. Dolby Digital 2.0 (English, Spanish, or French) is how the audio plays out, and it's all very crisp and clean. Optional subtitles are also available in English, Spanish and French.
It could be The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, or good ol' Pixie & Dixie, but everyone (of a certain age) has a handful of specific Hanna-Barbera favorites. Along with Wacky Races and Dastardly & Muttley, Penelope Pitstop is one of my very favorites. (Hey, I like the less popular ones!) Since WB seems intent on releasing just about everything in Hanna-Barbera's back catalog, you can expect your own favorites to hit the DVD shelves with a price-tag of around 25 bucks apiece. Not a bad deal for 7+ hours of goofy and enjoyable nostalgia-style animation. It's a piece of your childhood and a dose of animation history all in one box. But mainly ... it's just good, silly fun.
I recently received an email from a Penelope Pitstop fan who noticed something potentially unpleasant. I say "potentially" because the problem may bother you a whole lot -- or you may not honestly care one way or the other. But in the interest of being thoroughly informative, I thought I'd share "Joe's" email with you:
I read your review of 'The Perils of Penelope Pitstop - The Complete Series' and I wanted to point out a HUGE problem I found with the set which you may want to add to your review. I bought the set first thing this morning, popped it in and was really upset to find that the opening music and various sound effects that were on the TV version were drastically altered and totally different. The upbeat and fantastic theme music (one of my favorite parts of the show) is gone. It had been replaced by a much slower tempo piece that was totally unrecognizable to me. The audience 'yays' and 'boos' which were played over various Ant Hill Mob and Hooded Claw shots were gone. Just to make sure, I compared (the DVD) to my old VHS copy of the show and the opening theme/sound effects were indeed totally different. I was very upset by this and although this seems nitpicky, the show just isn't the same without that original music. I even want to return the set as a result. If you find out anything regarding this change I'd appreciate knowing more. I also think you need to warn people about this before purchasing. Thanks for reviewing it!
So there you have it, Pitstoppers; if you're the sort of collector who wants a completely unaltered rendition of the original cartoons, you just might want to pass on this purchase. Just lettin' you know.