Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Warners Archive - the studio's "manufacture-on-demand" arm, has recently started issuing bare-bones collections of some vintage Saturday Morning favorites - shows that they know have die-hard fans, if not maybe enough of them to justify a full-fledged, commercial release. Among these titles is 1974's WHEELIE AND THE CHOPPER BUNCH from Hanna-Barbara Studios - a sorta surreal 70s precursor to Pixar's popular CARS franchise.

The premise is that in a world of sentient automobiles, the kind-hearted but mute Wheelie is tormented by a "motorcycle gang" - that is, a gang of talking motorcycles - led by a bike called "Chopper" (voiced by cartoon vet Frank Welker). All Wheelie wants to do is win races... and the heart of a yellow convertible named Rota Ree (Judy Strangis, Dyna-Girl from the live-action ELECTRA WOMAN & DYNA GIRL kid's show), but he ends up spending most of his time trying to avoid the schemes of the bumbling bikes.

Yeah, and you think just reading that synopsis was weird.

The show is pretty typical Hanna-Barbara weekend kidvid of the era, with each episode comprised of three short story segments, which are predictable and fluffy, but occasionally pretty funny, too. The character design and backgrounds are decidedly odd but appealing, and the voice acting is really entertaining. Along with Welker and Strangis, regulars included the great Paul Winchell (Disney's "Tigger'), Don Messick (Scooby Doo, himself) and Lenny Weinrib (uh, Scrappy Doo).

I do vaguely remember watching the show when I was nine, but it wasn't a favorite. The talking cars just were too strange for me, I guess (I also find Pixar's CARS extraordinarily creepy, by the way).

Warner Archives has placed all 13 episodes on three, high quality DVD-R discs, manufactured-to-order. The episodes are presented in the "full-frame" 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and while they're sourced from nice, clean prints, no remastering appears to have been done. There are occasional minor blemishes, and the colors are somewhat muted. Audio is Dolby Digital mono. There are no extras included at all.

If you have fond memories of the program from your childhood, or have kids that enjoy those more recent sentient automobile animated features, you might want to think about picking it up. It's cute, looks pretty good, and has a really catchy theme song.

BUYWheelie And The Chopper Bunch