I thought I’d have a look at a few cartoon shows with a racing theme, not that I’m especially into racing, so in a way they had their work cut out for themselves in trying to impress me. Let’s see how they did…
Pole Position – The Chicken Who Knew Too Much
Obviously based on the video game, the brother and sister team of Dan and Tess Darrett are Pole Position, professional stunt drivers with their souped up cars, with built-in computer units Roadie and Wheels and little sister and their genetically modified pet mascot, who end up getting involved in different plots. In this one, a pair of shady characters called Byron and Shelley (love the name references!) are after a chicken that is a key to finding hidden treasure.
It sounds a bit preposterous, but the plot actually really works and is clever without being too smart for its own good. There’s a journey into a ghost town that’s pretty cool. Animation is great, voice acting and writing is great, good music that fits the show well. It does feel like a show that was imported from Japan beyond that being the place it was produced, just a different sensibility. At the same time, it does feel a bit like Scooby-Doo done by the team who made MASK, which is a compliment. What it probably lacks for is not having an established recurring villain. I think it’s the sort of show that needed a Dr. Klaw, just a secret bad guy that you never saw but would send his agents out. I may look at the series as a whole, because it’s got a lot going for it, even though it’s likely forgotten by most.
MASK – High Noon
From the “controversial” second season, also know as the racing season. One of the later waves of the toyline was almost exclusively “racing” vehicles, so the accompanying ten episodes after the first main season moved most of the episodes to racing settings. Beyond that, MASK always knew who VENOM were, but VENOM never knew who MASK were, but with new writers on board they did away with that and now everyone knows one another, with a lot of the serious antipathy done away with, with racing the first priority and the crimes or plots they had to stop second. So, if VENOM were after a weapon or something like that, as long as MASK stopped them from getting it they’d just leave them to slink away, but before they would’ve been looking to put them behind bars. It’s a bit jarring, but I’m a MASK loyalist anyway, so I can work with it as I enjoy the episodes.
This episode is based out of Wichita, Kansas, with a celebration of the history and heritage of the Old West. That involves a race and an aerial stunt show, which MASK pilot Ace Riker, in his new Meteor vehicle, takes part in. For those that watch the episode it’s a case of voice actor/impressionist Mark Halloran doing a John Wayne impression for Ace, which goes with his Jack Nicholson impression for Sly Rax and loose Sly Stallone impression for Cliff Dagger. VENOM turn up, feigning being nice, much to the suspicion of MASK, and enter the races too, but it’s all a cover for infiltrate an underground laboratory to get some secret aeroplane plans, leading to a battle at the end of the episode.
Some excellent animation in this episode, although some faces end up having too many lines on them at one point. The transformations are very quick and fluid. Brad Turner takes the main hero role, with Matt Trakker taking very much a backseat and not even driving his own vehicle in this episode. Similarly, Vanessa Warfield sees more prominence than Miles Mayhem. A great part of the battle sees VENOM vehicle Stinger, a muscle car, get its tyres shredded, so it converts to tank mode to make up for it, before quickly getting its treads blown up.
A bit of quirky weirdness, though. One of the game races is called Outlaws and Posses, where once one of you passes the other it’s all over, and ambushes are OK, so Calhoun Burns in Raven takes on Vanessa in Manta. He’s behind her, but manages to get a short cut she doesn’t and pulls out in front of her, yelling “Ambush!”, but making it sound like he’s being ambushed rather than the one doing the ambushing. Surely, though, if you wanted to win in an easier way you’d just let someone take off ahead of you, then overtake them and you’re done, because you’re not going to lose by not catching up with them. Maybe it’s just me.
Another bit of weirdness is during the end battle, where MASK get the stolen blueprints back from Vanessa. Seemingly, she has sprayed everyone with some knockout gas from the exhaust of her car in jet mode, although the dialogue makes no allusion to it, so once Ace has the plans back from her he sits down near the sleeping allies and enemies and decides to get a nap too. It’s not offensive, just strange.
To finish, although they’re not part of the main episodes any more, Scott and T-Bob turn up to take part in the public service announcements at the end. VENOM also found themselves taking part in them too, a little further neutering them. But, it’s fine by me, I still liked the show and I liked this episode too.
Heroes on Hot Wheels – Race To The Future
Third and final lap, now. Jetlag seemingly was involved in or bought a French/Japanese cartoon adaptation of the racing character Michel Vaillant, anglicised here as Michael Valiant, then in coordination with Mattel dubbed it and renamed it Heroes on Hot Wheels, which is really obviously superimposed over the intro, plus an equally dodgy credit for Valiant. Awesome theme tune, but pretty obviously dubbed with the mouth flaps not matching the new dialogue. The voice acting is a little irritating too at times, with some bad characterisation choices. Good actors, but not flattering themselves with the grating voices.
The episode takes place around Mount St. Hilary and involves magnetic cars, so a real race to the future with those designs and a then-present concern about fuel efficiency and caring for the environment. As a contrast, there’s a subplot about something being sprayed around that smells like rotten eggs as a clue.
Great character and vehicle designs and the animation looks good, even if the story doesn’t start off too interesting. It’s surprisingly relaxed at times for a racing cartoon, although by the end where a tanker is overturned and the two villainous drivers are almost killed in it just to stop them, which I thought was a little over the top! I recognised Venus Terzo as Ruth, the main female agent of Team Leader, the villain of the show, who in this episode is only present in the intro. Some more Vancouver-based voice actors of the time are recognisable too like Scott McNeil, Doug Parker and Don Brown.
As a kid, this show always seemed to be on (and in the way of) at the same time as The New Adventures of He-Man, so I waiting for it to end so I could watch the show I wanted to. But, I appreciated the effort they put into the show with details, and I think that’s still present now.
Rankings: MASK comes into first place, with Pole Position just behind, and Heroes on Hot Wheels getting the bronze medal. It might be third place, but it still gets onto the podium!