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Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch

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Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch
Various automobiles appear in front of a purple background displaying the show's title.
The series' title card
Genre Animation
Directed by Charles A. Nichols
Voices of Frank Welker
Judy Strangis
Paul Winchell
Lennie Weinrib
Don Messick
Theme music composer Hoyt Curtin
Composer(s) Hoyt Curtin
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 13
Production
Executive producer(s) William Hanna
Joseph Barbera
Producer(s) Iwao Takamoto
Running time 30 minutes
Production company(s) Hanna-Barbera Productions
Distributor Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Release
Original network NBC
Original release September 7 (1974-09-07) – November 30, 1974 (1974-11-30)

Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch is an American animated television series, produced by Hanna-Barbera, which originally aired for one season on NBC from September 7, 1974 to November 30, 1974. With an ensemble voice cast consisting of Frank Welker, Judy Strangis, Paul Winchell and Lennie Weinrib, the show follows a humanlike Volkswagen Beetle named Wheelie and an evil motorcycle gang known as the "Chopper Bunch". The series was produced by Iwao Takamoto, executively produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera and directed by Charles A. Nichols. An accompanying comic book series, with contributions from artist John Byrne, debuted in May 1975, although he quit while finishing his second issue as he was unsatisfied with his creative control and felt he was overcompensated for his work. Other artists completed the series, which totaled seven comic books.

In addition to Hanna-Barbera's Speed Buggy (1973) and Wonder Wheels (1977–78), the three series were commonly grouped together due to the similarities in plot and characters. Reception-wise, several critics reacted negatively to the violence and portrayal of motorcycles in the series, prompting viewers to write letters to NBC in hopes that the show would be pulled off the air. Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch had a total of 13 episodes, each consisting of 3 segments, or a total of 39 segments. It has since been released on DVD as part of Warner Bros.' Archive Collection on a three disc set.

Premise[edit]

The series takes place in a land full of sentient automobiles and focuses on Wheelie, his girlfriend Rota Ree, and a motorcycle group colloquially known as the "Chopper Bunch".[1] A writer for Cycle World described the premise of the show: "Wheelie, a car, is the hero, and the villains are a bunch of choppers who do everything dirty to get Wheelie, the clean, all-American car."[2] Nearly every episode of the series focused on the Chopper Bunch attempting to outsmart Wheelie despite their continual failed attempts.[3] The show negatively depicted motorcycles and motorcyclists,[4] and the Chopper Bunch typically received consequences for their actions which often involved the police.[5]

Characters[edit]

The series features the following five main characters throughout its run:

  • Wheelie (voiced by Frank Welker) is a red Volkswagen Beetle who serves as the series' lead.[6][7] Depicted as the show's hero with humanlike capabilities, Wheelie often gets into battles and struggles with the "Chopper Bunch", a group of evil and menacing motorcycles.[7]
  • Chopper (voiced by Frank Welker) is the leader of the "Chopper Bunch" who often tries to steal Rota Ree, Wheelie's girlfriend, away from him.[8]
  • Rota Ree (voiced by Judy Strangis) is Wheelie's girlfriend who is constantly subject to the unwanted affections of Chopper.[8]
  • Revs (voiced by Paul Winchell) is a member of the "Chopper Bunch" who has a "snickering" personality.[1]
  • Hi Riser (voiced by Lennie Weinrib) is a member of the "Chopper Bunch" who is unintelligent.[1]

Don Messick, a frequent voice actor for Hanna-Barbera productions, also provided voices for several minor characters, including Scrambles and Fishtail.[3][9]

Production[edit]

Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch premiered in 1973, nearly one year after the debut of Speed Buggy, another Hanna-Barbera cartoon with similar themes. Executively produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's Hanna-Barbera Productions, Charles A. Nichols served as the series' director.[8] Several writers contributed to the series, including Lars Bourne, Len Janson, Chuck Menville, Robert Ogle, and Dalton Sandifer.[8] The show's official theme song was composed by Hoyt Curtin, Barbera, and Hanna.[10] Curtin also served as the series' music composer.[8] Iwao Takamoto, who had previously worked on several series for Hanna-Barbera productions in the past, solely produced Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch.[11]

Broadcast history[edit]

Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch was broadcast on NBC as part of their Saturday morning children's lineup between September 7 and November 30, 1974;[12][13] and before being cancelled, it continued to air regularly on the network until August 30, 1975.[14] The series featured a total of 13 episodes with 3 segments each, bringing a total of 39 segments overall. During its original allocated time slot, the show rivaled The Bugs Bunny Show on ABC and repeats of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! on CBS; it also aired immediately following the animated adaptation of The Addams Family and right before Emergency +4 on NBC.[15]

In syndication, the series was replayed on several television networks after its cancellation. USA Network ran the series beginning May 16, 1989 and until March 28, 1991.[14] Sister channels Cartoon Network and Boomerang have broadcast Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch on multiple occasions since their initial launch; the former began reruns in 1995 while the latter started in 2000.[14][16] The episode featuring "Double Cross Country", "The Infiltrator", and "The Stunt Show" was featured on the Warner Bros. Presents DVD compilation Saturday Morning Cartoons – 1970's Volume 1 and released on May 26, 2009.[17] As part of the Warner Bros. Television Distribution's Archive Collection, the complete Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch series was made available on DVD as a three-disc set.[18]

Comic book series[edit]

In 1975, comic book artist John Byrne was commissioned to create a series of books to coincide with broadcasts of the series. Published by Charlton Comics, it would also serve as Byrne's first series of comic books.[19][20] After the first issue was distributed in May 1975,[21] Hanna-Barbera asked Byrne to create a mellower second issue, as the debut was considered "too scary" by executives. The second issue discouraged Byrne from creating anymore books, so he ended the series with just two issues. Byrne also said he also felt wrong for accepting the large amounts of money from Hanna-Barbera, which he stated was fifty dollars per page.[19] Despite this, further issues were created by artists other than Byrne.[21] A total of seven issues were made, with the final one circulating in July 1976.[22]

Episodes[edit]

No. Title Original air date
1 "Get a Doctor" / "A Day at the Beach" / "Ghost Riders" September 7, 1974 (1974-09-07)[12]
Get a Doctor: To mess with Wheelie, the Chopper Bunch persuades him to believe that he is greatly ill and needs to visit the doctor, despite being in perfect health.
A Day at the Beach: Rota Ree and Wheelie visit the beach for a day of relaxation, which is interrupted by the Chopper Bunch.
Ghost Riders: After the death of his uncle, Wheelie inherits a junkyard which he plans to operate; however, Chopper is jealous of the acquired business and plans to scare Wheelie away and run it himself.
2 "Double Cross Country" / "The Stunt Show" / "Razzle Dazzle Paint Job" September 14, 1974 (1974-09-14)[23]
Double Cross Country: In a motor race where a date with Rota Ree is the grand prize, both Wheelie and Chopper enter in hopes of winning first.
The Stunt Show: Chopper, jealous that Wheelie is the main act in a stunt show, plans to ruin the event in order to make Wheelie look bad.
Razzle Dazzle Paint Job: Wheelie wins a complimentary paint job ticket at a local paint shop, so Chopper plots to steal the ticket and get the deal for himself.
3 "The Autolympics" / "The Delivery Service" / "The Infiltrator" September 21, 1974 (1974-09-21)[24]
The Autolympics: During the Autolympics, Chopper hopes to ruin Wheelie's chances of winning a gold medal by sabotaging the event.
The Delivery Service: Rota Ree's uncle, a delivery truck, is unable to delivery his goods to their rightful owners because he is ill, so Wheelie promises to help out despite Chopper's desire to delay the deliveries.
The Infiltrator: C.C., the newest member of the Chopper Bunch, is asked to spy and set traps on Wheelie.
4 "The Big Bumper" / "Surprise Party" / "On the Town" September 28, 1974 (1974-09-28)[25]
The Big Bumper: Chopper befriends Big Bumper and asks him to ruin Wheelie's life, much to Wheelie's dismay.
Surprise Party: In an effort to make amends, Chopper suggests a truce between himself and Wheelie, although Wheelie cannot tell if the offer in genuine or not.
On the Town: After being upset one too many times, Wheelie chases the Chopper Bunch around town with the help of Captain Tuff and Fishtail.
5 "Black Belt Fuji" / "Our Hero" / "Wheelie Goes Hawaiian" October 5, 1974 (1974-10-05)[26]
Black Belt Fuji: An orient named Black Belt Fuji visits Motor City and has Wheelie show him around town, despite Chopper's attempts to mess up the tour.
Our Hero: A scooter named Susie becomes lost so the "Rescue Squad" and Wheelie decide to locate and save her before Chopper can and receive all of the credit.
Wheelie Goes Hawaiian: Wheelie and Rota Ree travel to Hawaii to compete in a race that Chopper enters just to annoy Wheelie.
6 "The Inspection" / "The Old Timer" / "The Copter Caper" October 12, 1974 (1974-10-12)[27]
The Inspection: Chopper and his friends plan to ruin a mandatory inspection that Fishtail has prepared for Wheelie to pass.
The Old Timer: While escaping the Chopper Bunch, Wheelie finds an old car in need of help, but also needs to stay hidden from Chopper.
The Copter Caper: Wheelie and Rota Ree go on a picnic that is interrupted by a police helicopter that is actively searching for Chopper and his friends.
7 "Dr. Crankenstein" / "Bulldozer Buddy" / "Happy Birthday Wheelie" October 19, 1974 (1974-10-19)[28]
Dr. Crankenstein: Doctor Crankenstein, a psychotic scientist, creates a monster but needs the brain of an automobile in order to control it, so he hopes to capture either Wheelie or Chopper.
Bulldozer Buddy: Wheelie becomes acquainted with a friendly bulldozer who promises to help Wheelie when he is in trouble with Chopper.
Happy Birthday Wheelie: On Wheelie's birthday, Rota Ree and he visit an amusement park while Captain Tuff and Fishtail hope to capture Chopper to prevent any chaos.
8 "Wheelie, the Super Star" / "Down on the Farm" / "Roadeo" October 26, 1974 (1974-10-26)[29]
Wheelie, the Super Star: On the set of a movie, Chopper decides to sabotage Wheelie's position as a stunt double during one of the scenes.
Down on the Farm: Rota Ree's uncle is unable to maintain his farm for a brief period, so Wheelie fills in for him and completes his chores.
Roadeo: Both Wheelie and Chopper decide to enter a local rodeo, much to the dismay of Wheelie.
9 "Carfucious Says" / "Mighty Wheelie" / "Camping with a Go Go"" November 2, 1974 (1974-11-02)[30]
Carfucious Says: After befriending a new car named Carfucious, the Chopper Bunch decides to try to ruin the newfound friendship.
Mighty Wheelie: Wheelie decides to take it upon himself and stand up to the Chopper Bunch.
Camping with a Go Go: Rota Ree's nephew Go Go goes on a camping trip with his aunt and Wheelie, although Chopper tries to disrupt their fun.
10 "Lenny Van Limousine" / "Snow Foolin" / "Wheelie in Paris" November 9, 1974 (1974-11-09)[31]
Lenny Van Limousine: A rich vehicle named Lenny Van Limousine pays Chopper to force Rota Ree to go on a date with Lenny, despite her relationship with Wheelie.
Snow Foolin: Wheelie plans to have fun during a snowstorm which Chopper has decided to ruin.
Wheelie in Paris: At the Grand Prix in Paris, Wheelie is running late to the event so Chopper attempts to make him miss it completely.
11 "Dragster Net" / "Dragula" / "Boot Camp" November 16, 1974 (1974-11-16)[32][33]
Dragster Net: In the town of Motor City, Deputy Fishtail and Captain Tuff try to find the perpetrators of a series of robberies throughout the community.
Dragula: A vampire disguised as a racecar and capable of transforming into a vampire bat relentlessly tries to steal oil away from other cars, including Wheelie.
Boot Camp: After enlisting in the army, the Chopper Bunch pursues Wheelie in hopes that he will get in trouble during basic training.
12 "Dr. Cykll and Mr. Ryde" / "Johnny Crash" / "Wheelie and the Smoke Eater" November 23, 1974 (1974-11-23)[34]
Dr. Cykll and Mr. Ryde: Wheelie stumbles upon a brand new motorcycle that is actually Chopper in disguise, who wants to sabotage Wheelie's relationship with Rota Ree.
Johnny Crash: Chopper finds out that Wheelie has been invited to be a guest on the Johnny Crash Show and decides to ruin the appearance.
Wheelie and the Smoke Eater: Acting as a firefighter, Wheelie learns that the Chopper Bunch reaches out similarly in order to upstage him.
13 "Friday the Thirteenth" / "Wings of Wheelie" / "Wheelie's Clean Sweep" November 30, 1974 (1974-11-30)[13]
Friday the Thirteenth: It's Friday the thirteenth and Wheelie is worried that the Chopper Bunch will try their best to scare him.
Wings of Wheelie: Wheelie, wanting to learn how to fly, decides to take lessons which are interrupted by the Chopper Bunch, hoping that he will crash while practicing.
Wheelie's Clean Sweep: Filling in for Rota Ree's dad, who is a street sweeper, Wheelie cleans the streets of Motor City, unbeknownst to the fact that Chopper is watching his every move.

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

"I have written to NBC suggesting the harm that exists in this program and telling them about who really rides motorcycles and how this myth they are perpetuating effects us on the road. I suggest that you and your readers watch this show, then write letters, many letters, to NBC."
—Additional comments from Van Duson, a viewer who was concerned about the series' negative depictions of motorcycles and motorcyclists.[4]

Following the initial debut of the series, it received criticism and negative feedback on several aspects. Jack Anderson and Les Whitten, journalists for The Sumter Daily Item, felt that several animated television shows on NBC embodied too much violence, and listed Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, Speed Buggy, The Pink Panther, and Bugs Bunny as the most "aggressive" ones on the channel. In their concerns, they claimed that children watching the series were more likely to be prone to negative "social behavior" around others. Ultimately, the two recommended that younger viewers watch Hanna-Barbera's Devlin due to its inclusion of "no aggression, [...] altruism, and [...] acts of sympathy explaining feelings".[35]

In response to the motorcycles being negatively depicted on the show, a concerned viewer named Eric L. Van Duson wrote to Cycle in 1975 expressing disgust. He claimed that the portrayals of motorcycles could perhaps "brainwash [...] little kids" into thinking that motorcyclists are "nasty".[4] Reacting to Hanna-Barbera creating several series with vehicles serving as the main characters, such as Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, author David Perlmutter found the use of "humanized automobiles" to be too predictable and repetitive.[36] However, in a retrospective view of older cartoons, the staff at MeTV included the show on their list of "15 Forgotten Cartoons from the Early 1970s You Used to Love".[6]

Legacy[edit]

Along with Speed Buggy and Wonder Wheels, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch was one of the many Hanna-Barbera productions that incorporated automobiles able to talk and act like humans into animation;[14] these three shows were dubbed together as a "trilogy" by Perlmutter.[36] Additionally, it was listed as "the precursor to the numerous series featuring vehicles as super-heroes" that would arrive on television in both the 1980s and the 1990s.[7] On the 2003 compilation album Cartoon Network: Toon a Rama, the official theme song for Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch was included on the track listing.[10]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Mansour 2011, p. 526
  2. ^ "Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch". Cycle World. 14: 9, 12. 1975. Retrieved May 18, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b Sennett & Barbera 1989, p. 176
  4. ^ a b c Van Duson, Eric L. (January 1975). "Letters". Cycle. 14 (2). ISSN 0011-4286. Retrieved May 15, 2017. 
  5. ^ Kaye 1979, p. 178
  6. ^ a b MeTV staff (June 17, 2016). "15 Forgotten Cartoons from the Early 1970s You Used to Love". MeTV. Retrieved May 13, 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Terrace 1985, p. 442
  8. ^ David, Nina (1974). "TV Season: 1974". TV Season. Oryx Press: 178. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  9. ^ a b "Cartoon Network – Wheelie & The Chopper Bunch". AllMusic. Retrieved May 19, 2017. 
  10. ^ Lentz III 2007, p. 397
  11. ^ a b "Local Programs Sept. 7–13". TV Guide. 22 (36). September 7, 1974. 
  12. ^ a b "Local Programs Nov. 30–Dec. 6". TV Guide. 22 (48). November 30, 1974. 
  13. ^ a b c d Erickson 2005, p. 901
  14. ^ "1974: Saturday Morning Schedule". Cartoon Network. Archived from the original on December 9, 2000. Retrieved May 18, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Boomerang Schedule: Saturday, June 19, 2004". Cartoon Network. June 19, 2004. Archived from the original on June 19, 2004. Retrieved May 13, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Saturday Morning Cartoons – 1970's Volume 1". Barnes & Noble. May 26, 2009. Retrieved May 13, 2017. 
  17. ^ "Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch (TV Animated)". Warner Archive Collection. Retrieved May 13, 2017. 
  18. ^ a b Byrne 2006, p. 21
  19. ^ Booker 2014, p. 499
  20. ^ a b Sacks, Dallas & Dykema 2014, p. 157
  21. ^ Overstreet 2010, p. 269
  22. ^ "Local Programs Sept. 14–20". TV Guide. 22 (37). September 14, 1974. 
  23. ^ "Local Programs Sept. 21–27". TV Guide. 22 (38). September 21, 1974. 
  24. ^ "Local Programs Sept. 28–Oct. 4". TV Guide. 22 (39). September 28, 1974. 
  25. ^ "Local Programs Oct. 5–11". TV Guide. 22 (40). October 5, 1974. 
  26. ^ "Local Programs Oct. 12–18". TV Guide. 22 (41). October 12, 1974. 
  27. ^ "Local Programs Oct. 19–25". TV Guide. 22 (42). October 19, 1974. 
  28. ^ "Local Programs Oct. 26–Nov. 1". TV Guide. 22 (43). October 26, 1974. 
  29. ^ "Local Programs Nov. 2–8". TV Guide. 22 (44). November 2, 1974. 
  30. ^ "Local Programs Nov. 9–15". TV Guide. 22 (45). November 9, 1974. 
  31. ^ Middleton 2015, p. 433
  32. ^ "Local Programs Nov. 16–22". TV Guide. 22 (46). November 16, 1974. 
  33. ^ "Local Programs Nov. 23–29". TV Guide. 22 (47). November 23, 1974. 
  34. ^ Anderson, Jack; Whitten, Les (June 3, 1975). "Saturday Mayhem". The Sumter Daily Item: 5. Retrieved May 18, 2017. 
  35. ^ a b Perlmutter 2014, p. 157

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]