The Cartoon Couch: Wake, Rattle and Roll
It’s time for another segment of The Cartoon Couch. In this installment, we’ll be looking back at the Hanna-Barbera syndicated series Wake, Rattle and Roll.
Some people may feel that discussing this series here is a cheat, since it’s not technically a cartoon, but Wake, Rattle and Roll did have regular animated segments in every episode but with live action host segments, so WR&R is a live action/animation hybrid, not unlike The Super Mario Brothers Super Show!, so it still counts. In any case, Wake Rattle and Roll was a series produced by Hanna-Barbera Studios which ran on weekday mornings for only a single season (1990) in first run syndication.
Wake, Rattle and Roll focused on a boy named Sam Baxter (played by then child actor R.J. Williams, who previously voiced the title character on NBC’s Kissyfur and who also voiced the character of Kid Cloudkicker on Disney’s Tale Spin. This kid has a knack for voicing cartoon bears.) and his robot DECKS (which was an acronym for Digital Electronic Cassette-Headed Kinetic System). DECKS was built from old audio-video equipment and was voiced by none other than Rob Paulsen. Mr.Paulsen also voiced Dickie Dastardly on H-B’s Yo, Yogi! that same year, but we like Rob, so we’ll forgive him. Sam and DECKS would have random misadventures in their basement, which was full of impossibly sci-fi high inspired tech, such as a People Processor -a teleporter used to send or retrieve people to and from anywhere in the world. Sometimes, it could even send people through time, a supercomputer called Mondo View that was used for several reasons on the show, for example, Sam is able to talk to Grandpa Quirk anywhere in the world, and a Debbie Detector, which was a video monitor used by Sam and DECKS to communicate with Sam’s older sister Debbie (played by Terri Ivens) which lessens the amount of time Debbie spends in the basement. It often makes an alarm sound when she approaches. Interestingly, Terri Irvens previously appeared in the short lived FOX teen sitcom Boys Will Be Boys (1987-1988) starring the pre-Friends Matthew Perry as “Chazz”. Other supporting characters included Sam’s wacky-but-brilliant inventor grandfather Lester T. Quirk (played by Avery Schreiber), who constantly supplied Sam & DECKS with sci-fi technology to add to their basement, Sam’s platonic girl friend K.C. – but not the Sunshine Band – (played by Ebonie Smith, who’s perhaps best known for playing Danny Glover’s youngest daughter in the Lethal Weapon movies) and Sam and Debbie’s mother, Mrs. Baxter, voiced by Adrienne Barbeau. Ms. Barbeau never appeared on screen. We only heard her voice, like Orson on Mork and Mindy. Not even a cheesy leg shot. Sorry, guys.
Here’s the shows’ opening:
In a typical episode, Sam and DECKS would do some shtick, and then DECKS would activate the television screen on his torso and display an animated short. There were 2 shorts which were created specifically for the series: Monster Tails and The Fender Bender 500. Monster Tails focused on the pets of the famous movie monsters who all lived together in a castle in Transylvania, which was maintained by Igor’s son, Iggy Jr. (voiced by Charles Adler) while their famous owners were making movies in Hollywood. The main cast consisted of:
- Frankenmutt (voiced by Frank Welker) – The pet dog of Frankenstien’s monster, who unlike his master, possessed the brain of a genius.
- Elsa (voiced by Pat Musick) – The pet dog of the Bride of Frankenstien, who has the brain of a parrot.
- Catula (voiced like Iggy Jr. by Charlie Adler) – The pet cat of Count Dracula, who like his master is pretty arrogant, but has a mastery of magic and transformations.
- Mumphrey (Frank Welker again, doing his best Woody Allen impression) – The pet dog of The Mummy.
- Dr. Veenie (voiced by Jonathan Winters) – The pet dog of Dr. Jekyll. Normally a brilliant scientist but who like his famous master, had a mindlessly monstrous destructive alter ego named Mr. Snyde, which manifested every time the good doctor sneezed.
- Angel (Pat Musick again) – The pet goldfish of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. She floated around the castle without the need of water because she was a ghost, a fate which befell her after being eaten by a shark some time before the first episode.
The other regular animated segment was The Fender Bender 500, basically an update of H-B’s Wacky Races, only this time with established H-B characters as the competitors. The racers and cars consisted of:
- 00 – Dick Dastardly and Muttley in the Dirty Truckster (Design wise, it was the Mean Machine with monster truck wheels)
- 1 – Yogi and Boo-Boo in the Jellystone Jammer (Which looked like a picnic basket on wheels)
- 2 – Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss in the Half Dog, Half Cat Half Track (Try saying that 3 times fast!)
- 3- Wally Gator and Magilla Gorilla in the Swamp Stomper (A swamp buggy on wheels. Gorillas don’t generally live in swamps, but let’s not nitpick here.)
- 4 – Top Cat and Choo-Choo in the Alley Cat (Which looked like a trash can on wheels)
- 5 – Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Looey in Texas Twister (Which resembled a motorized covered wagon. Not to be confused with the song by Little Feat or the obscure Marvel Comics character)
- 6 – Pixie & Dixie in the Cheddar Shredder (Which looked like a wedge of cheddar cheese on wheels)
- 7 – Auggie Doggie and Doggy Daddy in the Lucky Trucky (which I swear sounds like the title of a preschool show to me)
- 13 – Winsome Witch with her cat Lucky in the Sonic Broom (It was a cauldron on wheels with a pair of broomsticks for the exhaust pipes)
Those familiar with the Wacky Races already know what to expect from this show. Fender Bender 500 didn’t win any points for originality, but it did have a couple of strong points: For one, the announcer was disc jockey Shadoe Stevens. For another, it brought the character of Winsome Witch back to television.
Trivia Time: The series’ title was a play on the title of the song “Shake Rattle and Roll”, written in 1954 by Jesse Stone and most famously performed by Bill Haley and His Comets.
After WR&R ended its run in syndication after 1 season, the reruns were acquired by the Disney Channel from October 1991 to 1994. Because TDC aired the series in the afternoons, the title was changed to Jump, Rattle and Roll. Also, because Disney Channel was commercial free at the time, an additional cartoon (referred to as a “Secret Cartoon”) was added after the live action segments as a time filler. This “secret cartoon” would either be reruns of the “Dino and Cavemouse” (basically a prehistoric Tom & Jerry retread) segments from The Flintstones Comedy Show or reruns of “Undercover Elephant” from H-B’s CB Bears show. I didn’t have the Disney Channel at the time (TDC wouldn’t become part of any basic cable package until a few years later), so I only caught the Disney Channel airings sporadically. Every time that I tuned in to Jump, Rattle and Roll, the “secret cartoon” would always be “Dino and Cavemouse” Lucky me.
Wake, Rattle and Roll wasn’t a great show by any means. The jokes were corny. The plots were predictable, but of course, this was a kids’ show, so I wasn’t expecting the writing to be on the level of Yes, Minister or anything. However, I can’t bring myself to disliking the show. There was something about the shows’ premise that I found to be somewhat appealing. The live action segments had a certain campy charm to them, similar to the live action host wraparounds on The Super Mario Brothers Super Show! (which have aged significantly better than that series’ cartoon segments, in my honest opinion). It could by my inner geek speaking here, but I can’t dislike a series that has wacky sci-fi inspired inventions as part of it’s premise. I actually had an idea for an animated series which was loosely inspired by the live action segments of WR&R; about a pair of fun-loving young kid siblings who would spend the day playing around with goofy science in their high-tech suburban home, driving their parents and neighbors crazy. Kind of like Johnny Test, only good.
So here’s to you, Wake, Rattle & Roll. You weren’t on the air for very long, but your presence at least made an impact on this geek.