Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Penelope Pitstop revisited

This past weekend, Facebook was overtaken by a meme asking members to change their profile pictures to an image from their favorite childhood cartoon.  This was allegedly in an effort to spread awareness about child abuse--the kind of oddly illogical justification that always sets my folklore antenna a-wigglin'.

Regardless of the alleged purpose, it was fun to see what cartoons people chose...and how generationally defined they were.  Among the FB friends I know to be about my age, Bullwinkle, Underdog, Josie and the Pussycats, and Velma from Scooby Doo were especially popular. 

I myself went with Penelope Pitstop.  I have only vague memories of this cartoon, since--as I discovered from that veritable source, Wikipedia--it was only on for one year, in 1969, when I would barely have been four (the show was a spinoff from another Hanna Barbera cartoon, Wacky Races).  All I can figure is it must've been in reruns for awhile after that, because I certainly remember Penelope and her car, a pink roadster that doubled as a makeup compact.  I am embarrassed to say it, but I suspect I did some serious gender imprinting on Penelope.

That Hanna Barbera chose to give Penelope her own show seems apt given the 1969-1970 airdate.  However, Penelope is a dubious feminist "she-ro."  As the show's introduction explains, she's in "perpetual peril from her fortune-seeking guardian, Sylvester Sneakly, who--unknown to her--is really The Hooded Claw!"  And she depends on the help of her "ever-present protectors, the Anthill Mob," a troupe of seven little men who come to her rescue whenever The Hooded Claw ties her to the traintracks, or to a log floating toward a sawmill, or whatever. 

(Hadn't considered the Snow White connection with the seven dwarf rescuers, but it's clearly there.  Maybe that was part of the show's appeal for me?)

As unlikely a feminist role model as all of this makes Penelope out to be, there was nevertheless something deeply thrilling about her.  She raced cars (which my oldest brother also did, much to my admiration), and her car looked like a cat and was also a rolling makeup kit!  Plus, she wore awesome white go-go boots and jhodpurs.  However, she wasn't such a slave to fashion that she allowed style to cripple her, as the clip below illustrates:

As cool as the boots were, Penelope knew when to ditch them in order to save her own hide, and those of the Anthill Mob.  As she says here, she's going to "save the fellas, as well."

All things considered, there were a lot worse cartoon characters I might have imprinted on as a kid.  I'd pit Penelope against Disney's lame-o Princesses any day.  With those boots, she could kick any of their asses from one end of the Magic Kingdom to the other and then drive them all to the hospital in the Compact Pussycat.


Beth said...

Wow, I do not remember Penelope Pitstop. With an air date of 1969, I would have been turning three so the reruns must have been short (or localized?) or I would have remembered her.

I loved watching cartoons when I was a kid. I wonder if "kids these days" will have as fond a memory of their vampires and Dora as we do with Bugs and Mr. Peabody.

Rosemary said...

Beth, when I looked up the dates I was surprised, too--I don't know why I would remember something from when I was that young, but I do.

There's still cartoon fare out there that has appeal for both kids and adults (e.g., _The Simpsons_), but I agree...I'm not sure it can really compare to things like _Bullwinkle_. Of course, I'm completely biased.

Still, there was a much more homogeneous cartoon "culture" when we were kids, since no one had cable. Everyone pretty much watched (or turned their noses up at) the same things. Except for _Penelope Pitstop_, apparently! :^)