Cartoon Car Spotlight: The Bizarre Animated World of ‘Pole Position’
What if you turned a classic racing video game into an animated show and stuffed it with everything popular from today’s kid flicks–transforming vehicles (Inspector Gadget) that talked (Knight Rider), animal sidekicks (Speed Racer), secret missions fighting crime (Scooby-Doo), anime-like style (also Speed Racer), all involving classic and futuristic cars? Would it be spectacular, or would it be a spectacular mess?
That’s the story behind Pole Position, a 1984 animated TV series by DIC Entertainment that ran for 13 episodes. Loosely based (with little in common except for the name) on the smash-hit 1982 Namco arcade game, Pole Position was an overstuffed marketing attempt that sought to cash in on popular tropes, resulting in a bizarre but beloved amalgamation of oddities.
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Rewind to the ’80s: Buckle Up for Pole Position
The Pole Position show revolved around a family of stunt driving performers whose show is a front by the United States government for thwarting crime. Siblings Dan, Tess, and Daisy Darrett lost their parents in an accident and have been tasked by their uncle with carrying out their parents’ work. The trio uses futuristic vehicles that can transform into boats and planes; each vehicle has a talking “module” (computer) with a digital face.
Most of the 13 episodes involved the team being tasked with travelling to a location like Florida and protecting or finding a special object. Many of the episode titles made nods to Alfred Hitchcock works.
So, what made Pole Position such an odd show?
In addition to blatantly stealing ideas from every possible influence at the time, Pole Position would slip in occasional scenes or logic holes that left older viewers scratching their heads.
For instance, the young Daisy would often dress the portable computer modules up as “Mommy” and “Daddy” to role-play family life with them. Meant to be endearing, such scenes are quite sad and creepy considering her parents are dead. And the computer module characters–what voices! One was a high-pitched, modulated tone while the other is the smooth, human-like voice similar to James Earl Jones or Denzel Washington. And what’s the point of having a voice-controlled computer system if it still requires the drivers to press buttons to operate?
Pole Position has developed a loyal following over the years–prolonging its memory far longer than it deserved–particularly for its cool vehicle transformations and wild adventure story lines. It certainly has its quirks, but in its attempt to give us everything and the kitchen sink, it certainly left a memorable legacy.
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