August 02, 2014


(CBS, September 14-December 14, 1991)

Sei Young Animation Co., Ltd., The Waldo Film Company, DiC Entertainment, Hit Entertainment

Townsend Coleman – Waldo/Wally
Brad Garrett – Wizard Whitebeard
Dave Workman – Woof
Julian Holloway – Odlaw
Jim Cummings - Narrator

Conspicuous, yet hard to find.

            As the 1990s rolled around, the world was gripped with a new obsession: finding an oddly-dressed man in a maddeningly detailed crowd of strange people.

An example of the heavily detailed world of Martin Hanford.

British illustrator Martin Hanford always had an interest in crowds. Growing up, he would delve into Hollywood movies that featured a heavy amount of extras in their scenes and had exciting battle sequences. Hanford constantly drew crowd scenes, blending in elements of everything he enjoyed as much as possible including history and swashbuckling epics. Eventually graduating art college, Hanford drew his elaborate pictures for editorial and advertising clients until David Bennett, art director for Walker Books, asked to see Hanford’s work for a children’s publication and suggested a unique character to serve as a focal point for his illustrations. 

The first Where's Waldo? book.

            And so, Wally was born. Wally, British slang for someone who is absent-minded, is a world and time traveler who sports a red and white striped shirt with matching bobbled hat, large round glasses, and a walking stick. Coming from the Land of Wallies where everyone looks the same (with some minor differences, such as different stripes, missing accessories, etc.), he wanders around to new lands encountering its strange inhabitants, amongst which the reader is charged with finding him. In 1987, after two years of development and up to 8 weeks spent on each two-page drawing, the first book in the series, Where’s Wally?, was published and became a sensation. 

Where's Waldo? abroad.

The book reached international markets, resulting in Wally’s name being changed to reflect where the book was printed, leading to his being known as Waldo in North America, Charlie in France, Hetti in India and Sri Lanka, Walter in Germany, Effy in Israel, Willy in Norway, Valli in Iceland, Holger in Denmark and Hugo in Sweden. In his first appearance, Waldo was loaded down with gear that he’d lose piece by piece in each successive scene, giving the readers something else to look for besides just him, such as a snorkel mask, a camera, and camping equipment. The back also featured checklists of various other things to find. Each scene would be introduced to the reader via a “postcard” from Waldo with text edited by David Lloyd.

Odlaw, Wizard Whitebeard, Wilma/Wenda, Waldo and Woof.

To heighten the challenge with each successive book, additional items were placed around the illustrations to be found, including an equally elusive supporting cast: Wizard Whitebeard (The Great Waldo Search, 1989), the one responsible for sending Waldo on his quests and who constantly loses his magic scrolls; his dog Woof, who was only seen as a tail at first as he’d be often scared and go into hiding; his original girlfriend Wilma, who dresses like Waldo with a skirt instead of pants, triangular glasses and carries a striped umbrella (both appeared in Where’s Waldo: the Ultimate Fun Book, 1990); Wenda, Wilma’s twin sister who would replace Wilma in the books as both a featured character and Waldo’s girlfriend; and Odlaw, an evil version of Waldo with a brown and yellow color scheme and a mustache (both from Where’s Waldo: The Magnificent Poster Book!, 1991). Waldo Watchers (also from Ultimate Fun), a group of loyal Waldo fans who dressed like Waldo and Wilma/Wenda, were included to add extra confusion for the reader. Originally, there were 99 of them, but later books kept the number to 25. Waldo’s appearance would also be altered slightly by Hanford, gaining a slimmer face after his first book.

Waldo with an Underground Hunter.

At the height of the series’ popularity, it was decided to adapt Waldo into animated form. Developed by Rowby Goren, the cartoon was a joint venture between Sei Young Animation, The Waldo Film Company, and DiC Entertainment. The show followed happy-go-lucky Waldo (Townsend Coleman) and his dog, Woof (Dave Workman) as they were sent by his friend, Wizard Whitebeard (Brad Garrett), to the far-off lands featured in the books to help solve problems and puzzles for their inhabitants, while also picking up items to add to his collection. They traveled via Waldo’s magic walking stick, which allowed him to open teleportation portals by drawing a circle in the air. However, Waldo’s evil double, Odlaw (Julian Holloway), would always be lurking around trying to steal it. Twice an episode, there would be an homage to the books in the “Waldo Minute,” where an image would be frozen on screen giving the audience a minute to find Waldo. Much like the books, the names of the characters were changed depending on what market the show was broadcast, while the same actors were retained to record both the American and United Kingdom audio tracks. 

Where’s Waldo? debuted on CBS on September 14, 1991. It was written by Goren with Evelyn A.R. Gabai, Bill Matheny, David Schwartz, Julianne Klemm and George Atkins. The theme was composed by Jeff Barry, whose lyrics were altered along with the show’s title and Waldo’s name in the dialogue depending on the region. The rest of the music was composed by Michael Tavera. Unfortunately, the series only lasted a single season of 13 episodes as it was pitted against NBC’s wildly popular Saved by the Bell and suffered from poor ratings as a result. It was nominated for the 1992 Young Artist Award for “Outstanding New Animation Series”, but ended up losing to fellow CBS program Back to the Future

Where's Waldo?: The Birthday Blowout VHS cover.

During the run of the show, Waldo was featured on boxes of Quaker Life Cereal, accompanying box prizes, send away item offers, and also featured adapted Waldo scenes on the back. Waldo returned to the boxes in 1997 for the release of The Wonder Book. Little Brown & Co. released two books based on the show after its cancellation called Fun With Waldo and More Fun With Waldo, which featured print versions of the “Waldo Minute” scenes as well as new images and puzzles. Various episodes were released to VHS in the United States by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, FOX Kids Video, and CBS Video and by Abbey Home Entertainment in the United Kingdom. There were also four 30-minute direct-to-video specials released between 1992 and 1997 utilizing elements of the show. In 2009, the DVD Where’s Wally? Vol. 1 – My Left Fang was released in Australia; the only DVD release of the series to date. 

The Where's Waldo? Sunday strip.

While the cartoon may have been short-lived, the Waldo franchise was not. It’s comprised of 28 books from both its main series and its activity book spin-off, merchandising including figurines and dolls, video games for home consoles and mobile devices, and even a comic strip. From 1993-98, Waldo was a Sunday comic strip drawn by Stephan Martiniere and distributed by King Features Syndicate. Candlewick Press collected the strips into four activity books: The Complete Crazy Activity Book, The Really Remarkable Activity Book, The Simply Sensational Activity Book and The Wildly Wonderful Activity Book. In the late 90s, Waldo was also the star of two educational international magazines called Wally’s World and Wally’s History of the World. In 2019, NBCUniversal acquired the rights to the character and began airing a new animated series produced by DreamWorks Animation Television.

Waldo on a poster for the NYC Explorer Pass.

Waldo has also made constant appearances outside of his usual printed form as well in numerous tributes and parodies. In 1994, an actor dressed as Waldo made an appearance in the comedy Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult. In 2009, the city of Chicago hosted a real life recreation of the books, with people dressed up as all the characters which had to be found throughout the city. In 2010, Waldo was included in Howard Hallis’ “The Picture of Everything”, a massive drawing of many characters from various media that took over 13 years to create. Also in 2010, the British sitcom Miranda featured a Where’s Waldo?-inspired game in the episode “A New Low.” In 2012 for the 4th season of Comedy Central’s Tosh.0, host Daniel Tosh would dress up as Waldo at the end of each show giving the home viewer 2 seconds to find him amongst the audience. Waldo was one of several dozen cartoon characters featured in the 2012 MetLife Superbowl commercial “Everyone” (you’ll have to find him, of course). In 2013, Waldo became the official mascot of the New York City Explorer Pass.

“My Left Fang” (9/14/91) – Waldo must help a young vampire named Fang find a scroll that will turn him human.

“Forest Women” (9/21/91) – Waldo must save the magic forest from destruction by Fred and is evil army.

“It’s A Gruel, Gruel World” (9/28/91) – Waldo seeks to break the curse the evil witch Porcina placed on the Gobbling Gluttons, keeping them eternally hungry.

“The Great Ball Game” (10/5/91) – To keep the peace, Waldo must help King Fussifuss find the crown trophy before the final ball game ends and the players discover it’s gone.

“Draining the Deep” (10/19/91) – The evil pirate Pegbeard steals the great sea plug in order to drain the ocean and uncover all of the sunken treasures.

“The Underground Hunters” (10/26/91) – Waldo searches the land of the Underground Hunters for Wizard Whitebeard’s lost scroll and discovers dragons may not be as bad as the hunters believe.

“The Unfriendly Giants” (11/2/91) – Wizard Whitebeard tasks Waldo with finding three puzzling clues that will end the giants’ reign of terror.

“A Stone Age Story” (11/9/91) – Waldo travels back to the stone age where cavemen work in tandem with the animals. That is, until, Odlaw helps convince the animals to go on strike.

“The Land of the Carpet Flyers” (11/16/91) – Rudniesh’s hopes of winning the Rug-Burner 500 are dashed when his special rug plans and everyone else’s rugs are stolen, which he must work to replace before the race.

“The Living Exhibits” (11/23/91) – After saving Wizard Whitebeard from being trapped in a movie, Waldo and his friends head to the Land of the Living Museum to stop an art thief.

“Ahead of the Future” (11/30/91) – Waldo travels to the future where he must protect Robot 9 from destruction for being obsolete.

“Viking Fling” (12/7/91) – Miss Pixie needs the Magical Musical Golden Horn to become a full wizard, but our heroes must first deal with the perils of the Viking world.

“The Land of the Lost Pyramid” (12/14/91) – Waldo must defeat Guanomuck, the vilest of all Aztec villains.


“The Meanie Genie of Aladdin’s Lamp” (6/2/92) – To stop a genie from destroying Lampsmania, Waldo has to find the man who created the genie’s first lamp.

“The Merry X-Mas Mix Up” (11/20/92) – Waldo and friends have to help Santa unscramble his gift list before Christmas ends up cancelled.

“Around the World in a Daze” (9/29/97) – Whitebeard sends Waldo and friends to help a famous explorer break the world record on a trip around the world against an evil rival.

“The Birthday Blow-Out” (9/29/97) – Waldo and Woof head to Birthday Land to search for a stolen Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Fudge Brownie Cake recipe.

Originally posted in 2014. Updated in 2020.

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