Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse (Mike Lah, uncredited); Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Narrator – Don Messick; Yogi Bear – Daws Butler.
Released: November 27, 1958.
Plot: Yogi’s forest is replaced by a freeway which he fruitlessly tries to cross.
The Yogi Bear that people think of is Yogi Bear, Sitcom Star. Every week it was, more or less, the same situation. Yogi, residing in scenic Jellystone Park, tried to outwit Ranger Smith and nab a pic-a-nic basket or five, with little Boo Boo as a friend/conscience. Writer Warren Foster managed to wring enough variations on the theme to create memorable and very popular cartoons.
But all cartoon series evolve and that’s true of the genial bruin. Many of Yogi’s animated adventures in the first season of The Huckleberry Hound Show, when his popularity at least equalled the star’s, do not involve sidekicks, national parks or thatched-straw hampers of goodies. And a number of the earliest ones don’t follow the sitcom format at all. They are spot-gag shorts, a venerable format used by great minds like Tex Avery (Cross Country Detours at Warners, or Car of Tomorrow at MGM) and no-so-great ones (whoever inflicted the world with Columbia’s Tangled Travels).
Disney had spot-gag success in the 1940s with Goofy, putting him into a funny series of ‘How To’ shorts, with an off-screen narrator providing instructional comment that set up a gag wherein things fall apart for The Goof. Writer Charlie Shows tried doing the same thing in a few early Yogi Bear cartoons with mixed success. One of those efforts is Baffled Bear.
The concept is a good one and this could have been a terrific satiric cartoon, but it suffers from two things. It takes forever for the spot gags to start happening. And the gags are, unfortunately, not all that strong, let alone a commentary on how post-war freeways changed lives.
In fact, the cartoon kind of switches in mid-stream. It opens like it’ll be a fairy tale parody (not unheard of in cartoons), complete with an opening shot of a book and Don Messick’s narration telling a story.
Yogi beds down in his home, “which happened to be the giant trunk of a redwood tree,” after taking “a last look at his beloved forest.” You’d think this would be a cue for the viewer to see the forest that the bear sees, maybe even a pan over one of Monty’s pleasing backgrounds like so many other cartoons, but all we get is (ho-hum) a stationary Yogi blinking. The bear then curls up on the dirt to sleep.
However, while Yogi snoozes over the winter, the forest is chopped down and replaced with a freeway, as Don Messick drops his voice a bit to intone “Saws started sawing. Steam shovels started shovelling and dump trucks started dumping.” This is about the only time Don’s real-nice-guy sound doesn’t quite work; the ridiculousness of words might have been emphasized and thus made funnier with some real portentous voice reading the script.
I love Monty’s snow-covered evergreens and shades of blue.
Anyway, by the time Yogi ends his hibernation to walk outside his tree, we’re at the 2:40 mark of the cartoon (including titles). Shows and Barbera (or whoever) take a third of the cartoon to get to the meat of our story and the real start of any gags. A better set up would simply have the freeway instantly pop up, Yogi come out, and cram in as much spot gag fun as possible.
Maybe it didn’t happen that way because Shows couldn’t come up with a pile of spot gags and had to fill the seven minutes in other ways. We get a couple of the same gags over. He must have felt Yogi getting flattened by a car was hilarious because we get it twice. Twice we get a gag which ends with Yogi being treed by a small car that has eyes for headlights and snaps at him with its hood (the animation is re-used). And about this time, the storybook-style narration changes to a “how to” style narration.
My favourite visual part of the cartoon comes at the point where Yogi is sauntering across the freeway, stopping cars. Not for the animation of the cars screeching to a jagged stop, like you might find in a theatrical, because there isn’t any. All we get is a background of cars with Yogi in a walk cycle from right to left. What I like is Dick Bickenbach’s design. The cars have a look of, say, a ’58 Fairlane or a ’53 Crown Victoria, but they’re not. Bick just incorporates car design elements of that era. He didn’t get as ridiculous as cars actually were back then because the backgrounds aren’t supposed to distract from the foreground.
At first, we’re told Yogi is just trying to cross the super-highway. But then, inexplicably, the narrator informs us “A hungry bear will try anything once.” Hungry? Oh, that’s why he’s trying to get across the freeway. That information suddenly comes out of nowhere. Yogi crawls along a branch over the road, the branch snaps, and Yogi lands in the middle of cars coming at both directions. Here’s what Ken Muse does next.
Next, our hero comes up with “a patented balloon-o-copter ... Not bad, dad” (Shows loved rhyming two-somes like that). But, for no reason other than plot convenience, the balloons break, Yogi zips down out of sight, leaving nothing but an animation-saving background on screen for about five seconds.
Yogi lands on the road and pretends he’s dead to avoid being hit. Instead, he’s flattened again, this time by a steam roller. The scene is animated by Mike Lah, you can tell by the teeth and the mouth movements. Next, Yogi disguises himself as an old woman in a wheelchair to get across but is chased up the tree by the little car. You can tell the tree animation is recycled because Daws Butler says “Down, boy!” but Yogi’s lips don’t move, just like before.
The bear decides to build a wooden bridge over the highway as the same three cars pass underneath three times. A moving van doesn’t.
The wind-up gag has Yogi exclaiming “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” as he takes advantage of the drivers by opening a gas station. The storybook now returns, with the narrator parodying an ad slogan “Stop in at Yogi’s Super Service Station. Tell him I sent you.” Yogi is, for some reason, drawn with a light brown mask around the eyes like in the first cartoons of the series. As it's just one drawing, Bickenbach may have been responsible.
The Capitol Hi-Q and Langlois Filmusic libraries are put to good use here. The fanfare-opening music during the construction sequence is perfect, and the hiccupping comedy walker music by Jack Shaindlin brings the cartoon to a fitting end. We get the full version of Shaindlin’s Grotesque No. 2. There’s even one of Spencer Moore’s short bassoon scales which found a home in a bunch of the early cartoons.
0:00 - Yogi sub main title theme (Hanna-Barbera-Curtin-Shows)
0:26 - ZR-51 LIGHT ANIMATION (Geordie Hormel) – Yogi goes into tree.
1:00 - L-1139 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Yogi snores.
1:16 - EM-147 DOCUMENTARY MAIN TITLE (Phil Green) – Tractors and steam shovels at work.
1:39 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Yogi snoozes; wakes up; hit by car.
3:02 - LAF-10-7 GROTESQUE No 2 (Shaindlin) – Yogi inside tree, newspaper gag, branch gag, balloon gag, Yogi plays possum.
5:43 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Spencer Moore) – “Most motorists have a sense of fair play”
5:48 - LAF-25-3 bassoon and zig-zag strings (Shaindlin) – Steam shovel runs over Yogi, wheelchair bit, Yogi hit by van, Yogi pumps gas.
7:10 - Yogi end title theme (Curtin)