Saturday, September 26, 2009

Yogi Bear — Baffled Bear

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)

12 comments:

  1. This seemed almost like an attempt to get in a pantomime and solo short with Yogi, excluding some voices of Yogi by Daws and the narration. That's my favorite gag of the cartoon ther,e the little red car in the stock scene that snaps at Yogi with its hood and that has headlights for eyes and thus almost barks like a dog!

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  2. That was nice analysis. I always used to love this cartoon as a kid because it had cars and trucks! But now I've seen many other cartoons, and it seems kinda' lame in comparison.
    I miss your clever under-image statements...

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  3. Oh, and technically thats not a Steam Shovel, thats an Roller- Looks like a Bickenbach product! :P

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  4. I saw this on Boomerang not too long ago in their Yogi block. It would help immensely if Boomerang actually bothered to remaster the old Huck, Yogi, & Quick Draw shows so that all the toons are repackaged as they were originally shown. Not only that, but maybe you can offer some explanation as to why some shorts have intro music deleted?

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  5. Great post as usual, Yowp ... made even better by the many screenshots. I never laughed much while watching this cartoon, but Bick and Monte provided great visual interest. Muse had his moments, too. The directors ensured that the aural side was also good, with well-matched music and charming narration (though you have a point about the need for a portentous voice -- if only H-B could have hired Ted Knight 14 years before they actually did).

    The ending looks likeable with Yogi making the best of his situation, but maybe it gave Stephen King the idea for concluding his short story "Trucks." I'd hate to be a character in that tale ... stranded at a gas bar, servicing sentient vehicles.

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  6. Might I ALSO add, too, that the stock "snapping like a dog" bit of the car is my favorite part of both "Baffled bear" AND Disney's "Motor Mania"--that, and in the Disney short the "Raod Hog morph" gag...

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  7. Zartok, unfortunately the screen grab comments are something I do if I have time and stuff strikes me. I'm involved in a pile of organisations which take up a lot of spare time starting about mid-September through the spring. Doing the cartoon posts every Saturday will be a challenge.

    Steve, Motor Mania is a great piece of satire and is one of my favourite Disneys (I don't have many).

    One imaginative bit I liked and didn't mention was when Messick does his "well, grouchy as a bear" and Yogi looks at the camera in disbelief. Or as much disbelief as you can get in limited animation.

    Hobbyfan, I don't know why they're packaged that way. Or when it started. The credit inconsistency was certainly in syndication in the '80s because I saw it.

    Tony, I never thought of Ted Knight; at first I thought of John Ployart but his narration voice in The Dover Boys is syrupy and too put on. Ted had a very even-pitched intone on Aquaman which may have worked (I can't believe I can actually hear it in my mind after 40-plus years). Paul Frees could have done it; he had a couple of different narration voices at his disposal.

    Actually, I'd like to have heard Criswell narrate. :)

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  8. It's one of the few reasons why i so loved much the Yogi Bear first cartoons. When i was a kid, i didn't make attentions on it but your analysis and rewatching this on YouTube few weeks ago (Remastered besides), i find this short funny and well organised.

    I love also how they give to Yogi some diverse bears roles instead to be a Jellystone havoc. It's a shame that a brillant series starting to be formulaic at the end of this season and much later.

    Keep your great work Yowp!

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  9. " Baffled Bear " also brings to mind " The Stout Trout ". The story is told so well by Don Messick, as Yogi with very little lines plays it out. For sight gags though, I think " Baffled Bear " is better. Thinking of Martin's post, in the late 60's and very early 70's,we had a local television station that ran the " Huckleberry Hound Show " in it's original format with all the other seven minutes shorts that ran within his show. It was complete all the way down to the very rare " Screen Gems " Dancing Sticks logo. I noticed it was in the early 80s that the shorts were shown independently and some of the intros and outros had no music. Great job Yowp, as usual.

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  10. I thought you might have stopped the comments from a lack of recognition. But if you're strapped for time, do what you think is best.

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  11. Hi, Dodsworth! Hi, everybody!

    Did anyone see, on this episode, that sick Volkswagen Beetle which chases Yogi until the top of a tree, and the Volks ends acting as a ferocious dog, attempting to hunt the poor Yogi?

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  12. People should have seen it. Not only did I refer to it in this post, there's even a picture of it.

    It's a small car, and that's about the only thing it has in common with a Volkswagen.

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