Saturday, 2 January 2010

Yogi Bear — High Fly Guy

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Lew Marshall/Mike Lah; Layout – Ed Benedict; Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Yogi, Eaglet 2 – Daws Butler; Fly Guy (Eaglet 3), Mother Eagle, Eaglet 1 – Don Messick.
Released: November 20, 1958.

Time once again to name that cartoon. Ready? Here’s the plot:

A mother bird watches her eggs hatch. The mother and siblings head away from the nest, but one bird doesn’t know how. He is taught by another character who happens to be nearby but fails until he makes a life-saving rescue. Then, he hears his mother and siblings and joins them as the camera fades out.

No, the answer is not the 1953 Tom and Jerry cartoon Just Ducky, where the Yakky Doodle prototype can’t swim, Jerry tries to teach him how, but his natural instincts only kick in to rescue Tom from drowning. But it’s a pretty good guess.

This time, Joe and Bill have ripped off their own cartoon, substituting an eaglet for the ducklet (don’t worry, they recycled him elsewhere), Yogi Bear for Tom and Jerry and flying for swimming. There are no Boo Boo Bear, Jellystone Park or Ranger Smith in this cartoon—partly because they didn’t have counterparts in the Tom and Jerry cartoon, but mainly because that whole plot device didn’t get codified until Yogi’s second season. Of the first ten Yogis that aired, only two are set in Jellystone and four have Boo Boo.

The other link between the two cartoons is Ken Muse, who animated on both, though the designer and animator on this one came from Tex Avery’s unit at MGM—Ed Benedict and Mike Lah. They have a really odd design for Yogi, who has goofy-looking eyes slanted outward and the light brown muzzle colour extends around the eyes. Yogi’s front eye also extends above the side of his hat. I realise model sheets today have him that way, but Lah is the only one I recall who drew him like that in the early cartoons. And he talks from the side of his face.

Since we’ve already gone through the plot, there isn’t a lot to say. Majestic music augments an opening shot of a majestic mountain peak. We zoom in on a mother eagle, with Don Messick’s standard-issue falsetto, watching her three eggs hatch. The little birds beg to go flying, so they follow their mother off the precipice.


All but the last eaglet. There’s a bit of clever camera-work here. The bird stops at the edge of the cliff and looks down. The camera trucks in and out of a background cell of the ground below, going in and out of focus. And it saves 3 ½ seconds of animation, too. As mom and his brothers fly away, the little eaglet cries for them to wait.“I can’t fwy!” he bellows (substituting w’s for l’s seems to have been mandatory for kiddies in cartoons and radio comedies back then). The eaglet gives it a try but zooms to the ground out of view, a six-second shot of a cell of the sky and a camera shake substituting for animation. We see the end result; despite being newborn he weighs so much, he makes a dent in the ground.

While all this is happening, Yogi is snoozing against a tree. He hears crying. The eaglet then relates his sob story. Like in other early Yogis drawn by Lah, the character pops from pose to pose with no in betweens. The eaglet does it here.


Yogi agrees to teach him how to fly. “I’ve been watching birds do it for years,” Yogi informs him as his qualifications as an instructor. First, he puts the eaglet on a sapling he’s tied down and undoes the knot. We get a Charlie Shows rhyming two-some as Yogi exclaims “Contact, Jack!” and another Jackie Gleason reference as he shouts “And away you go!” The little bird flaps his wings but stalls in the air and then drops. Yogi nimbly comes to his rescue beside a cliff.

“I’ll show you how it’s done, son,” rhymes Yogi as he slaps on some wings made of thick evergreen branches. Much like Wile E. Coyote in Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z (1956), Yogi gets airborne and isn’t paying attention when he flies into something, in this case a hollow tree stump. “Flyin’ is for the birds,” is Yogi’s witticism as the camera fades. Too bad Charlie Shows and Joe Barbera didn’t steal some of Mike Maltese’s funny dialogue along with his gags.

Yogi sets up a teeter board, holding a rope attached to a rock on a nearby small cliff. Lah has taken over the animation here. “I don’t get it,” says the eaglet, who apparently has never seen Scrambled Aches (1957) because we get another Wile E. gag. The boulder lands on one end of the board sending Yogi crashing into the cliff above, followed by the rock on top of him (even though he runs away from it and hides behind a tree).


A short scene follows, as the bear demonstrates a beanie with a propeller, only to drill himself into the ground. Marshall returns for the rest of the cartoon. Yogi makes a paper airplane as the little bird weeps. “For cryin’ out loud,” grumbles the bear. See? The eaglet is crying. Yogi says “cryin’.” Get it? That’s Charlie Shows idea of dialogue. Anyway, Yogi throws the paper airplane with the bird on it and runs after him. Unfortunately, Yogi runs off the edge of a cliff and falls (waving ‘goodbye’ upside down to the eaglet is a nice touch. It’s done in three drawings on twos).


The birdie stretches the cartoon with unnecessary chatter. “Yogi! Help! Oh, poor Yogi. I gotta do somethin’. (pause) Yogi, wait for me!” All they really need here is a shock take, a determined look, and a zoom into action like, well, like in Just Ducky. But H-B loved filling cartoons with dialogue and things only got worse as they headed toward the ‘70s. Be that as it may, we hear a skid sound and the shot cuts to the bottom of a cliff where the flying eaglet is holding Yogi’s butt in his mouth (say what?!) and has saved his life. Yogi reacts by smiling as he knows the little bird has learned to fly. Aw. Ain’t that cute? Oh, wait, let’s save that line for when they recycle that ducklet.


Yogi is made an “onnowawwy eagle” for his teaching abilities by the little bird, who spots his mom and brothers and joins them in the sky in some cycle animation. We get in one little bit of a gag. “Remember, keep flappin’ them wings,” Yogi shouts as he demonstrates. Suddenly, he realises he is airborne and grabs the side of a cliff in a nice bit of scrambly animation. “Like I said, flyin’ is strictly for the birds,” Yogi remarks to the camera as it fades.

There are a couple of unusual music selections in this one, probably because it was in production early. This is the only cartoon which uses ‘TC-308’ and one of few where you can hear the Bill Loose-John Seely ‘Waltz’ underneath the sobbing birdie. ‘TC-221A’ was used more in Ruff and Reddy than in the later comedy shorts. ‘L-1158’ is a series of bassoon effects, one of which is used here.


0:00 - Yogi Bear main title theme (Curtin, Hanna, Barbera, Shows).
0:16 - EM-147 DOCUMENTARY MAIN TITLE (Phil Green) – Shot of mountain, mother watches eggs hatch.
0:41 - TC-436 SHINING DAY (Loose-Seely) – Mom agrees to let eaglets fly, third eaglet falls to ground.
1:48 - TC-302 WALTZ (Loose-Seely) – Yogi talks to eaglet, launches birdie from branch.
3:01 - ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT (Geordie Hormel) – Eaglet drops, Yogi grabs him.
3:20 - TC-308 WISTFUL COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Homemade wings scene, Yogi explains teeter board.
4:19 - TC-221A HEAVY AGITATO (Loose-Seely) – Rock drops on teeter board, then on Yogi’s head.
4:45 - LAF-1-1 FISHY STORY (Jack Shaindlin) – Beanie-bonnet gag, Yogi tosses birdie on paper airplane.
5:45 - LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Yogi runs behind airplane, falls of cliff, rescued.
6:23 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Spencer Moore) – Eaglet holds Yogi aloft,
6:26 - ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Eaglet goes off with mom and brothers, Yogi flies and grabs cliff.
6:59 - Yogi end title theme (Curtin).

9 comments:

  1. The shot of the eaglet emerging from his crater to see that he's lost his family always struck me as a sad moment in an early H-B short. The music probably helps.

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  2. The cartoon was kinda' dull and uninspired, but I like it when Yogi gets hit with the rock. For a Joke stolen from Warner Brothers, it has great timing and expression. Mike Lah handled it very well! Much classier than 'Two Corny Crows'.

    For the record, Mike Lah animated for Bill and Joe at MGM, back in 1946 and 47.

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  3. Zartok, everything pulls together in that gag despite restrictions Bill Hanna had in working out his gag. For television, cartoons had to be one length, not a split second longer, so it's really tough timing around that. On top of that, Scott Bradley wasn't there to write music to the mood; Hanna and Barbera had to use a stock library. Despite that, the gag came together well. It's not too long or short and the music builds and ends on impact.
    Lah has such a goofy looking Yogi at times; I was looking at the first Yowp cartoon (Foxy Hound Dog) again today and the scene with the google-eyed Yogi in the log stands out as typical Lah work on this series.

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  4. While the animation is limited and the story and gags are borrowed from both H-B's own work and that of future employee Michael Maltese, I like this cartoon in hindsight because of Yogi's personality and the flexibility it allows Daws Butler here.

    We're still very early in the game, so Yogi's not a scheming happy-go-lucky guy here. As in several of the first two dozen shorts, he's aggravated and annoyed at times, which allows Daws to give a different vocal take on the character than what would become the norm once Warren Foster took over writing duties.

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  5. Just for the record, the bulk of this cartoon was animated by Lewis Marshall, with additional animation by Michael Lah(including the scene with the rock). I know that both animators were not credited, but Mr. Marshall's work is unmistakably present here. Those two animators were also paired up in "Foxy Hound Dog" and the Pixie and Dixie cartoon that took place in the cheese factory.

    In some of the very early Yogi and Pixie and Dixie cartoons, it was common for animators like Lewis Marshall or Carlo Vinci to handle most of the short's animation, and then have Michael Lah jump in to help the animator complete the vast amount of footage.

    Mr. Lah, of course, singlehandedly animated some early cartoons like "Pie Pirates" and "Lion Tamer Huck". I really enjoy his broad, cartoony poses of the characters.

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  6. Thanks for the note, Mark. I'm never quite sure what to look for in Marshall's stuff. I've been trying to pick it out based on design.

    Lah's Yogi in profile is pretty easy to pick up; he did the scene in 'Foxy Hound Dog' with Yogi in the log.

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  7. Yowp:

    Thanks for profiling this favorite cartoon of mine! Indeed, I happen to LOVE this one! Mostly because it’s so unlike the rest of the run (“Brave Little Brave” notwithstanding).

    I don’t think I would have enjoyed an entire series of cartoons like this – and am glad Yogi settled into his eventual personality and environs, but this one always creates good feelings in me, and has, on admittedly rare occasions, even gotten sentimental me to tear up in the corners of my eyes.

    This may be the only cartoon where (at its climax) you get the feeling that Yogi could be seriously injured – or killed! And his simply waving good-bye to the baby eagle (and us) as he falls to his fate makes it all the more poignant.

    Even the title card is out of the ordinary. Pie Pirates may not have said “Yogi Bear in…” as well, but the illustration gave you some idea of what to expect. This one could be ANYTHING – and the graphic conjures up images of an “underwater cartoon”. Look at it, and you’ll see what I mean.

    And, from my unusual perspective of being a child of the early sixties, I saw THIS ONE long before Tom and Jerry (and their version) ever came to TV!

    Joe.

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  8. In response to J Lee, the 'grouchy' Yogi did endure in at least one cartoon beyond Season 1-specifically Season 2's SNOW WHITE BEAR, which is one my favorite Yogi episodes. Fast-paced, hilarious dialogue ensues from the running gag of Yogi's hibernation being disturbed all of the venerable story's principal characters. (Kudos to George Nicholas' animation on his triple-take, and 'wood block' sound effect each time there's a knock on the door!) This certainly gives Yogi a good reason to be grouchy. And while he and Boo-Boo share a cave, there's no allusion to Jellystone.

    The Season 3 premiere, OINKS AND BOINKS (another fairy tale spoof), also removes Jellystone from its canon. The bears somehow lose their cave to the Three Little Pigs!

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  9. Dodsworth,

    I could recognize the Ed Benedict's design on this episode!

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