Saturday, May 20, 2017

Changing Yogi Bear

The original Yogi Bear wasn’t quite the Yogi Bear we all know today.

After Warren Foster arrived at Hanna-Barbera in April 1959 and took over writing the Yogi cartoons, a decision was made to put Yogi in a consistent setting with a consistent cast. So the bear was given a home in Jellystone Park, Boo Boo was made a permanent sidekick and Ranger Smith was added to give Yogi someone to conflict with. This template made for stronger story potential and, evidently, resulted in the character becoming more popular, and certainly more memorable.

But I still really like the pre-Foster Yogi that appeared on the first season of the Huckleberry Hound Show, and mourn his passing. Yogi was sometimes in Jellystone, other times in what appears to have been some generic woods. Several different rangers appeared on occasion. Boo Boo wasn’t always there. (As a side note, there was an awful lot less dialogue, even though Charlie Shows had been hired specifically to write words. I suppose it was natural, considering Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna had worked with silent characters for 17 years).

The first-season Yogi also occasionally employed the spot-gag format, which I really liked. Many of the theatrical studios had tried it, both in live-action and animated shorts. A narrator gives a line of patter on a particular subject, setting up a sight-gag on the screen. Then it’s on to the next gag.

There’s one problem with sight-gag cartoons—you have to rely on the artwork, and TV animation budgets are such that dialogue gags are wayyyy cheaper. Still, the Hanna-Barbera cartoons in that 1958-59 season carried it off.

If I had to pick a favourite spot-gagger, at least right this moment, it would have to be The Stout Trout, where narrator Don Messick accompanied Yogi Bear’s continual failed attempts to catch a fish in a lake. Much of the cartoon is animated by Carlo Vinci. Below are some frames of Yogi swatting his arm into the lake, and then after the fish sprays his face with water. You can see Yogi’s expressions. They’re solidly drawn. Sure, they’re not over-the-top reactions like you’d see in a Tex Avery or Bob Clampett theatrical, but no one was animating like that by the late 1950s. Carlo had Yogi glance toward the TV viewers near the start of some pieces of the narration to include us, and to avoid the monotony of a long held drawing.



Carlo also finds interesting things to do with hands, er, paws.



And here’s something else Hanna-Barbera eventually avoided. Perspective animation.



I realise Foster’s Jellystone structure propelled Yogi into greater success that lasts even to today and resulted in some funny cartoons, but, and I guess I’m in the minority, I miss the spot-gag format and wish Hanna-Barbera would have carried on using it with its syndicated characters.

9 comments:

  1. I see where you're coming from. Not being pinned to a formulaic plot structure utilizing the same location gives room for a looser, more exploratory approach. I remember STOUT TROUT despite not having seen it since 1972 BECAUSE it wasn't the usual Yogi/Boo Boo/ Ranger triangle.

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  2. The other thing about the Season 1 Yogi vs. Season 2 and beyond was he could be both a grouch and annoyed at times -- Foster might have him monetarily annoyed over the Ranger thwarting his latest picnic basket scheme, but the Season 1 Yogi could be irked at times just because he wasn't being left alone. It was a far more varied personality than what was to come, though a perpetually happy, rhyming bear probably made for a better pitchman for Kellogg's cereals.

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  3. I quite agree with you. The earlier Yogi cartoons are far less formulaic. Yogi vs. Ranger Smith was the Popeye vs. Bluto of the 1960's.

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  4. YOWP, I theorize that animation historians will conclude that Charlie Shows may have bisexual since there were so many "swat Yogi in the derriere" jokes. There was also one in ''Yogi's Big Break'' that involved a generic ranger and a pin.

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    1. Disney was big on the same thing in his early cartoons. I suspect it was borrowed live-action silent comedies.

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    2. Richard Schickel, in his "Disney Version" book, complained about Walt's fondness for backside gags.

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  5. I have always preferred what could be called the " Unrefined " days of Yogi, Huck, Mr. Jinx, Pixie, Dixie, etc. Especially Yogi. Whether he was pitted against the trout, the bratty kid with the gun " Bang Bang..Bang Bang "..The baby.".Kwabba..kwabba..kwabby..KITTY! ", the father and or male tourist voiced by Daws who sounded like he just wanted to be left alone, the stories, the voice acting, even the Hi-Q stock music all fit together like a well oiled machine. I'm in that manority too, Yowp.

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  6. Oh, indeed, that first season YOGI BEAR was absolutely the best, and some situations borrowed from Tex Avery. That third YOGI BEAR cartoon could have been a GEORGE AND JUNIOR cartoon, as Yogi tries to steal a newly baked pie from a local window sill, only to realize that there is a bulldog guarding the premises. I like to imagine what this would have been at MGM in Tex Avery's hands in the 1940's, but it is just as much fun here. My other favorite gag came in "BRAVE LITTLE BRAVE" as Yogi is designing a target for the little Native American boy to shoot his arrow at. As Yogi is speaking the words, "feel free to fire at will", he has unknowingly backed into the newly painted target and then turned his back on the boy...and you can see where this is going...so that, in the middle of his self-congratulatory statement, the arrow zaps him in the rear. And about hind quarter gags, this does indeed go back to live action comedies, both silent and early sound. How many times had Stan Laurel accidentally inflicted such pain on Oliver Hardy, even setting his sorry butt on fire in one scene, as Stan takes his time, figuring out a way to put the fire out or ease the pain in some unorthodox way.

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