Saturday, 16 May 2009

Yogi Bear’s Big Break

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: Yogi, Kid in car, Ranger – Daws Butler; Narrator, Boo Boo, Kid in car, Guy in car, Gopher – Don Messick.
Production E-7, Show K-001.
First aired: week of Monday September 29, 1958.
Plot: Sick of being a kiddie tourist attraction, Yogi tries to break out of Jellystone Park. He finally succeeds, only to want back in to avoid bear hunters.

You know, if this were one of those places where they overwroughtly wring hidden meaning from cartoons, we would expound on the concealed symbolism of this, the first Yogi Bear cartoon to be beamed into the average living room. For just as Yogi uses the simple story line of this short—to escape from a walled Jellystone—so, too, do Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera use the same story line to escape from the walls of bland entertainment for little kiddies only (Ruff and Reddy) to a joyous, animated land fit for adults and children alike.

And we would provide an arcane Freudian analysis of the Ranger as a latent gay S-and-M surrogate—the uniformed park enforcement officer, using a sharp object to pierce a prone bear’s rear end, substituting for Charlie Shows, who had served a uniformed police officer in San Antonio before becoming a cartoon writer (and put similar butt jokes in many of his H-B cartoons).

But such pretentions are beneath us. Or maybe beyond us. As Sylvester once remarked about his son’s instant psycho-analysis of his parenting skills: “Beats me where they get this guff.” And Charlie Shows was straight anyway. So, let us move on to a look at the cartoon itself.

Since we’ve referred to Sylvester, you can’t help but think of Warner Brothers at times while watching the escape spot-gags in the second half of this cartoon, although they’re more reminiscent of the unsuccessful attempts of another of Chuck Jones’ characters. For as the Coyote may temporarily claim victory in his efforts to capture the Roadrunner, he ultimately ends in failure, just as Yogi accomplishes his goal of escaping from Jellystone, only to fail in the end.

Our cartoon opens with some happy music as campers drive into Jellystone and past an unhappy Yogi. He’s tired of children screeching “Look at the bears!” at him. So, he explains to Boo Boo, he’s decided to bust out. His first attempt is to crawl under the ranger station’s window but his presence is given away by children in a station wagon screeching once again.

The animation is a little jerky here and in other parts of the cartoon. It almost looks like Muse drew from pose to pose without any in-betweens. And another money-saving device in these first-season H-B cartoons was to draw two cells with different sets of motion lines around characters like in a comic strip. The cells were alternated to simulate movement (generally to show fright or surprise). In this sloppy scene, the lines are still in place, but Yogi has stopped moving. The same with the unidentified ranger’s hat when Yogi tries to hide on the back of another station wagon, and then while disguised as a housewife in a trailer leaving Jellystone. The last gag is a little odd because they’re nothing setting it up. The ranger suddenly recognises the “woman” is Yogi but there’s no indication how.

Next, Yogi pretends to be road-kill on the back of yet another camper’s vehicle. The ranger catches on to the ruse and we get Charlie Shows’ obligatory violation-of-the-butt scene. And instead of it being animated, we get a shot of the guy in the car hunching his shoulders and closing his eyes on impact as the camera shakes—certainly faster and cheaper than drawing an action scene.

See how when Yogi zooms away in pain, there are wheel motions around his feet. Each animator seems to have developed his own little runs and walks for Yogi which almost act as signatures, though both Muse and Mike Lah (in Pie-Pirates ) used the ‘wheels’ on characters. Incidentally, Yogi can be seen going “ooh” on the screen but there’s nothing coming out of his mouth.

We see the same thing in the next scene when Yogi tries to pole-vault over the park wall. The bear has suddenly lost his upper teeth and tongue when he talks; Muse generally showed both in his drawings. Unfortunately, Yogi’s pole lands in a hole quickly vacated by a funny gopher, who talks without the animator moving his mouth.

Yogi tries to dig his way out (Shows provides some Ruff and Reddy-style rhyming dialogue when he tells Boo Boo to “Study the diagram, Sam”) but winds up shovelling right under the ranger in the station.

Now, we get Yogi anticipating the Coyote/catapult/variation gags in To Beep or Not to Beep (1963) by using a tree several different ways to try to breach the wall. Or maybe he’s stealing from Jones’ Robin Hood Daffy (earlier in 1958) when Daffy swung from a tree several different ways in an ultimately futile attempt to rob from the rich. The gag variations, for the record:

• Crashing head-first into the ground.
• Crashing into a tree.
• Floating into a maintenance truck on its way back into the park (with a stunned-looking Boo Boo as Yogi sarcastically explains that he got back into the park by hitchhiking.
In the midst of this, Shows tosses in a Duke Ellington reference—“It don’t mean a thing if you don’t pull that string!”

Regardless, Yogi anticipates The Flintstones by stealing from Jackie Gleason with a pose stolen reminiscent of The Great One and the words “And away I go!” as he uses gunpowder and a log as a makeshift cannon. He succeeds, just as the ranger explains to Boo Boo that hunting season has just started outside the park. Sure enough, Yogi becomes a target and tries to get back into the park, only to find Jellystone closed and the gates locked in a cute twist as the iris closes.

Other than the theme music, all the music came from the Langlois Filmusic Library by Jack Shaindlin.

0:00 – Yogi (vocal) opening theme (Hanna-Barbera-Curtin-Shows).
0:26 – LAF-21-3 RECESS (Shaindlin) – Yogi tries to crawl out park; Yogi attaches himself to back of station wagon.
2:01 – LAF-25-3 bassoon and zig-zag strings (Shaindlin) – Yogi disguised as housewife; pretends to be dead animal.
3:24 – LAF-10-7 GROTESQUE No 2 (Shaindlin) – Yogi tries pole-vaulting over wall; digs into ranger station; tries to escape using tree.
6:03 – LAF-4-6 PIXIE PRANKS (Shaindlin) – Yogi escapes using log cannon.
6:50 – LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Yogi locked out of park gate.
7:10 – Yogi closing theme (Hanna-Barbera-Curtin-Shows).


  1. After years of watching pic-a-nic basket-type reruns, it was a wonder to realize that Yogi began his career by trying to get AWAY from tourists. The postwar American traveler was satirized by numerous cartoonists (Chuck Jones let Porky Pig carry suitcases in at least four cartoons, of which three also featured Sylvester) and H-B Enterprises weighed in well here. Bill and Joe would weigh in again with the many gluttonous visitors to "Papa Yogi," perhaps the earliest episode to feature something like the familiar design of Ranger Smith.


  2. Not only gluttonous, but outright inconsiderate slobs and crappy inattentive parents. It was the dark site of suburbia. Considering what else was on TV at the time, it could be seen as fairly satiric for its day.

    May 26,

  3. Is it possible that the guy in the car with the glasses was a take on Arnold Stang a few years before he became an H&B voice? The design of the character, and the voice (and accent) Don Messick gives him are both very Stang-like.