Saturday, 21 May 2011

Yogi Bear — The Runaway Bear

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Animation – Ken Muse; Dialogue – Charlie Shows; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Lawrence Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson (no credits).
Voice cast: Narrator, Tall Circus Worker, Clown, Dog – Don Messick; Yogi, Col. Packingham P. Putney, Short Circus Worker – Daws Butler.
Music: Bill Loose/John Seely; Jack Shaindlin; Geordie Hormel.
First aired: week of January 5, 1959 (rerun, week of July 6, 1959)
Plot: Yogi tries to avoid being turned into a trophy by a wealthy hunter.

You can’t get farther away from the typical Yogi Bear cartoon than this one. There’s no Ranger Smith, no Boo Boo, no pic-a-nic baskets and no Jellystone Park. Instead, Yogi is the World’s Greatest Skating Bear. Yogi wasn’t chained to the same format until he got his own show in 1961, though parts of it appeared in many cartoons before that. In fact, elements in this short were not new in the Hanna-Barbera world and would continue to surface through the 1960s. The “escape from the circus” idea was used in the Yogi cartoon Hide and Go Peek later that season; it was ripped off from the starting point in the Pinky story arc on The Ruff and Reddy Show the previous year, which was ripped off from the Tom and Jerry short Jerry and Jumbo (1951). The lineage can also be traced to the T & J cartoon Down Beat Bear (1956) where a bear with Ed Norton’s vest and porkpie hat escapes from a carnival.

A lot of people growing up today must reel in shock at the idea of a wild animal being killed just for the fun of it, then having its head stuffed and mounted on a wall. “Animal rights” and “endangered species” were not commonly heard terms amongst the general population before the mid-1950s. And so it was cartoons written by men from an earlier generation featured animal characters pretending to be, or avoiding becoming, trophies. This is one; another example at Hanna-Barbera was Major Operation (1961) with Snagglepuss and Major Minor. It, like this cartoon, featured an English hunter, something already familiar to Yogi viewers from the two Yowp cartoons in the 1958-59 season. Don Messick uses the same stuffy English voice as Yowp’s owner in this cartoon and the character looks similar to him; he has the same moustache and size but is missing the monocle. A few years later, the idea of a rich Englishman hunting an escapee was the premise of the Wally Gator cartoon Droopy Dragon (1962). So Hanna and Barbera managed to wring a fair bit of mileage out of this idea fuel tank.

Hanna and Barbera also managed to save money by having no animation in the first 38 seconds of the cartoons. All we see is pans over background drawings that act as sight gags over Don Messick’s narration. Is it my imagination, or did Ken Muse cartoons feature a lot of non-animation? The gags are the same kind that Warren Foster used in Showbiz Bear the following seasons, showing wealth through exaggeration. They’re pretty cute, actually. “Double-decker tennis courts. A pool for each foot. Dozens of big, shiny cars. With a little car in each big car.”

After a pan of Colonel Putt-Putt’s trophy room we get ‘50s minimalism at its best. The floor of his mansion is indicated by squares on a green background. And, just to compare character designs, here is a drawing of the Englishman from the Wally Gator cartoon four years later.

After we learn from this scene the Colonel wants a bear head to complete his collection, we switch to more non-animation. For 10 seconds, we get stationary shots of circus tents then a pole with a poster before Yogi peeks his head out. The bear is on the lam. It was decided to draw the circus workers and their not-Yowp tracking dog in silhouette. A couple of nicely-drawn clowns spot Yogi as well. (Fans know Yowp has a forehead, a tail that points in a different direction and only says “Yowp!”)

Yogi escapes by skating away while the background dissolves from the circus grounds to a countryside. It’s the only time I think they tried that kind of effect in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Yogi decides to hide out in the mansion. He meets up with the Colonel, who is pondering how to get a bear head. Let’s go through the scenes.

● The Colonel sneaks off to get his rifle when he realises he’s not imagining a bear is in his home, then blasts the chatty, joking. “Hey, watch it, will ya?” says Yogi. “You almost blew my head off.” Which was the idea. Except the Colonel realises that would have ruined the head. So he tries another tactic.

● Putt-Putt sits Yogi one end of a table, then goes to the other end and pulls out a bow and arrow. But the bear ducks under the table because he dropped his napkin so the arrow lands instead in the back of the chair where Yogi was sitting, picking up some fruit on the table along the way. Yogi pops his head back up. “How about that. My favourite goodie. Shishkabob!” Yogi begins heating the fruit with a lit candle that somehow suddenly is on the table.

● The Colonel tricks Yogi into laying down for a nap. A guillotine is rigged above the bear’s neck. “Chin up,” says the Colonel, which is Yogi’s exact position. Then Charlie Shows comes up with a line that’s either a subtle pop culture reference or purely coincidental. Putt-Putt remarks “It’s later than you think.” The phrase was the tag line of the radio horror show Lights Out, sponsored at one time by the maker of Schick Blades. Anyway, this blade misses Yogi because he sits up, somehow the wooden stocks his head was in comes off the guillotine.

● The old covered-cannon-disguised-as-a-camera trick. However, the Colonel tilts the cannon up, the ball goes on the air and lands on him. “Shee. Too bad. The little guy saved my life. Oh, well. C’est la guerre. That’s the way the cannon ball bounces” is Yogi’s uproariously funny response from writer Charlie Shows. Paging Warren Foster! You’re wanted in dialogue!

● The old midway shooting gallery gag. The Colonel shoots Yogi over and over. Instead of pain or blood or death, a ‘ping’ sound is heard and Yogi mechanically changes direction every time he’s hit. To top the gag, Yogi skates off stage, comes back with a rifle and does the same thing to the Colonel.

Putt-Putt raises a white flag of truce and the two work out a deal. Yogi now resides in the mansion with his head sticking through a hole in a wall, and displayed on a plaque (when he’s not eating lunch). “Well, anyhoo, this beats working in the circus,” the bear tells us and laughs before resuming his dead-eye trophy-like gaze as the iris closes.

The music cues here are from the DVD version of the cartoon. There has been a version on the internet recorded from Canadian television which has a different music track. Jack Shaindlin’s ‘Toboggan Run’ has been deleted, other cues have been moved up and ‘L-78 Comedy Underscore’ by Spencer Moore has been added until the regular music track is rejoined for the final cue. Perhaps there’s a rights issue with Shaindlin’s music in Canada.

0:00 - Yogi Sub Main Title theme (Curtin-Hanna-Barbera)
0:14 - ZR 49 LIGHT EERIE (Hormel) - Shots of Putt-Putt’s mansion, Yogi decides to scram.
1:51 - LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) - Yogi skates toward clowns, skates away, stops at mansion.
2:28 - no music - Yogi at mansion gate.
2:34 - TC 201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Yogi at window, blasted by Putt-Putt, Yogi at table.
3:52 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Putt-Putt pulls out bow and arrow, bed scene, cannon ball drops.
5:17 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Yogi looks in hole, “shooting gallery” scene.
6:26 - TC 436 SHINING DAY (Loose-Seely) - Putt-Putt in chair, Yogi in plaque.
6:58 - Yogi Sub Title End Theme (Curtin).


  1. For a long time I thought this was the pilot for the Yogi series, not only for the dramatic difference in premise but for the extremely primitive appearances of both him and the incidental characters.

  2. Yogi Bear - The World's Greatest Skating Bear

    Yogi (for the audiences): "They're talking about me!"

  3. Not a great cartoon, but compared to later Hanna-Barbera efforts, one of the nice things about this and other Season 1-2 shorts is that, like the continuing characters in the theatrical cartoons, you can actually watch the designs and personalities develop, as the staff tries out various story lines to see what works and what doesn't.

    In that way, "The Runaway Bear" is like a 1930s cartoon from Warners or MGM -- there are lots of flaws, but they're more forgivable than the weaker cartoons that would come later because the H-B crew is learning on the fly how best to do the cartoons, and you can watch the education process on-screen (the difference being that once they figured out the best formula in Season 2, they stuck to it like glue for Yogi and every other series, to the point that predictability and repetition would undermine even the best formulas).

  4. "It's later than you think" was a 1950 hit for both Guy Lombardo and Doris Day. That also could be the original of the expression.


  5. It's a slogan Gem Blades used in the '40s.

  6. Oddly, the first Yogi Bear comic book story was about hunting. It appeared in DELL FOUR COLOR COMICS # 990 HUCKLEBERRY HOUND May/July, 1959. The first Huck Hound comic book.

    More oddly, the book led off with adaptations of “Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie”, “Lion Hearted Huck”, and Pixie and Dixie’s “Cousin Tex”. The latter with a different ending gag.

    Then, there was an original Yogi, and the book closed with an original Huck – that was built on the oft-used premise of “If you need me, just whistle!” – with Huck helping a little bird by pounding on a fox, like the later Yakky, Chopper, and Fibber.

    Here’s what I wrote about that Yogi story, back in 2001:

    “Yogi Bear and the Awful It” 8 pg. Story by Vic Lockman art by the great Harvey Eisenberg.

    In the issue’s first original story, Yogi and Boo Boo are awakened by a parade of forest animals wanting to hide in their cave from a strange creature they call “The It”. The bears investigate to find “The It” to have the mask of a raccoon, head of a moose, tail of a rabbit, webbed feet of a duck, a bearskin body… and the rifle of a human hunter. Which – predating Scooby-Doo by over a decade – it turns out to be.

    “Yay! It works every time! I get the animals curious and confused… and have time to take a shot at ‘em! ”

    And a bad shot he is. Yogi and Boo Boo have to feign being hit just to stop the wild spray of bullets. Remorseful over his first “score” the hunter proceeds to kill the bears with kindness at his cabin, and then decides to incessantly shoot home movies of them instead. Yogi finally finds peace by hiding himself in the “It” suit, which, now retired, has now become a cozy rug in front of the fireplace.

    “You can say what you want about this awful ‘It’ suit…but I say it makes an awfully nice hibernating quarters! ZZZZZZ!”

    There may be those who are wondering why the first Yogi Bear comic book story would have been about hunting, when we all know that Yogi and Boo Boo reside in Jellystone National Park – where hunting is an even bigger no-no than feeding the bears.

    In actual fact, many of the the earliest Yogi Bear cartoons did not take place in a national park. Yogi (…with, or without, Boo Boo ) was depicted as a bear in the woods, a circus bear, etc. The cartoon “Tally-Ho-Ho-Ho” (1958) also saw Yogi receiving hospitality from a reluctant and gullible hunter. So, given the time during which this story would have been prepared, the “bears in the wild” approach to Yogi and Boo Boo is far more accurate than it appears at first glance.