Thursday, 18 July 2013

Mike Lah’s Yogi Bear

The Huckleberry Hound Show was set to beam out from TV sets starting September 29, 1958 and that meant artists at Hanna-Barbera had to get busy. On June 24th, columnist William Ewald reported that the Huck show had been bought by Kellogg’s, so enough cartoons to fill 26 half-hours had to be ready fast (All must have been finished by December 1st. That’s when Broadcasting magazine announced H-B writer Charlie Shows had been signed by Larry Harmon Productions to write Bozo the Clown cartoons).

Ken Muse, Lew Marshall and Carlo Vinci animated almost all of the entire first season (23 Hucks, 22 Yogis and 22 Pixie and Dixies) while working on a second season of “Ruff and Reddy.” So a fourth animator picked up some work. Mike Lah not only animated a few cartoons (including the first Yogi cartoon in production, “Pie Pirates”) but was called on to do uncredited scenes in others’ cartoons.

Mike always found a way to inject neat looking extremes and expressions into his work; if only the studio had carried on the same way instead of making its animation smoother and blander. He also found a way to save money. A lot of the time, Mike’s characters never had jaws. He’d animate dialogue by having a black space for an open mouth and change the shape of the space for vowel and consonant movements, sometimes with a line to indicate the upper lip. To the right you see an example from his scene in “Big Bad Bully.” Notice the oval google eyes; you’ll see that in his animation of Yogi in other cartoons.

Lah draws a really fun scene where Yogi ties the bull’s tail to a stake. Unknown to Yogi, the bull pulls it out. Yogi cracks a joke about a “tough steak” and yucks it up. Yogi develops teeth when needed in a Lah scene.

The bull goes from angry to fed up as Yogi yucks away, jerking his head and moving his mouth in different positions. It’s limited animation but you can easily feel the expressions. Here are some of the drawings. Lah doesn’t use them in a cycle; he varies them so the action isn’t robotic.

The bull clobbers Yogi with the stake. The bull’s expression changes to one of satisfaction. Lah employs what must be a visual trick. The stake doesn’t actually crown Yogi; it goes past him. But the effect on the screen is he’s smashed on the head. You see the same kind of thing by animators in other early H-B cartoons.

Isn’t that last pose great? And look what Lah does with Yogi’s legs. If only Yogi were as expressive a few years later.

Then Yogi vibrates. Again, Lah uses several different drawings and not in a cycle. Here are some of them.

Readers here probably know Lah’s background. He had been directing the second unit at MGM when the studio’s cartoon division closed in 1957. Lah went into business with Bill Hanna making Crusader Rabbit cartoons before legal threats by Shull Bonsall, who claimed to own the character, stopped it. Lah seems to have worked at Hanna-Barbera through 1958, then eventually moved on to his own company, Cinema Ad. He joined Quartet Films, Inc. around March 1961 (along with Hanna Barbera’s Dan Gordon), rising to the company’s presidency. Among his clients was Kellogg’s. He died in Los Angeles on October 13, 1995, age 83.


  1. I've looked at a "HHS" bumper from S1; YB's facial markings are exactly those sported in 2013; however, his face, in profile, displays sharp chiseling.

    As for the YB spotlighted here, the tan-faced one, maybe he must be adjudged "Mike Lah's Yogi Bear" after all. I'm nearly 45 years old; when I first viewed this version of YB, as a Boy, on the much-lamented KBHK-TV, he scared me. But from 1988, when I rediscovered YB, to this very day, I've come to know this version as the BEST-LOOKING YB, maybe the BEST-LOOKING YB WHO EVER WAS. Why do you think John K stole this YB version for use in his YB shorts? Do you have any info about the initial indecision on YB's facial markings? About who instigated it, etc.? Do you think YB would've become a global culture hero if he'd remained tan-faced? Or, in consideration of the continued evolution of the Hanna/Barbera studio, was the brown-faced/tan-muzzled YB the best/right/ONLY way to go? Thanks.

  2. As a kid I knew Yogi and Boo Boo looked a little strange in this cartoon; I also knew it was one of the funniest of the early episodes. Now I know it was because of Mike Lah's designs and animation.

    I just love the scene where Yogi and Boo Boo are walking along with smiling, sappy looks on their faces after being unknowingly unmasked by the bull, all to the strains of "Fun on Ice" – my favorite Hanna Barbera stock theme.

  3. The growing spareness of the MGM CinemaScope shorts was probably an asset to Lah here -- even before H-B began their limited animation career, there were shortcuts being taken in the widescreen theatricals, particularly in Lah's Droopy shorts (vibrating Yogi here is similar to vibrating Butch in "One Droopy Knight", and the style also was used a couple of times by Bill and Joe in the later T&J cartoons).

  4. Doz, that's a great question, and I wish I knew the answer. The tan-faced Yogi didn't last long: "Pie Pirates," "Yogi Bear's Big Break," "Slumber Party Smarty," "Tally Ho Ho Ho," "High Fly Guy" and this cartoon are the only ones I can think of which had him, though he also appears in a background drawing of a newspaper in "Big Brave Bear." I have no idea who re-designed him and can only speculate as to why.
    Dan, remember that Lah didn't do all the cartoon. Carlo Vinci is the main animator and Dick Bickenbach would have designed the bull and bee. The jaunty walk is all Carlo. Lah and Carlo mesh pretty well, far better than when Lah takes over in the middle of a Ken Muse cartoon.
    There are subtle bits of acting throughout the cartoon. Watch how Yogi scrunches his face in anticipation of the bull's second pass for his red "cape." That's what makes these early cartoons fun to watch. When Warren Foster arrived, and I love Warren Foster, the accent started shifting to more and more dialogue.

  5. Jesus! Seeing Yogi designed and animated by Michael Lah in the character's episode of the 1st season (1958-59) from The Huckleberry Hound Show (Hanna-Barbera/Columbia Pictures, 1958-62), I could notice how Tex Avery-esque Yogi looked like.
    We cannot forget that Michael Lah worked as animator at the MGM's Tex Avery unit.