Saturday, 9 August 2014

Yogi Bear — Ring-a-Ding Picnic Basket

Original Title: “Yogi’s Lion’s Busy.”
Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Lew Marshall, Layout – Dick Bickenbach, Backgrounds – Bob Gentle, Written by Warren Foster, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Yogi Bear, Mr. Jones, Lion – Daws Butler; Boo Boo, Ranger Smith – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
First aired: week of April 24, 1961 (Yogi show).
Plot: Yogi believes Ranger Smith wants to ship him to a zoo for stealing picnic baskets.

Was Warren Foster, one of the best writers in the Golden Age of Animation, so overworked at Hanna-Barbera that he threw this cartoon together?

Exhibit A: Possibly one of the weakest lines ever uttered by Ranger Smith. In the opening scene, when Mr. Jones demonstrates the ring-a-ding picnic basket, Smith remarks: “That’s the greatest invention since the airplane.” The airplane?! That’s the funniest thing Foster could think of? Granted, Smith is a dullard, but the line is said without a trace of anything resembling deliberate stupidity and there’s no reaction by Jones to show he thinks Smith is some kind of idiot.

Exhibit B: The cartoon is supposed to be about a ring-a-ding picnic basket, if the title is to be believed. But the ring-a-ding concept vanishes completely (along with the basket) less than a third of the way into the cartoon and the plot goes off in an entirely different direction. It’s as if Foster didn’t have the time or inclination to think up enough ring-a-ding gags, so he melded parts of two cartoons together. At least the concept of Yogi and food pops up throughout the cartoon to tie things together.

A late Yowp bulletin: Andrew Morrice mentioned in the comments that the original title of this had nothing to do with picnic baskets. It was “Yogi’s Lion’s Busy.” And, indeed, I have found that title in theChicago Tribune TV section for the week that it debuted. Why the title was changed is anyone’s guess at this point. Now back to our regularly scheduled post.

Foster could have been engaging in real subtle humour by giving the picnic basket salesman name of Mr. Jones (to contrast with Mr. Smith, the ranger). The design’s pretty similar. Smith has an overbite (in dialogue), Jones has an underbite. And the end of Smith’s nose is rounded while Jones’ is pointier.

Jones epitomises what the average Hanna-Barbera male character of the early ‘60s looked like. You can change his outfit and easily plunk him down in a Jetsons cartoon, or a Flintstones, or a Wally Gator. Credit that to Dick Bickenbach, who did the layouts on this cartoon and, as Ed Benedict once groused, designed Ranger Smith. By the time Magilla Gorilla came on the air, the studio’s designs were changing and Iwao Takamoto’s star rose at the studio.

Lew Marshall was on his way to being a story director so this must have been among the last cartoons he animated. He could come up with some enjoyable drawings at times. I like this one of Yogi, who has tried to eat a berry.

The problem is you can’t see it. Marshall’s stuff is evenly paced. Every drawing is on twos. Someone like Ed Love might have held this for four frames so it establishes a bit more and makes the animation funnier. Instead, it’s just one of a bunch of head-moving drawings. Whether that’s something indicated on the exposure sheet by whoever timed the cartoon (and it may have been Alex Lovy by this point) or Marshall’s decision, I don’t know.

Here’s Yogi uncovering a lion in his bed. The lion roars. What’s Yogi’s reaction? For 38 frames, he holds the same pose. No fright take, nothing. Bill Hanna’s budget has been saved again. Too bad. Marshall drew some nice takes in the first season Yogi was on the air (1958-59). Three years later, it was “Faster! Cheaper!”

Here’s a Yogi multiple outline exit off stage. Yogi leads with his stomach.

Bob Gentle is the background artist. Unfortunately, there’s no pan over Jellystone Park in the opening. But here’s some of his work.

Let’s jaunt through the story line. Travelling salesman/inventor Jones sells Ranger Smith a Ring-a-Ding Picnic Basket (“no national park should be without one”). A bell goes off when it’s picked up. That will presumably stop bears from stealing it and any other picnic baskets. Smith plants it but Yogi steals it anyway. Off camera, of course. And, off camera, the ranger threatens to send Yogi to a zoo.

Now the plot shifts. Ranger Smith is on the phone being told a lion has escaped from a circus train and might be in Jellystone. “An animal like that is menace to all the tourists,” says Smith. “We’ll only shoot if we have to. I’d prefer shipping him to the zoo.” Yogi overhears this and thinks the ranger is talking about him because of his picnic basket thievery, so he starts kissing up by sweeping Smith’s driveway, washing his car, and so on—and giving up picnic baskets. But Smith’s read a psychology book and gets the idea he’s crushed Yogi’s spirit by being too hard on him.

Yogi can’t handle eating berries so he goes to his cave to find a pizza from last season. He finds the lion in his bed. Tired pun time: Boo Boo reminds Yogi the lion is king of the jungle. “And when any king shows up around here, he’s askin’ to be crowned,” replies the indignant Yogi. I love the way Daws Butler doesn’t even try to approximate a lion’s sound. He simply yells “Roar!” Yogi thrashes the lion, Smith is overjoyed that the bear’s spirit is uncrushed and tells Yogi to get himself a picnic basket.

With a blank look, Yogi tells Boo Boo: “Somehow, pic-a-nic baskets don’t seem the same when the ranger knows about it.” But he quickly changes his attitude and chows down on a sandwich. Boo Boo now gets in the final words, a la Yogi: “When it comes to eatin’, Yogi can’t be beaten. Hey, hey, hey!” It’s a nice change having Boo Boo close out the cartoon like that.

The Yogi vs Lion scene is underscored by the Flintstones’ cue “Chase” aka “No Breaks.” With any luck, THIS LINK should work. The next cue is the xylophone/laughing trombone piece that’s familiar from a bunch of early ‘60s series (it seems to me Earl Kress once called it the “Paddle faster, Hardy” cue). The cartoon ends with the last couple of bars of Hoyt Curtin’s brassy “The Yogi Bear Show” theme song.


  1. When I think about some of the final season Yogis just kind of going though the motions -- and setting up the template for dozens of other H-B paint-by-numbers story lines to come -- this was one of the culprits. It's not so much that the "Ranger Smith devises a scheme to stop Yogi" blueprint is bad, it's when nothing substantial or creative is done with the story, and the limited animation doesn't offer up any visual humor assist (of course, I could say the same thing about almost every Famous Studios cartoon after 1950, but here it just seemed like having three syndicated series and two prime-time shows going, and with another syndicated series and prime time show in the works, the creativity was starting to be stretched too thin on the non-network projects after four or so years where that creativity within a limited budget made the studio a success).

  2. Actually, Daws Butler voiced the lion. I always thought its phonetic "Roar- Roaaar- ROOOAAARR!" was deliberate, and therefore funnier than a 'realistic' lion roar.

    It is jarring how the titular storyline is completely abandoned for another 'melodramatic' character study of the dynamic between Yogi and the ranger.

    I like the nicknames you give the Curtin cues. The lengthy woodwind-and-flute number that opens the cartoon, which was used very frequently in THE FLINTSTONES- largely for scheming scenes.

    1. Butler used roughly the same gimmick (voicing stage directions such as "whimper" or "sob" instead of acting them out) for another lion - Brutus - the vaguely Snagglepuss-sounding house pet owned by The Roman Holidays.

  3. Allow me to disagree on Foster’s writing here.

    “Yogi overhears this and thinks the ranger is talking about him because of his picnic basket thievery, so he starts kissing up by sweeping Smith’s driveway, washing his car, and so on—and giving up picnic baskets. But Smith’s read a psychology book and gets the idea he’s crushed Yogi’s spirit by being too hard on him.”

    Now that’s REALLY not bad at all. Particularly, for this point in the series. (…Unless you’re holding him to that “Ring-a-Ding” stuff – and maybe Foster didn’t even write that title.) It was a nice “turn” on the formula, and a nod to the ‘50s / ‘60s obsession with psychology, with characters now-fully established and functioning in their respective roles.

    Sure, I prefer the days of “Pie Pirates”, “Yogi Bear’s Big Break”, “Slumber Party Smarty” (and those cartoons with that “yowp-ing hound”) – or even “Rah-Rah Bear” and “Papa Yogi” – but this is still pretty good, considering what H-B would have in store for us in the not too distant future.

    “With a blank look, Yogi tells Boo Boo: ‘Somehow, pic-a-nic baskets don’t seem the same when the ranger knows about it.’”

    Besides… How can you MISS, with an ending like THIS? Hey-Hey-Hee!

  4. I think I remember the ending, Boo Boo's narration- and that's it. I'll have to see the cartoon again. I will say the inside of Yogi's cave looks a lot like the interiors of Fred Flintstone's house!

  5. An alternate title of this one is 'Yogi's Lion's Busy'. And Yes, as pointed out, Butler does the 'ROAR!' sounds. I like the Ranger's pinecone bookends.