Wednesday 14 February 2018

Bill and Joe and Yogi

Huckleberry Hound may have been the star of the The Huckleberry Hound Show but after two years on the air, it became apparent to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera that Yogi Bear was a stronger character. In 1960, even before Yogi was given his own TV show, Hanna-Barbera announced Yogi would star in the studio’s first feature film, Whistle Your Way Back Home. The title was changed in December 1963 to Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear and the movie was finally released on June 1, 1964.

(Yes, there was a long gestation period for the feature film, which was originally planned to be released in 1961. I don’t know the reason why there was a delay. It could have simply been a lack of available cash. Or artists; the studio was busy with two prime time shows in 1961 and 1962).

We don’t know what Huck felt about the film, but the National League of Decency gave it an A-1 rating, its best. Film Daily gave it two pluses, its highest. Young me, however, was a wet blanket. I liked the fuller animation (yes, I did notice) but wasn’t interested in a love interest story line and wanted some of the songs to hurry up and end. If the plot had involved, say, Yogi being chased around the world by Ranger Smith because of a misunderstanding and some villain character getting in the way, I might have been more interested.

Amidst all the drum beating for the movie came this story offered to members of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. It was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 14, 1964 and bears Hanna and Barbera’s byline. I doubt they actually wrote it but a number of the thoughts contained in it were certainly given in interviews by the pair. There’s a put-down of the cutie-pie kind of Disney and Harman-Ising type shorts that hadn’t been made in several decades. There’s more talk about sophistication of the kid audience. The comment about the lack of satire in cartoons is a little amusing. Had Joe Barbera not heard of Jay Ward? And wasn’t TV in 1964 drowning in old Warner Bros. cartoons that made fun of all kinds of things—some of which were written by the same people now employed at Hanna-Barbera?

The story reminds me that in the 1960s, the word “holocaust” generally referred to a fire. The meaning’s been forever changed.

Oh, you are not seeing things. Yogi has no feet in the publicity photo below that accompanied the story.
Jellystone's Yogi Finds Bear Market in Movie Debut

Special to The Inquirer
Following in the footsteps of James Garner and Steve McQueen, yet another star is making the transition from TV to motion pictures. His name—Yogi Bear, first and foremost citizen of Jellystone National Park.
In our first full-length motion picture, "Hey There, It's Yogi Bear," Yogi demonstrates the qualities which make him so rare a bear. He successfully pits his wits against his friendly adversary, Ranger Smith; makes daring raids on Jellystone National Park's picnic areas; and shows tender feelings toward his ever lovin' friend, Cindy Bear.
Yogi likes the role very much. As he puts it, "it's a great part with lots of heart. I play myself—brave, darling and smart!"
During the five years he has starred on television, Yogi, we gratefully and amazingly have observed, has become the darling of nearly everyone. His antics have attracted a large and loyal audience from a variety of professions and intellectual levels. He appeals to students and scientists alike.
Watching the adventures of Yogi and his sidekick, Boo Boo, adults and children find they can identify with positive or negative qualities, if they so desire. Yogi, like most humans, is a study in grays. He's alternately lazy and industrious, brave, and cowardly, brash and lovable.
If there is an underlying philosophy about our cartoon, it is to project warmth and good feeling. We satirize lots of things Hollywood, cars, television and even our own animated commercials but we don't see anything funny in violence and sin. Even our villains are nice guys.
We've never tried to educate or preach to children. We've just tried to entertain them. To accomplish that, we feel you need all the talent and instinct you can find. You have to forget a child's audience and think of them as small adults.
Today's children don't go for the too-sweet, soft approach. That's yesterday. If you try a cartoon story today with tiny elves dancing and singing in child-like voices while leaves float into the water and bunnies hop about with twitchy noses—you're lost. It's too soft. Children will tolerate but they won't accept it They've seen too many pointless, aimless pretties that have insulted their intelligence. In the area of comedy, today's child has a taste as sharp as his parents.
From the day a youngster can turn a TV dial, he takes on a wide area of information, something inconceivable to an earlier generation. He's exposed to so much satire. Today's children grow up viewing Hope and Benny, Caesar, Silvers, Lucy, Berle, Skelton and Lewis. A child's taste in drama differs from an adult's but his taste in humor and certainly in cartoons parallels adults. And in cartoons, satire is exactly what's been lacking.
Love for fantasy has no age limit. We'd all like to fly, to travel back in time or defeat a bully twice our size. Cartoons should provide humor and fantasy for the audience and still retain a believability.
We feel that Yogi best exemplifies the contemporary cartoon here. He is a far cry from the sweet teddy bear of the nursery years and his vocabulary matches his "smarter than the bear" personality.
Yogi doesn't talk down to his audience. He just talks, using big words and small words to describe or define. It's not uncommon for Yogi to describe a fire as a "veritable holocaust" or use such words as churlish, reverberate or exorbitant. Contrasted with his sing-song voice and uncultured way of speaking, Yogi's speech has become an identifiable trait.
The evolution of Yogi from TV to motion pictures has come about through the efforts of our staff of artists, writers, animators, and film editors.
When asked by an advertising man where the new Yogi bear is now living, one of our writers recently quipped, "talent scouts may search the forests primeval high and low for Yogi, but they won't succeed. The inimitable, irrepressible Yogi now resides at Schwab's drugstore."
Here are some nice cards publicising the movie spotted on e-Bay.

There was a Gold Key comic book by the great Harvey Eisenberg in conjunction with the film, the Sunday Yogi newspaper comic made reference to it over the course of several weeks and there was a Golden Book with attractive illustrations by Mel Crawford. A soundtrack of the Ray Gilbert and Doug Goodwin songs was released as well. (I’m happy to report Mr. Goodwin is still around and apparently still writing music).

And to the right you can see a picture of the Oz Theatre, in Fremont, Michigan, I believe, showing the film in August 1964 as a float passes by the local Moose Hall. The theatre, like many others, no longer exists. The film was rated G. How things have changed. Last year, a theatre in Roanoke, Virginia showed the movie and rated it PG. “May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.” Either we children in 1964 were a hardier lot or something’s really messed up with the world today.


  1. The MPAA debuted their ratings system in November 1968, so there would not have been a rating accompanying the '64 release.

    1. I am not in the United States so what an American group did or didn't do is immaterial. Here, in 1964, ratings were given out to films by a provincial board; if the board rated the film restricted by audience age, that had to be included in the film's advertising.

  2. The studio used re-purposed Harvey Eisenberg art from the YOGI BEAR funnybooks and comic strips as "attitude" poses for the film's model sheets. Harvey penciled on tracing paper, so the studio just clipped out and pasted various shots of Harvey's Yogi. It was always thought that he and Gene Hazelton were two of the best Yogi cartoonists. And isn't it true that Friz Freleng quietly directed a few sequences of this terrific little film? (THE MAN CALLED FLINTSTONE didn't fare nearly as well, IMO.)

    1. I know he worked on it, Scott. I don't know if it was in direction or story.

    2. I remember Mark Evanier told a story about Freleng coming to visit Hanna-Barbera in the late 1970s. The film came up in conversation and Freleng commented on how awful and lousy ''Hey there, it's Yogi Bear'' had been. He had said it would have been a better picture if he could have worked on it. Barbera mostly humored him. When Mark told Friz that he thought it was a pretty enjoyable movie, Freleng acted like he didn't want to talk abut it anymore.

    3. +YOWP According to Mark's blog, Freleng had "spent several months drawing and supervising the drawing of its storyboard in 1963." Apparently there was a slight conflict of interest since he was still working at WB. The reason he left the project was because he and DePatie managed to get their company off the ground.

  3. The name of the color process used for HEY THERE, IT'S YOGI BEAR, "Yogi Color", has always puzzled me. Was a color process specially created for this movie? Or was just an already existing process under another name, specially renamed after our favorite bear especially for this occasion? A MAN CALLED FLINTSTONE had antoher color process, Columbiacolor, of which I haven't heard very much about either.

    1. Variety's review says "Camera (Eastman)" and Boxoffice's review comes right out and says it's Eastmancolor.
      Variety liked the movie, calling it an "impressive cartoon production" though it says the story "gets a bit redundant." Boxoffice liked the movie as well.

  4. I had roughly the same feeling towards the film -- anticipation at the start, blase feeling in the middle, perked up at the end (even though the finish did borrow heavily from the same idea as the "Yogi In The City" short from '61). In the summer of '64, it was a one-time viewing for me (where in contrast, I dragged mom and dad back to see "Mary Poppins" at the Guild theater in Manhattan four more times that summer).

    1. “… but wasn’t interested in a love interest story line and wanted some of the songs to hurry up and end.”

      I’ll “Third that thought!”… “Thirty-Third and Third it, even!” In 1964, I wanted “Kellogg’s Corn Flakes” (or “OKs” for Yogi), and not “mush”!

      And that shows why, so often, that something that’s great in 6-7 minutes may not be so in ninety minutes.

      And WHY did they have to redesign Ranger Smith? I never cared for that movie design, yet it somehow stuck - in the comic strip, comic books, and in future animation. Yeah, yeah, I know that he was redesigned almost cartoon-to-cartoon – but the 1960-61 design was just fine as it was!

    2. Agreed with Yowp,and you two above (and I'm sure you'
      re not only one..) Cindy was also redesigned (and the still later Floral Rugg of the studio's Hillbilly Bears had a VERY SIMILIAR design...) Of course the final part was similiar to "Yogi In a City". As for Yogi Color or Columbia, it was just the type of things certain studios, Columbia here, would do. Warner Brothers and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer had their own (respectively,of course) Warnercolor and Metrocolor. Then there was Technicolor's "weak sister" that thrives, 20th Century Fox DeLuxe color..interestingly, not only that but MetroColor wound up being used outside MGM (where a certain pair of TV cartoon producers had produced a certain cat and mouse, hint hint, the producers were involved with Yogi). Metrocolor wound up at Columbia, Warner Bros.(The Excorist!!) and Paramount as well!.PS I prefer the old Ranger design myself.:)SC

    3. WOW! Check it out... The PRE-"Hey There" design of Ranger Smith turns up in DC Comics' SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP # 35 - with Yogi Bear! Released on February 28, 2018! Love it!

  5. What a time that was to be a Yogi Bear fan! "Bear" in mind that not many cartoon shorts stars in those days got elevated to star status in a feature film. Sure, Mickey Mouse had done it in "Fantasia," but "The Sorcerer's Apprentice is only a few minutes longer than a regular cartoon short, and "Mickey and the Beanstalk" is one segment of "Fun and Fancy Free" so technically he never carried a whole picture.

    But Yogi's rise to feature film stardom was pretty meteoric. For a character from a television cartoon to appear on the big screen was relatively uncommon in those days. Bill and Joe had quite a bit of faith in their Yogi to deliver. They certainly gave him the star treatment--with new songs, elaborate backgrounds, and a much longer story. It was necessary as well to add a bit more depth to his personality.

    While I can empathize with those who regret the re-design of Ranger Smith and Cindy Bear, I imagine it was done to streamline them for the big screen. Even Yogi's design was altered somewhat from his appearance in many of the small-screen shorts. Fortunately, the producers kept the best part of the characters--their voices! Daws Butler, Don Messick, and Julie Bennett were in fine form for this feature.

    In case it isn't obvious (or as Yogi would say, oblivious) already, I am a big fan of this film. Though it has its imperfections, a feature film of this caliber from the Hanna-Barbera stables is definitely worthy of note.

  6. I assume that the Yogi Bear and Flintstones feature films underperformed at the box office, given that Hanna-Barbera chose not to pursue any additional features at that time.

    1. I don't know, Gary. Part of it may have had to do with H-B being bought by Taft (Columbia Pictures no longer had any ownership). Part of it may have been the studio was stretched to the limit with TV production. And part of it may be the studio didn't have properties that warranted a feature treatment.

    2. I have a clipping in my files from either Boxoffice or Variety, dated sometime after A MAN CALLED FLINTSTONE was released, in which a Columbia spokesman comments that both YOGI and FLINTSTONE fell victim to a common "kiddie movie" problem: the reduced admission prices children paid meant that even if audience numbers were good, if the majority of those seats were filled by youngsters, the picture would end up falling short, financially.

    3. Thanks, Jon. Makes sense.
      I couldn't find it in Variety but I may have entered the incorrect search terms.
      Over the Christmas weekend here in 1970, the two were being shown together as a kids' double feature. 50 cents. Theatres made their money on junk food, I guess. (They all seem to be neighbourhood houses whose names I haven't seen in years; the mall theatres were running The Aristocats).

  7. "Kids don't want to see cartoons about cute little elves and birds chirping and bunnies hopping around." Fast forward two decades later and they make the Smurfs show, arguably the most egregious example of that genre ever produced!