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Tuesday, December 21, 2010


In the 60s, Joseph Hanna and William Barbera pioneered the use of limited animation for television, knocking off a string of successful cartoon shows such as "Huckleberry Hound", "Quick-Draw McGraw", and "The Flintstones."  While simpler and cheaper than fully-animated theatrical cartoons, the initial Hanna-Barbera TV output was still far superior to the increasingly-inept Saturday morning drivel that would follow, and hold up today as good-looking, well-written shows which, like their big-screen counterparts, are entertaining for both children and adults.

Such is the case with one of their most popular characters, Yogi Bear, who lives in Jellystone National Park with his pal Boo-Boo and drives Mr. Forest Ranger crazy by constantly stealing picnic baskets from unwary campers.  With the DVD release of YOGI BEAR'S ALL-STAR COMEDY CHRISTMAS CAPER, we get to see examples of Yogi both in his glorious 60s heyday and in a lackluster 80s adventure that pales in comparison.

(Little kids, of course, will probably enjoy each of them equally, so feel free to pop in this DVD and let the tykes go nuts.  With that out of the way, let's look at the two stories on this disc from the nostalgic old geezer perspective.)

First up is the titular tale, "Yogi Bear's All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper."  This originally aired in 1982, when most made-for-TV cartoons had regressed in quality to a point well beyond "limited", coming off as cheap, slapdash drivel whose stories were written solely for the purpose of keeping undiscerning kids occupied.  Design and rendering of characters is sketchy and sloppy, direction is uninspired, and the "comedy" is on roughly the same level as pulling funny faces at babies to make them laugh.

The best thing about it is that it reunites some of the best vocal talent in the business--Mel Blanc, Allan Melvin, Hal Smith, Janet Waldo, Don Messick, and the great Daws Butler, among others--as a group of Hanna-Barbera's most memorable characters help Yogi and Boo Boo celebrate the Christmas spirit by bringing a poor little rich girl and her neglectful father closer together during a sojourn to the big city.

An interesting side note to this episode is the fact that the word "Chanukah" was edited from the soundtrack when the show first aired.  According to, someone at CBS was leery of Snagglepuss' line "Merry Christmas! Season’s Greetings! Happy Chanukah, even!", bleeping the reference to the Jewish holiday for reasons unknown.  Even on this DVD, it's simply replaced by the word "happy."  Weird, even!

After being distinctly unimpressed by Yogi's yuletide antics, I was relatively ecstatic to find that the second offering was a special 1962 episode of the original TV series, entitled "Yogi's Birthday Party."  The difference is immediately apparent--there's exquisite artwork and character design done with style and flair, snappy direction by Hanna and Barbera themselves, and, best of all, genuinely funny gags that adults (especially us nostalgic cartoon geeks) can appreciate right along with the kids.  Maybe even more so.

It's a week before Yogi's birthday and the show's sponsor is planning a gala surprise celebration for their star, with a nervous Mr. Forest Ranger charged with keeping the secret from him.  "Trying to keep a secret from Yogi is like trying to hide Lake Michigan from a duck," he moans.  Yogi overhears just enough of the phone conversation to get the idea that he's being given his own entertainment special, and will be expected to perform.

Worried that his singing and dancing skills aren't up to par, Yogi takes a series of lessons in a montage that pokes fun at some popular personalities of the era.  He gets dancing lessons from Fred Upstairs, singing tips from Boppy Darin, and even some piano-playing pointers from one "Lee B. Rocky." 

When the big night comes and Yogi discovers the birthday surprise, his reactions are priceless.  Mr. Forest Ranger turns the event into a spoof of Ralph Edwards' "This Is Your Life" with a succession of all-star guests from Yogi's past appearing one after another.  First, Huckleberry Hound's voice is heard from offstage:  "A hound-dog howdy to y'all, Yogi."  Mr. Forest Ranger asks, "Who's that, Yogi?"  Yogi's guess: "The president?"

As familiar characters such as Snagglepuss, Hokey Wolf, Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks, Quick-Draw McGraw, Yakky Doodle, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, and Snooper and Blabber accumulate onstage (with all the top voice actors on hand again, this time including June Foray and Duke Mitchell), the gags give way to a cheery birthday song written especially for the occasion.  For me, this breezy and utterly charming classic episode is a delightful treat all the way.

The Warner Brothers DVD is in standard format with English and Spanish soundtracks.  Subtitles are in English, Spanish, and French.  Bonus features consist of some DVD and video game trailers.

I keep saying that "the kids" will like both features on YOGI BEAR'S ALL-STAR COMEDY CHRISTMAS CAPER, but to tell you the truth I'm never really sure what the hell little kids like or don't like these days.  As for me, I had a ball watching the older one because it's really good and it brought back fond memories.  The later one, on the other hand, is one of the main reasons I quit bothering to get out of bed on Saturday mornings.

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