This is more of a tribute than a review, because I am not ashamed, but proud to proclaim Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch! as one of my Hanna-Barbera favorites, particularly in the ’70s when most Saturday morning cartoons were either about mysteries, superheroes, rock bands or all three (I liked those, too).
Help! It’s The Hair Bear Bunch! The Complete Series (1971)
Produced and Directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Animation Director: Charles A. Nichols
Principal Voices: Daws Butler, Paul Winchell, Bill Callaway, John Stephenson, Joe E. Ross
Additional Voices: Hal Smith, Lennie Weinrib, Janet Waldo, Joan Gerber, Don Messick, Vic Perrin, Jeannine Brown
Music by Ted Nichols and Hoyt Curtin
Story: Joel Kane, Woody Kling, Howard Morgenstern, Joe Ruby, Ken Spears
Story Direction: Brad Case, Cullen Houghtaling, Earl Klein, Lew Marshall, George Singer, Paul Sommer, Warren Tufts
Warner Archive DVD (March 14, 2013)
“The Hair Bear Bunch” is a throwback to “Yogi Bear,” “Top Cat” and other sitcom/funny animal cartoons that HB did in the early ’60s — expanding the seven-minute short into a 23-minute episode. This show is traditional Hanna-Barbera with little nods to the ’70s, like Hair Bear’s afro hairdo and a few other groovy affectations.
Daws Butler voices Hair Bear, not like he played Yogi, but with a more Phil Silvers sound. If you have the “Top Cat in Robin Hood” HBR record, it’s that voice. Bill Callaway (one of the “Love, American Style” Players and voice of Aquaman on “Superfriends”) voices Square Bear. Paul Winchell is Bubi, crossing Jerry Mahoney with the double-talk gibberish much like Vaudeville comedian Al Kelly.
The hapless villains are zoo keeper Eustace P. Peevly, voiced by Mr. Slate/Dr. Quest voice veteran John Stephenson. You’ll notice that his performance is a little less extreme in the first episode. It became more of a Joe Flynn type thereafter (perhaps Flynn commanded a high salary, having just had a substantial supporting role in 1969’s number one film, “The Love Bug,” as well as other Disney comedies).
“Car 54, Where Are You?” co-star Joe E. Ross plays Botch, his first voice for Hanna-Barbera (next up was the Chief on “Hong Kong Phooey”). It’s another ironic twist in his odd career, playing a character appealing to kids (who didn’t love to say “Ooh! Ooh!?”) while the real life comedian was so, well…not, for kids or pretty much anyone else. (Mark Evanier and Kliph Nesteroff’s site offer several accounts of how “not.”) Ross also has a small role in “The Love Bug.”
Other cool things about “The Hair Bear Bunch”: their secret convertible cave gadgets (most of them, like a kitchen and TV and entertainment center, appear in the main title); and the invisible motorcycle that Square is able to start with no explanation (In one episode, Hair says, “I don’t know how he does it, but I’m glad it’s his thing!”).
Ted Nichols composed the original music for this series, but most of the background was re-used cues from “The Magilla Gorilla Show,” “Jonny Quest,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” “Scooby-Doo” and “The Jetsons”, giving the series even more of a ’60s feel. You just didn’t hear much of the earlier music anymore by the ’70s.
And here’s a detail I never noticed until watching the series again. In one episode, Square Bear refers to Hair Bear as “H.B.” That would make the title of series, and names of the main characters, the only ones with the familiar acronym for “Hanna-Barbera.”
On the DVD set, Warner Archive included the “We’ll be right back” commercial bumpers in every episode, — a nice touch. Some of the episodes begin with a “tease” sequence, then the theme song, the title card, followed by the show (these are marked below with an asterisk*). Most episodes start with the theme song, then what would have been the tease, the title card and the rest of the show. (This was the case with several HB shows of the era, including “Josie and the Pussycats.” I guess it was up to the networks whether they wanted a tease or not.)
1. *Keep Your Keeper (September 11, 1971)
After the bears “Gaslight” Peevley into taking a vacation, a tougher zoo keeper makes life tougher—so they scheme to bring him back. Note: Peevly’s voice is not as Joe Flynn-ish; Yogi Bear reference — “Look at the bears! Look at the bears!”
2. *Rare Bear Bungle (September 18, 1971)
The bears get a visit from a Gomer Pyle-like bear but they think he’s a spy for Peevley and want to get rid of him, then they learn he’s worth $50,000. Note: Johnny Carson reference (“Hair’s Mighty Art Players”) and spotlight on Bananas the Gorilla.
3. *Raffle Ruckus (September 25, 1971)
Hair rigs a raffle so he can own the zoo but as he learns how hard it is to run it, he becomes more of a tyrant than Peevly. Note: Spotlight on Fumbo the elephant; this story is similar to those on “Flintstones” and “Honeymooners” episodes.
4. *Bridal Boo Boo (October 2, 1971)
Hair submits Peevly’s name to a dating service and his perfect match turns out to be a terror to everyone at the zoo.
Note: Spotlight on Pipsqueak the mouse; depiction of a female battle axe would likely be considered today to be politically incorrect.
5. *No Space Like Home (October 9, 1971)
Answering a vague ad, the bears blast off on a Mars mission with Botch and Peevley, but land on another planet that makes Peevly their king. Note: One of series’ best shows; it was made into View-Master and talking View-Master reel sets.
6. *Love Bug Bungle (October 16, 1971)
Bubi creates a love perfume to help a lovesick gorilla attract his indifferent lady friend. Arnie suffers side effects, so Peevley sends him to the zoo psychiatrist and then to the hospital mental ward—but he and Botch are admitted, too.
Note: Another standout episode with nice story structure; spotlight on Hippy the hippo and Beaks the seagull; Gloria the gorilla is voiced by Jeannine Brown, who also voiced Audio-Animatronics host “Bonnie Appetit” in the early Epcot attraction, “Kitchen Kabaret.”
7. Zoo You Later (October 23, 1971)
In a cross between The Bremen Town Musicians and Goldilocks, The bears escape to visit the forest, make themselves at home in a cabin and are kidnapped by bank robbers. Note: Spotlight on Fur Face the lion; Hair says “Say, what is this, Botch? Ambrosia of liquid pizza?” Botch answers, “I call it…slop.”
8. *Ark Lark (November 6, 1971)
Hair and the zoo animals build an ark and escape to the open seas, where they land on an luxury island resort called “Pleasure Island.” They disguise themselves as wealthy far eastern guests and later enter a horse race.
Note: The disguise gag recalls a Top Cat episode, “The Maharajah of Pookah-Jee.”
9. Gobs of Goballons (November 13, 1971)
The bears find a treasure map, but it’s buried under Peevly’s house. Note: When the bears disguise themselves as painters, Hair does what sounds like an impression of Huckleberry Hound.
10. Panda Pandemonium (November 20, 1971)
The bears become babysitters for a little panda named Percy, who fell from a train. Note: The panda was supposed to be shipped to the St. Louis zoo, just as Cindy Bear almost was in HB’s first feature, “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear”.
11. Closed Circuit (November 27, 1971)
After the bears attempt escape through the laundry, Peevly installs surveillance cameras. The bears discover them and put on a TV variety show and invite Peevly to perform. Note: Another of the series’ best; the superintendent constantly clears his throat only in this episode because Peevly does a stage impression of him (both are voiced by John Stephenson); as the “Three Bear Night,” Hair, Square and Bubi, sing a goofy “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” pop song.
12. The Bear Who Came to Dinner (December 4, 1971)
After getting caught trying a Trojan horse-like escape, the bears are about to be sent to the national park when Square slips on a banana peel. The bears hint at a lawsuit and take advantage of the situation, but Peevly schemes to prove Square can really walk. Note: A takeoff of the famous play, The Man Who Came to Dinner.
13. Unbearable Peevly (December 11, 1971)
Peevly and Botch disguise themselves as bears to spy on the three troublemakers. Not only do Hair and his pals see through the disguise but they help the two phonies when they’re captured for a circus.
Note: One of the trainers, with a voice like a stern Huckleberry, could be accused of animal cruelty for whipping the bears, faux or not.
14. Goldilocks and the Three Bears (December 18, 1971)
The bears visit a TV studio where Square’s idol, Twinkles Sunshine stars as Goldilocks. She’s such a tyrant (like the child star in “Cats Don’t Dance”), the actors playing the bears quit. Hair, Bubi and Square join the cast, so does Peevly as the “Evil Prince.” Note: If Hanna-Barbera were still making HBR Cartoon Series Records by 1971, this could have been one of those albums, since many of them were either retellings or spoofs of classic stories. Does anyone know if the name of the studio in this episode — “Pinchpenny Studios” — was a gentle jab at HB?
15. The Diet Caper (January 1, 1972)
After the bears steal his food, Peevly puts them on a starvation diet. They build a tunnel hoping to come up in a pizza parlor, but instead find themselves in a carnival haunted house. Note: This is like a Yogi Bear cartoon (including the bow-and-arrow with food-stealing suction cup gag) that becomes a Scooby-Doo episode (complete with Scooby music); the haunted house, instead of containing a crime-solving mystery, provides a distraction for Botch and Peevly so the bears can steal their food again; spotlight on Specs the Mole.
16. King Klong Versus the Masked Marvel (January 8, 1971)
Hair convinces Bananas to wrestle with the Masked Marvel to win $500. At the same time, Botch fills in for a sick Marvel and wins two matches, is defeated by Bananas, but wins by default when Peevly exposes Bananas as a gorilla.
Note: cause-and-effect gags in place of wrestling violence (which was becoming a hot TV issue at this time); a cameo by another battle-axe.
There were only 16 episodes of Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch! but they seemed to replay well for CBS and various cable channels. For a short-lived show, lots of merchandise was released, including a Milton Bradley board game, puzzles coloring books, comics, a lunch box and a Peter Pan LP album.
Containing four stories written for the record, the album art was by frequent Peter Pan artist George Peed (brother of story artist Bill Peet). Perhaps because of limited information, Peed depicted Bananas as a monkey rather than a gorilla, and painted “park” instead of “zoo” on the sign. On the record itself, Bananas is referred to as an ape and Peevly’s middle initial is “V” instead of “P”.
Other than those blips, the album is an earnest, valiant attempt at capturing the spirit of the show. Budget or logistics prevented producers Herb Davidson and Charlotte Sanders from using the actual music or voice actors. Instead, they re-recorded the theme, created their own stock music, and hired veteran New York animation actors to do the voices — including Lionel Wilson (Tom Terrific, The Mighty Heroes, Winky Dink & You!).