Animation Cel-ebration
June 14, 2024 posted by Michael Lyons

Big Screen Bruin: The 60th Anniversary of “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear”

When Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear opened in 1964, New York Times critic Howard Thompson declared: “Adroitly blending sass, wisdom and tunes, this adaptation of the popular television series for small fry is as friendly, frisky and disarming as all get out. The kids should eat it up, and any adult should walk out smiling.”

Sixty years later, this review still applies to this big-screen feature film that spotlights one of Hanna-Barbera’s biggest TV stars, getting Yogi out of Jellystone Park and into an adventure worthy of movie theaters.

The first animated feature film from Hanna-Barbera, Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear, opens like an episode of one of the cartoons, with Yogi, Boo-Boo, and Cindy waking from hibernation as spring begins. Yogi is on the hunt for “pick-a-nick” baskets, and the Ranger is on Yogi’s case immediately.

“This is a matter battle of wits,” says the Ranger to Yogi, “and it looks like you’ve run out of ammunition.”

Fed up, Yogi gets angry and convinces the Ranger to get him out of Jellystone, which the Ranger does, agreeing to send Yogi to the San Diego Zoo. Yogi, being Yogi, tricks another bear named Corn Pone into going to San Diego in his place.

Unbeknownst to everyone, Yogi hides in the woods under the guise of “The Brown Phantom” and begins stealing food from Jellystone. Cindy, distraught at this news and wanting to be with Yogi, begins to steal food herself to anger the Ranger so she will get transferred to be with Yogi.

However, Cindy gets sent to the St. Louis Zoo, and when Yogi learns of this, he and Boo-Boo set off on a “buddy-road movie” plot to find Cindy and bring her back to Jellystone.

Along the way, they encounter Grifter Chizzing, the shady villain of the story who kidnaps Cindy and forces her to be part of his circus. Yogi, Boo-Boo and Cindy wind up stealing a clown car to escape the circus, crash through a barnyard, and end up in New York City, where Ranger Smith flies a helicopter in to rescue them.

Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear initially unfolds against the setting of Jellystone Park, which has never looked better, thanks to background work from such talented artists as F. Montealegre, Art Lozzi, Ron Dias, and Robert Gentle, just to name a few.

These familiar settings look lush, and other backdrops from the circus and New York City are also brought to a pleasing animated life. It’s no wonder that Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear looks so good when one sees that such legends and HB Studio stalwarts as Iwao Takamoto, Willie Ito, and Jerry Eisenberg were just some of the talents who served as art directors.

While not as lavish as Disney’s efforts at the time, the film’s animation is still fuller than Hanna-Barbera’s TV output. Unsurprisingly, icons of the studio and the industry were responsible for this, including animation director Charles A. Nichols and such animators as Don Lusk, Irv Spence, Cherry Chiniquy, Ken Harris, Fred Wolf, and Kenneth Muse, among others, such as ink and paint supervisor, Roberta Greutert, whose team makes the cast look vibrant.

All of the characters look quite at home in this bigger setting. The always amazing “Hanna-Barbera rep company” of voice actors do their usual brilliant work: Daws Butler as Yogi, Don Messick as Boo-Boo and Ranger Smith, Julie Bennett as Cindy, Hal Smith as Corn Pone, Mel Blanc as Grifter Chizzling, J. Pat O’Malley as Grifter’s sidekick Snively, and Messick as their snickering dog Mugger (who seems like a distant cousin of Mutley and Mumbley).

There’s also James Darren as Yogi’s singing voice in the song, “Ven-E, Ven-O, Ven-A,” one of the many catchy musical numbers in Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear. There’s also “St. Louie,” sung to Cindy by a group of bears on a train in an entertaining, kinetic sequence, as well as the earworm “Whistle Your Way Back Home.”

These songs, and others by Ray Gilbert and Doug Goodwin, allow for some creative moments of animation, such as Yogi, Cindy, and Boo-Boo imagining they’re on a Venetian gondola. There’s also the upbeat opening title song, “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear” by David Gates.

For more on the soundtrack, check out Greg Ehrbar’s insightful Cartoon Research article from 2014 .

Released on June 3, 1964, Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear was a testament to the fact that the lead character and his series were so well regarded that Hanna-Barbera and Columbia Pictures devoted a feature-length film to Yogi.

Sixty years later, the film still plays very well, with an entertaining, solid story and memorable songs. It’s also a nice 90-minute encapsulation of Hanna-Barbera during one of their most popular eras.

The 1964 press book for Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear is marketing hyperbole for the animated star and his film, but it also sums up the popularity of Yogi Bear in the 60’s, as well as his enjoyable feature:

“He’s the joy of the jet-set, the hero of the hipsters, the sweetheart of the sophisticates. So, take a tip and stop hibernating! Come see the fresh, fabulous, song-filled motion picture that’s entertainment for everyone!”

18 Comments

  • “It’s no wonder that Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear looks so good when one sees that such legends and HB Studio stalwarts as Iwao Takamoto, Willie Ito, and Jerry Eisenberg were just some of the talents who served as art directors”

    Would not agree with this assumption on every project these three collectively worked on as Art Directors.
    I’m thinking of Wait Till Your Father Gets Home.

    • I consider that one of the better H-B series of the ’70’s.

      • The quote is not about what you think of the show overall –
        it is making a very broad statement that all shows which used the combined talents of those three must have Art Direction which makes them look good.

        I have counted at least 11 HB shows where all of the 3 featured on the end credits as either Production Design or Layout.

        The art direction on one of those shows Wait Till You Father Gets Home looks like they used the rough first draft sketches.
        It does not “look” good.

  • It’s funny how closely the opening of this movie mimics that of Bill Hanna’s directorial debut, the 1936 Harman-Ising Happy Harmonies cartoon “To Spring”: Snow melts on an idyllic landscape, dripping down into a cavern within the earth where it awakens a little guy (here, Boo-Boo) who then goes around rousing others from their winter slumber by hollering that spring is here. At least we’re spared an unfunny running gag where Ranger Smith has trouble putting his pants on.

    “Hey There” was inarguably the zenith of Yogi’s career, the moment that the smarter-than-average bear became a movie star. Unfortunately, it was all downhill after that, a long, slow, sad decline culminating with the tween mallrat reboot “Yo, Yogi!” By the 1980s, Bill and Joe had completely forgotten what it takes to make a quality Yogi Bear movie, instead afflicting fans of their characters with execrable made-for-TV features like “Yogi and the Invasion of the Space Bears” and “Yogi Bear and the Magical Flight of the Spruce Goose”. It breaks my heart to think about it.

    You’re absolutely right that “Hey There” still plays well after sixty years. I hope that it will continue to do so long after Yogi’s later abominations have faded into deserved oblivion.

    • Honestly, I thought some of the revisions were fine and decent (most notably, “Yogi’s Treasure Hunt”).

      • yogis space race ,yogis.gang , galxie goofups, laff a lympics 👍😎

  • I remember vividly the promotions for this film on television, as “The Yogi Bear Show” was one of my favorites, but at the tender age of four I had no idea that such a thing as a movie theatre existed, nor did I understand what the term “feature film” meant. I thought this was a special that was coming to television, because that was the only medium I knew. Not sure why my parents didn’t explain it to me at the time, but later that same year they sprung “Mary Poppins” on me as my first movie-going experience, so it all worked out. Maybe since I could watch Yogi Bear on the small screen they didn’t want to shell out the big bucks to see him on the big screen. Anyway, it was several years later when it ran on television on the Big Money Movie, that as a preteen I finally got to see it. And even though much older by then, I still enjoyed the film immensely.

    Everything that works in the short cartoons is brought out in the feature. I love the redesigns of Cindy Bear and Ranger Smith. And I believe that this is where Boo Boo’s profile and head-on appearance consistently match. Criticism has been made that Yogi Bear is not a strong enough character to sustain a feature film, but I believe this film proves otherwise.

    One slight correction: doesn’t the Ranger say “a battle of wits” instead of “a matter of wits?” Or have I been mis-hearing the line all these years? In any case, it’s a minor point. This is a great post! I think recognition for this film is way overdue.

  • “This is a matter of wits,” says the Ranger to Yogi, “and it looks like you’ve run out of ammunition.”
    That’s battle of wits, and the line must have been a favorite of Warren Foster’s–Its used in a number of the prior Yogi shorts.

  • As children’s entertainment goes, you can do a lot worse. Maybe the film’s most endearing feature is how it avoids cuteness.

  • One of the first movies I ever saw, was a double feature with “A Man Called Flintstone.”

    Was Friz Freleng involved with it? I recall reading that somewhere.

    • Per Of Mice and Magic. I think he wrote it.

      • Mark Evanier news from me entry on June 17, 2008 at 12:02 AM

        “Friz Freleng worked without credit on the storyboard” on Hey There It’s Yogi Bear –
        but which scenes he worked on are unknown

        https://www.newsfromme.com/2008/06/page/5/

        • I did a few interviews with Friz in his later years. I had asked him what he specifically did immediately after being laid off from Warner Bros. And he told me he called Bill and Joe (whom he worked with at MGM in the 30s) and they immediately put him on “Hey There It’s Yogi Bear”. He was only there a few months, but he recalled it was in the circus sequences.

  • At the time, there were newspaper strips of both Yogi Bear and the Flintstones, and each did a series of Sunday gags sending their characters to Hollywood to play themselves in the movies.

    I recall one of Yogi being temperamental on the set, smugly reminding all he can’t be replaced. A stagehand rolls in a rack of Yogi Bear costumes and Yogi freaks out.

    Also remember an odd public service commercial of Yogi warning kids not to play on construction sites. One kid says “Hey there, it’s Yogi Bear!” Yogi is suddenly wearing sunglasses in front of a marquee, modestly mentioning that just happens to be the title of his new motion picture. Then it’s back to the safety message.

  • Quick correction: two T’s in Muttley’s name.

  • Memorable songs indeed. It’s been decades since I saw the movie, but “Saint Louie, MO” is still very fresh in my mind

  • The trailer identifies the quartet of singing bears as the “BEArTLES,” [1964 was the year the Beatles arrived in the US], even though they don’t look or sound like the Fabs. Were they referred to this way in the movie, or was it just a gag for the trailer.? I saw the movie when it came out, but was only 4 and don’t remember the details. I did (vaguely) remember this number, though.

  • Interesting that it open in theaters within days another TV-based feature film first hit theaters: McHale’s Navy !

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