April 7, 2013 posted by

DVD Review: Help! It’s The Hair Bear Bunch!

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)

hairbearbunch_200“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!”).

hairbear-DVDTed 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.

hairbear_recordContaining 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!).


  • I loved this cartoon when I was a kid. I don’t know if I’m dying to see it these days, but even now, I still remember the catchy theme song.

  • It has often been claimed in print that this series was syndicated under the title “Yo Yo Bears”.

    If it ever was, I don’t know about it. It never played under this title in the Los Angeles market, nor has any sign of a re-filmed title sequence shown up anywhere. It was not part of an anthology series such as the so-called “Captain Inventory” or “The Funtastic World Of Hanna-Barbera”.


  • I remember being indifferent about this cartoon as a kid when it came out. It would be interesting to see it again.
    The problem with me for most HB cartoons after circa 1969 wasn’t that the animation moved too little but that they moved it too much, awkwardly, and for the wrong reasons. Gone was the strong funny single pose and bursts of full animation to get them off -screen or cycle. Another marker for me is when they stopped adding jaw movement to lip sync for their action adventure type characters. SUch a little thing added more life to a talking head.
    But one thing was always good; the character designs. I just assume most of them were Iwao Takamoto’s.

    • It’s true to argue the show has it’s strengths and weaknesses with the writing/design/execution. As a kid watching this on USA’s Cartoon Express, I recall thinking the animators made it an invisible motorcycle out of the hassle of not having to draw that damn bike in every episode! It works in a screwball sense given the nature of the characters and their setting.

      I recall the Hair Bear Bunch getting ref. in the animated version of Evan Dorkin’s “Eltingville Club” stories as one of the club members tried to impress his friends with a tape of nude celebs from Sci-Fi/Horror, only to come to an episode of the cartoon instead (in the comic, it was Lidsville but the joke worked effectively).

  • The “Yo Yo Bears” titled has always been incorrectly identified as the series’ syndication title. It was, in fact, the series’ original working title while in development. Several other changes also happened prior to production, the most significant being the character designs of Bubi and Hair Bear. Both characters swapped heads from the initial designs, to what we still watch today. The characters were designed by Jerry Eisenberg, who did an amazing job.

    It interesting that you don’t mention the series owes more than a passing nod to “Hogan’s Heroes” which which ended it’s prime time run a few months prior to the premiere of “Hair Bear Bunch.” The antics of Hogan and his crew resemble those of Hair Bear and the zoo animals, while the bumbling Klink and Schultz trade places with Peevly and Botch. Add to that the Bears have a cave with hidden passages to the outside world, and modern appliances, similar to “Hogan,” and you’ve got quite a resemblance. I’m not sure if this was intentional or coincidental, but I think the comparisons are fun.

    I’ve also been told that Peevly WAS originally voiced by Joe Flynn, but replaced with John Stephenson. The feeling was, that while the studio wanted a Joe Flynn type voice, his performance wasn’t as “animated” for a cartoon as it needed to be. So, John Stephenson came in and took over.

    This was one of my favorite HB series. I enjoyed the stories, the theme song, character designs and background styling. Typically, people are going to tear apart the animation but as limited as it was, (Hello?! This is Saturday Morning we are talking about, not feature film) it was far less stiff than anything Filmation was doing at the time. Warner Archive did a great job with this series/ There are a few issues with the mix on an episode or two (for some reason the voice track takes a back seat to the sound effects) but overall it has been great to watch.

    • Yes, you’re right about Hogan’s Heroes, as well. The show had the elements of a lot of shows and movies, as Peevly ran the zoo pretty much like a prison, with bad food and lots of rules.
      This might seem like a stretch, but the convertible gadgets in the cave remind of an early scene in “An American in Paris,” in which Gene Kelly enters his tiny garret and uses various contraptions to make use of the limited space.

    • Mark Evanier had a nice post on his blog about this story [Link]. The story I relayed about Joe Flynn being replaced may be exaggerated. It seems he auditioned, but never actually recorded. He writes:

      “Joe Barbera told me that they’d based the character on Joe Flynn and planned to cast Joe Flynn. Then they brought him in to audition and decided that Joe Flynn didn’t sound enough like Joe Flynn. That’s not as bizarre as it may sound. Sometimes, a great character actor is a function of voice plus visual and when you take away the visual, the voice isn’t as special as you thought. That happened on several cartoon shows that got the idea of casting Don Knotts. He just wasn’t as wonderful when you couldn’t see him. “

  • While I’ve been loving these 1970s-era H-B collections from Warner Archive (I’ve bought pretty much all of their Saturday Morning offerings) — I still hold out hope that we’ll see some mid/late-1960s series, eventually .. particularly QUICKDRAW McGRAW, ATOM ANT & SECRET SQUIRREL, PETER POTAMUS, and WALLY GATOR.

    It’s just kinda strange to be able to enjoy these characters’ later (mis)adventures in the YOGI’S GANG / LAFF-A-LYMPICS era on DVD, while their respective original TV series remain unavailable.

  • Hey, nice work, Greg.

    For some reason, this particular series seems to provoke knee-jerk derision and hostility from some quarters (witness Stu Shostak’s rants during Jerry’s appearance on his program last month), and is unfairly lumped in with the nadir of ’70s H-B output.

    I’m certain most of these folks have never seen a single episode-they just hear “hippie bears” and assume the worst. No tree-hugging peaceniks here. The bears act more like spoiled teens- craving independence and freedom from their tyrannical ” ‘rents”, Peevely and Botch, but unwilling to give up the cushy comfortable lifestyle they provide for them. Best of all, the bears don’t always come out on top at each episode’s end, bringing some much needed relief from the predicitability of typical Saturday AM product.

    HITHBB was a favorite of mine when it originally aired, and I’ve enjoyed catching up with repeats on USA Network or Boomerang over the years. As mentioned above, the voice acting and character design are a lot of fun. Looking forward to purchasing the set, and I hope some of the naysayers will give it a chance.

    • No, no. Some of us have seen THE HAIR BEAR BUNCH are are very familiar with it. We just don’t like it. And I honestly don’t mean that to be insulting. I mean, if I can have a soft spot for the first two seasons of SCOOBY DOO, WHERE ARE YOU . . . .

    • A.J., very good point (though the laughtrack was rather inconsistent by the eighties was gone from USA Network’s Cartoon Express. It was the first for John Stephenson to do Joe Flynn’s klind of voice (and Ted Sennett’s 1989 Hanna Barbera coffee table book “The Art of” had one of the Index footnotes confirming the original intent to cast Joe Flynn.] the first to have Joe E.Ross, and he did, well, OOO OO!!!! Joe E.Ross.

      The hidden furniture ion the cave, invisible bike (drugged cartoonists!), catchy theme, and some slick talk from Hair Bear a la Top Cat or not just Hogan’s Heroes as mentioned but Sgt.Bilko, just like T.C.,(whose own voice was a Jack Oakie take off) ere excellent. I enjoyed it most of all, though Botch is different from Ross’s Gunther Toody or (Hong Kong Phooney’sa boss) Sgt.Flint, and Botych sometimes seems rather helpless or hapless while other times he prvides some excellent comic stuff like his character’s unvoiced pointing a finger over Peevely in the opening tittles..)

      As for second casting, this was just part of the ongoing tradition (old-time radio adapations of flicks using different actors, competitive childrens companies Warners with the 1950s Golden records, Disney, of course) of recasting a hit TV to turn it into a movie or (as in “Life Of Riley”) from radio into TV (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” being an outstanding modern example–from a 1992 theatrical THRILLER with the now forgotten Kristy Swanson into a LONG RUNNING TV DRAMA/THRILLER/MYSTERY?FANTASY predating the current or just faded “teen vampire” craze making Sarah M.Gellar as Buffy into a star!) But this recasting for kids albums is an often forgotten example,m since those kinds of kids LPs get overlooked as soundtracks about 30 years ago replaced thespian character LPs, even with popular characters. I mean, how many Disney or Nick CDs with this “radio” type of story do hear from today’s franchises>:)

      The most often puzzling thing with the H-B’s was different, original theme music which they owned (even when they sued Capitol’s stock music, as Hoyt Curtin was already writing catchy theme music. Why these iconic themes for Hanna-Barbera cartoons were replaced on the kiddies records, like HBR, is a mystery..)

    • invisible bike (drugged cartoonists!), catchy theme, and some slick talk from Hair Bear a la Top Cat or not just Hogan’s Heroes as mentioned but Sgt.Bilko, just like T.C.,(whose own voice was a Jack Oakie take off) Referring to Hair…Top Cat, of course was a PHIL SILVERS Take off…I hope someone installs an edit feature on this page..:) anyway, correct “slick talk from Hair Bear himself a la not just Hogan’s Heroes but Sgt.Bilko.Phil Silvers, the Top Cat blueprint, though another actor, Jack Oakie, is who Haire Bear’s based on….(he sounds like Art Carney/Yogi Bear to me…too..) OO!!O!! Now I proofread myself!

  • Geez, sorry for all the typos. That’s what I get for not proofreading before hitting, “post.”

  • Hey Greg ol’ buddy! I’m glad to see you were also a fan of The Hair Bear Bunch as I was as a kid. (Of course, this does not surprise me!) This is a series I was hoping might finally be released on DVD, so seeing your article today was a nice bit of news. I remember drawing Hair Bear all the time back then – I liked that strange frizzy hair that lacked a black border outline. I think this show and Wacky Races were sort of the last hurrah from HB for my tastes, as I didn’t think much of later funny cartoon attempts like Hong Kong Phooey or Jabber Jaw, and I had zero interest in the more comic book style illustrated cartoons that were becoming more commonplace. Of course I still hold out slim hope for a Where’s Huddles? DVD set, but I suspect that show will remain buried deep in the HB vault.

    • So cool to hear from you, Pete! Reminds me of those days at Disney when we would rhapsodize about the glories of Janet Waldo and those TV shows and movies we liked. Even when we didn’t agree, it was fun conversation.

  • I think the best thing about this show are its funny character designs (mostly by the great Jerry Eisenberg), although Hair Bear’s hair seems to be an Iwao Taklamoto trope) and main titles (boarded by Jerry). The theme song is actually pretty funny, too. By this time,there wasn’t much to like about H-B’s output. but the animation here seems a bit better than on other H-B shows of the time; my guess is that the animators liked the slight regression to bipedal funny animals.

  • If you dug this show, you owe it to yourself to check out Western Publications’ comic book adaptation of it. Most of the stories were drawn by the late, great Jack Manning, a terrific cartoonist who not only did a lot of work on layout and publicity art for H-B. his background as a sports cartoonist really gives the characters the kinetic energy that their animated incarnation only suggested.

  • I recall browsing through a late-60s TV Guide and saw a blurb about the Banana Splits in a TV update section. In the blurb, it mentioned H-B was working on other shows, including one based on “Hogan’s Heroes.” I’m guessing it became “The Hair Bear Bunch”…

  • Excellent review!

    FYI, Daws Butler was my personal mentor and he told me Hair Bear’s voices is based on Jack Oakie.

    I wrote the authorized biography Daws Butler: Characters Actor available on Amazon.

    • Thank you Joe! I never would have guessed Jack Oakie. I love how Daws would capture the essence of those wonderful character actors. One of my faves is his Ned Sparks on the :Snagglepuss Wizard of Oz” record.

  • This is one of the last shows I remember liking as a kid. I had kind of given up on Saturday mornings by this time, but I noticed that this show had better production values than a lot of HB cartoons of the same period. “Funky Phantom”, for example. Who drew that crap? I was only ten but was already turning into a cartoon snob, and damn that was embarrassing to look at. Same with Scooby-Doo – they looked and were cheap and poorly drawn. I blame the fact that I was spoiled by the Looney Tunes and the original Tom and Jerry’s and even HB’s earlier stuff – The Flintstones, Jetsons, Top Cat, and even Secret Squirrel and Wacky Races were better looking. So HITHBB was a nice little throwback. Still waiting for “Quick-Draw McGraw” on DVD.

  • I always wondered how Peter Pan got the rights to HB titles and yet couldn’t use any original voices or artwork.

    • It was most likely simply a licensing agreement, similar to a coloring book or board game license. Peter Pan licensed the use of The Flintstones, The Hair Bear Bunch and The Funky Phantom for LP records in 1972. I would guess that the cover art might have to have been approved (since it’s closer to model than most George Peed covers, but the record production was based on whatever series bible and possible scripts they might have had. I doubt that HB provided 16mm prints. The budget prevented using the original cast or music, so it was common practice to use a “second cast.” Disney still does it for some of their read alongs on occasion. Video games of famous characters also use other actors to do some of the voices when they cannot get the stars.

      I remember those days well. You never got the same voices on record as you did on TV so you had to live with it.

  • “Joe Flynn didn’t sound enough like Joe Flynn”!

    LOL! Laughing my ass off! It’s got to be true…I read the same thing as I mentioned earlier…the Sennett “Art of H-B” book mentioned in the index that Joe Flynn WAS tried,(recalled to the author by Joe Barbera himself), but..”HE DIDN’T SOUND GOOD ENOUGH!” Also according to Joe Adamson’s 50th anniversary Bugs Bunny book, the same thing happened with celebrities (after all, they DID have distinct voices..) who got replaced by Mel Blanc..then of course there are those very interesting original voice choices for The Flintstones and Top Cat for example…

  • Greg.,…on the issue of a lot of these not involving the original voices, as I might’ve said, logistics (i.e., NY’s Peter Pan or Golden records vs LA’s Warner Bros., Disney, or Hanna-Barbera studios) also would have prevented the original cast, though, of course, Golden did get the LA based Jay Ward cast to do Golden Records based on Ward shows.

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