Friday, December 17, 2010

The Two Faces of Yogi

With the release of the CGI/live-action resurrection of Yogi Bear (with animation oddly enough provided by Rhythm and Hues, who have certainly devolved when it comes to computer-animated bears from their famous Coca-Cola polar bears), two Yogi-related clips caught my eye. One you've probably seen already. The other...maybe, maybe not. Each one is interesting for a different reason.

Let's start with the one you probably haven't seen: a clip from a 1975 episode of To Tell the Truth, in which the panelists have to identify which of the three men is the real Bill Hanna of Hanna-Barbera fame. This clip came to my attention by way of MAD's Maddest Writer Dick DeBartolo, who happened to write for Goodson-Todman at the time and was actually the man in the Yogi Bear suit. (According to him, he did such a good job as Yogi that Hanna asked him to play the part at the opening of the theme park plugged at the end of this clip. He did.)

A number of things intrigue me about this clip. I've never watched To Tell the Truth, but I get the basic gist of it from this clip, and I wonder how much the panelists actually knew about the animation industry. It seems some of them might have known something about it, but it seems others didn't, like Kitty Carlisle, who can't tell the difference between Yogi and Smokey and calls him "Yoga Bear" at one point. On the other hand, there's Peggy Cass, who was probably right when she pointed out that someone in the animation industry at the time would probably know that Walter Lantz's wife does the voice for Woody Woodpecker, and Nipsey Russell, who rightfully points out the controversy regarding limited animation on Saturday morning cartoons- a rather ironic thing to point out, seeing as Hanna-Barbera was the studio that pioneered it (I wonder what Hanna thought when he heard Nipsey say that). And then there's Panelist Number Two, who credits every cartoon ever made to Screen Gems- which was the animation and later the television distribution arm of Columbia Pictures- except for the Road Runner, whom he claims is a product of Vizacom (presumably a mangling of Viacom, which is today a media giant but at the time was mainly in the business of syndicating old television show reruns rather than creating new material). It should also be pointed out- well, maybe not, but I'm pointing it out anyway- that the short Bill Cullen brings up is actually called The Critic. It did win an Academy Award, and the voice-over is none other than Mel Brooks. In fact, this was his first film.

The other video has been around the Internet and back multiple times now, and you've probably seen it already. If not, though, here it is: Yogi Bear by way of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford:

The two most intriguing things behind the scenes regarding this video are the fact that the animator- a 25-year-old graphic design student from Rhode Island- starting animating this in September, apparently already knowing (as many did) that "Yogi Bear" was going to be a cinematic punchline even before it was released and, perhaps even more intriguing, Warner Bros.'s official response to the video. See that disclaimer at the beginning that says they aren't involved with it and that the content may be inappropriate for some viewers? That's all their doing, and it's all they demanded. No lawsuit, no cease-and-desist. Just a few lines of text pointing out they weren't involved with it and easing their fears that young children might see the video was all they wanted, and they got it. On one hand, as Warners themselves pointed out, this is a parody that uses no actual copyrighted material from the film (as the end credits state, the animator designed all the models himself using advertisements and posters for the actual film as a guide- and did an amazing job, I must add) that definitely falls under fair use provisions as far as parodies are concerned. On the other hand, one also wonders if this is an example of "any publicity is good publicity." Does WB know they have a failure on its hands and hope a parody in which the title character gets turned into a bearskin rug will give some people a perverse curiosity to see the actual film? Hard to tell.

But one thing that is easy to tell is that for a most likely mediocre computer-animated film based on a mediocre old cartoon about a bear that wears a hat and sounds like Art Carney, Yogi Bear- and Hanna-Barbera, for that matter- certainly leave behind a legacy. What that legacy is, I can't exactly say. But it's probably something. And that's more than you can say about your av-er-age bear.

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