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 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!”