Judge Dan Mancini is smarter than a below-average bear. Maybe.
"What's this? Trees grow inside in the winter?"—Yogi Bear
Hanna-Barbera Productions was sort of like the Dreamworks Animation of the 1960s and '70s. If Dreamworks, with its decent-enough-for-kids entertainment and over-reliance on references to popular culture, is doomed to exist in the shadow of Pixar's monumentally awesome work, then Hanna-Barbera was a kind of chintzy alternative to Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies. Instead of compelling, memorably unique characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Wile E. Coyote; Hanna-Barbera offered up a menagerie of anthropomorphized animals loosely based on everything from Art Carney's Ed Norton character from The Honeymooners (Yogi Bear), to Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz (Snagglepuss), to vaudeville and movie comedian Jimmy Durante (Doggy Daddy). Hanna-Barbera wasn't exactly a fount of originality (arguably their most artistically successful show, The Flintstones was a wholesale rip-off of The Honeymooners, while The Jetsons was a wholesale rip-off of The Flintstones). Still, there's a sort of low-rent charm to Hanna-Barbera productions, especially for anyone who grew up in the '60s and '70s when the studio's cartoons dominated children's television.
Yogi's First Christmas is a made-for-TV movie dating back to 1980. On their way to a little yuletide relaxation in Jelly Stone Park; Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, Augie Doggie, and Doggie Daddy accidentally awaken Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, who normally hibernate through Christmas. In what amounts to an animated mash-up of White Christmas and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Yogi and the gang must help Ranger Smith and hotel manager Mr. Dingwell keep stuffy rich lady Sophie Throckmorton and her nephew Snively happy so that she won't close down Jelly Stone Lodge. They also do light-hearted battle with Herman the Hermit, who despises the holidays and will do anything to stop them. An endless volley of "pick-a-nick" baskets, dear old Dads, and exits…stage left ensues. Plus, there's a special appearance by a certain jolly old elf named Santa Claus.
The problem with Yogi's First Christmas is the same one that plagued Hanna-Barbera television shows like Laff-A-Lympics. Throwing a bunch of the studio's characters together in an adventure dilutes their charm, rather than multiplying the entertainment. Animated in the classic (albeit cheap) Hanna-Barbera style and performed by voice acting legends Daws Butler, Don Messic, John Stephenson, and Janet Waldo; Yogi and the other characters are charmingly authentic. But stripped of their original contexts they're also mostly lifeless. Good-natured, yet devious, Yogi enjoys stressing out Ranger Smith; but none of his antics have the same comedic fire as an actual Yogi Bear cartoon. Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, and Augie Doggie mostly come off as fish out of water; left with little to do but spit out their well-known (to anyone who grew up on their cartoons) catchphrases every now and again. The movie's plot is almost non-existent. All in all, Yogi's First Christmas feels like one of those television reunion shows in which a network forces now aged and under-employed former sitcom actors to half-heartedly slip back into old, familiar roles for a one-off evening of stilted, non-entertainment.
Yogi's First Christmas is available exclusively through the Warner Archive online store (see the link in the Accomplices section of this review). It is delivered on DVD-R (make sure your player can handle that format) in a standard keepcase with Warner Archive Collection artwork. The Warner Archive web site warns that Yogi's First Christmas has been transferred to DVD from an existing video master without the benefit of any remastering. Considering those circumstances, it looks surprisingly good. The presentation is full frame, in keeping with its original broadcast. Colors are accurate. The source print displays minor instances of dirt (the sort of flaws standard for animation of the period) and almost nothing in the way damage. Digital artifacts are non-existent.
There are no extras.
Yogi's First Christmas isn't a particularly good movie, but Hanna-Barbera superfans need not worry that its limited release as part of the Warner Archive Collection means it has been given shoddy treatment. This DVD is a solid piece of work.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
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