Passable entertainment for the smallest of the small fry...but entirely too long without the sweet relief of commercials. Warner Bros.' direct mail-order Archives Collection has made available--just in time to scoop up some free promotional spill-over from a certain high-profile 3D family film out in theatres this week--Yogi's Great Escape, the 1987 syndicated feature produced by Hanna-Barbera. If you've got a Yogi Bear completist at your house jonesing for more, more, more Yogi antics, this should be right up their alley. A rental should do okay for that holiday Hanna-Barbera marathon.
It's springtime in 1987 America. Jellystone National Park, however, is over budget, and you know what that means: a call from President Ronald Reagan to shut down that park (I actually don't know who calls Ranger Smith, but I'd like to think it was the Gipper). Yogi Bear (voice talent of Daws Butler) has enough problems just getting out of bed, let alone taking care of three troublesome bear cubs left on his cavestep--what's he going to do when he and Boo Boo Bear (Don Messick) are sent off to a zoo? The solution? Simple: design a wild berries, forest-fueled, turbo-charged "Super Car" and escape to the great unknowns of America. Once out there, Yogi runs into old pals Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, and Wally Gator (voice talents of Daws Butler), along with some helpful kids clubs who aid Yogi's great escape. But Yogi needs to look out: Ranger Smith (voice talent of Don Messick) has engaged Trapper the Scrapper (voice talent of William Callaway) and his dog, Yapper (voice talent of Frank Welker), to hunt down the furry fugitives.
I make no bones about still loving all of the original, vintage Hanna-Barbera output, including Yogi Bear, that I grew up on in endless reruns as a kid. The Looney Tunes had their own violent, sophisticated humor; UPA's The Pink Panther and The Inspector had those beautiful, spidery graphics and oddball humor; Harveytoons' Popeye and Casper, the Friendly Ghost had those screaming sound effects; Filmation had the groovy sounds of the sixties with The Archies...and Yogi Bear had that beautiful "Booooooiiiiiiiinnnnnngggg!" whenever someone got hit over the head with an iron skillet. I loved them all (and more I'm surely forgetting), so I'm pre-programmed to feel a bit nostalgic when I pop in something like Yogi's Great Escape. However, "pre-programmed" for nostalgia doesn't guarantee I'll enjoy this 1987 effort the same way I enjoyed those earlier cartoons when I was sitting in front of my 19-inch black and white, with my bowl of Fruit Loops® getting soggy, as I repositioned my holster and genuine chromed six-shooters over my horses-and-cowboy jammies (yes--I was adorable). The original Yogi can still make me laugh, but this later effort...not so much.
Of course, back in 1987, Yogi's Great Escape wasn't designed for a young adult; it was made for kids. So I grabbed a couple of my younger ones (I'm finally starting to run thin on "younger ones") and asked if they wanted to watch it, too. And for the most part, they enjoyed it probably in the same way I enjoyed those vintage Yogi shorts: they laughed here and there, and they stayed with it, but there was some down time inbetween where they grabbed some toys until some bright and flashy action caught their eye. I can't say I was too interested in the movie after the first ten minutes or so (except from a standpoint of having to watch it for the review), but it seemed harmless enough, despite a running time of 93 minutes that probably worked much better in syndication, with plenty of commercials to break it up. The animation was about on par for these later H-B efforts, the adventures quite tame, while the laughs were scarcer because the violence was so obviously toned down (something re-learned, thank god, for the SpongeBob crowd). When the movie was over, I asked the two youngest if they wanted to watch Yogi's Great Escape again sometime, and the response was a tepid, "Uh...sure," as they ran the hell out of the room, screaming for the DS®. That pretty much sums up Yogi's Great Escape's impact.
The full-screen, 1.33:1 transfer for Yogi's Great Escape was decent enough, with fairly bright colors, a medium-sharp image, and no compression issues to speak of here.
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track was serviceable, with a reasonably loud recording level and minimal hiss. No subtitles or close-captions were available.
As per most Warner Archives titles, no extras are included.
Probably ho-hum for the parents, but little kids might enjoy Yogi's Great Escape once...and that's all. A mild updating (from 1987) of the seemingly endlessly reimagined franchise, Yogi's Great Escape couldn't hurt if your little kids get hooked this weekend on the smaaaaaarter-than-the-average-type-bear. A rental for Yogi's Great Escape should do before you make any decision to buy.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.