"In The Wonderland Zoo,
So don't yell,
So don't yell,
'Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch!'"
Critic-proof for anyone who grew up on this pap..as long as you can still feel it. Warner Bros.' Archive Collection of hard-to-find cult and library titles, has, through their Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection line, released Help!...It's the Hair Bear Bunch! ― The Complete Series, a 2-disc, 16-episode collection of the CBS Saturday morning toon that first aired in the Fall of 1971. A not particularly distinguished offering (except for its heavyweight voice crew) from the myriad other cartoons H-B delivered when it completely dominated Saturday morning television, Help!...It's the Hair Bear Bunch! is innocuous fair for the very smallest of the small fry...and perhaps worth a quick look if you remember the title but not the toon. No extras for these good-looking full-screen transfers.
The Wonderland Zoo, in H-B-Land. Uptight screamer and Zoo director Eustace P. Peevly (voice talent of John Stephenson) has a problem―three of his bears are forever up to no good: sneaking out of the zoo at night, organizing the other animals into various scams and schemes, and their generally wise-ass demeanors. The three bear cousins―afroed ringleader Hair Bear (voice talent of Daws Butler), Southern slacker Square Bear (voice talent of William Callaway), and gibberish-talking Bubi Bear (voice talent of Paul Winchell)―have it pretty good at the zoo. Their bare cave converts into a secret playboy bachelor pad, complete with periscope, TV, computer equipment, and a fully stocked frig. So why do they want always want to leave their comfortable spread, giving Peevly and his goofball assistant, Lionel J. Botch (voice talent of Joe E. Ross) conniption fits all the time? Well...because that's what fun-lovin' bears like to do.
I've written numerous times before about these Hanna-Barbera toons (and one or two live-action shows) from the late 60s and early-to-mid 70s―the ones I grew up on and had seared into my brain from countless repetition: The Huckleberry Hound Show, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Snagglepuss, Top Cat, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, Wacky Races, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, and Hong Kong Phooey. Help!...It's the Hair Bear Bunch! was not one of H-B's toons that saw subsequent numerous syndication runs, although it did come back to CBS's Spring 1974 Saturday morning line-up, for a repeat run of the original 16 episodes. If you've seen as many of these H-B toons as I have, then you know that there can be a certain sameness to many of the toons, in terms of plots, characters, voice work, music, sound effects...and pretty much everything else. Certainly Help!...It's the Hair Bear Bunch!'s set-up owes a lot to one of H-B's earlier iconic toons, Yogi Bear, with most of its other elements vaguely familiar, as well, to the hard-core H-B fan. So it doesn't really stand out as an original, or even particularly memorable, effort.
Soooo...why do I remember it, then? Not sure, but I do know when someone told me that Phil Spector showed up at his murder trial in a huge, crazy fro wig, and looked exactly like Hair Bear, I pictured it instantly, even though I hadn't seen the toon in over thirty years. It's that kind of show. You just...remember it. Maybe I had a coloring book or puzzle tie-in when I was a kid (it looks like H-B did quite a bit of merchandising for this one, if you check out Ebay). Or maybe it was on at just the right hour, and without strong competition, for me to happen upon it on a regular basis (I can see choosing it over The Jackson 5ive on ABC, and The New Pink Panther Show on NBC, in '71...but not over Bugs Bunny on ABC, or Lidsville on NBC, back in '74). Maybe it was the character design; after all, the bears are pretty cute, and the backgrounds colorful and lively in that ripe, right-before-the-fall H-B style. Or maybe I just liked it as a kid. Simple as that, and for no other reason that a kid needs or can explain. And the memory of it crawled away somewhere in my 6 or 8-year-old brain and stayed there, waiting to release vague, primitive pre-adolescent pleasure stimuli the minute that stupid goddamn theme song came up.
Unlike many of H-B's classic toons that can still entertain me (Scooby, of course, or Yogi, among many others), or less accessible ones that come off surprisingly well (Valley of the Dinosaurs, and yes...Jabberjaw), Help!...It's the Hair Bear Bunch! didn't really make me laugh (or even chuckle, frankly), so it's a tough sell to recommend it outside of a combination of curiosity and nostalgia. I did watch it with my littlest girl, who's six, and she was mildly amused for about two episodes (my ten-year-old boy bailed in the first ten minutes), but she hasn't asked to watch it again (she'll watch Yogi or Scooby anytime I put them on for her).
Maybe the problem is Help!...It's the Hair Bear Bunch!'s central premise: why, exactly, do the bears want to leave the Zoo? Their set-up is pretty good there, particularly that sweet, secret bachelor pad (maybe that's what I liked back then...). Ranger Smith wanted Yogi to quit stealing pic-a-nic baskets, but you got it because Yogi's a bear and he's always hungry. He's got to scam to eat something other than berries and nuts. But what are the Hair Bear Bunch lacking? They've got it all in that cave. Why would they want to leave? If the stories are fairly lame (catch and release, basically), certainly there are no problems with the voice work. I expected more, frankly, from genius Daws Butler (his Hair Bear doesn't match the flamboyance of the character design), but Paul Winchell was pretty good doing his double-talk (and Joe E. Ross can go, "Oooh! Ooooh!" anytime he wants, in my book). Maybe the real problem I had with Help!...It's the Hair Bear Bunch! wasn't the show itself; maybe it's because I'm not 6 or 8 anymore. I remember the toon with some hazy, subconscious fondness, and I wanted that feeling to come back the minute I played the disc. But it didn't come back. Whatever very mild pleasures Help!...It's the Hair Bear Bunch! offered 42 years ago (the same ones my daughter briefly enjoyed), I must not be receptive to anymore. Hard to get happy after discovering that.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.