Hanna-Barbera (1980), Warner Archive Collection (November 17, 2009), 1 disc, 99 mins, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Not Rated, Retail: $19.95


Yogi escapes his winter hibernation for the first time, and enjoys the splendors of Christmas. His merriment is nearly spoiled by the actions of a nasty kid and a grinch of a hermit, but the spirit of the season is strong enough to give Yogi and all of his friends a happy holiday.


The Sweatbox Review:

1980 was the year that Hanna-Barbera debuted its takes on Richie Rich (The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Show), movie monsters (Drak Pack) and the Fonz (The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang), but they also kept their sights on the characters who got them to where they were. The single most powerful cartoon studio in Hollywood, Hanna-Barbera had some of its earliest successes in its comedy shows featuring anthropomorphic animals, and the biggest star of these was Yogi Bear. After debuting on The Huckleberry Hound Show in 1958, Yogi got his own series in January of 1961 and became a sensation. For this reason, he has been the headliner of a number of H-B projects, including a 1980 syndicated TV movie.


Yogi’s First Christmas was made available for broadcast on November 22, 1980. Apparently, it was formatted to allow it to also be broken up into four separate episodes, which could air over a four-day period, with many U.S. stations choosing to do so during the week of Christmas. In the story, Ranger Smith is taking Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy to Jellystone Lodge for the Christmas Festival. The ranger is thankful that Yogi Bear is hibernating, and he anticipates a fun time without complications. Ironically, it is the merrymaking of the holiday travellers that rouses Yogi and his little pal Boo Boo from their slumber, and they decide to investigate the source of the noise.

By this time, the gang has found out from the hotel manager that the lodge is to be sold by its owner, Mrs. Throckmorton. The rich older lady, however, will be spending the season at the hotel, so they have an opportunity to help her change her mind. This will be tough, as they still fear that what happened last year, a series of mean-spirited pranks, will happen again. Because of last year’s problems, there aren’t any other guests at the lodge this year, and it’s up to the gang to make the most of it. They therefore have to contend with Herman The Hermit (with apologies to the band), the source of last year’s troubles, and one other miscreant. Herman lives up on the mountain, and looks down of the Christmas festivities with resentment and disgust. If you think it sounds a lot like The Grinch, I haven’t even mentioned his Santa suit yet!


The other miscreant I mentioned is none other than Mrs. Throckmorton’s wretched nephew, Snively. For some reason, he also hates Christmas. Of course, he seems to hate everything, and is possibly the rottenest boy in all the world. Fortunately, his auntie tolerates very little of his bad behavior, and the gang sees that they have a chance to impress the kind-hearted lady. Yogi is most impressive to her, as he continuously performs great feats in front of her, largely through luck and happenstance. At the same time that he is impressing the lady, however, he also gains the enmity of her nephew. Yogi repeatedly shows him up, particularly during the Christmas Festival competition, where he succeeds in ski jumping and figure skating despite being new to the sports. His success also confounds both Ranger Smith and the lodge’s manager Mr. Dingwell, who would prefer to have Yogi hibernating again, since based on past experience it seems unlikely that Yogi won’t be getting into trouble at some point. Meanwhile, Cindy Bear— also awoken from her hibernation to help— would very much like Yogi to get into some sort of trouble. She pursues him throughout the show, looking for a kiss.


Snively tries a few times to discredit Yogi, but his efforts always backfire. Unable to gain the sympathy of his wise aunt, Snively runs away and meets up with Herman The Hermit, and together they try to spoil everyone’s Christmas. This situation gets resolved in the third act, which felt like the end of the story, betraying how this show was planned to be split into four distinct “episodes.” In fact, there is a fourth act that deals with a new attempt by Snively and Herman to sabotage the holiday. This time, a special guest star makes an appearance at the end, though Yogi does not need any special magic to make everything turn out for the best.


In the interest of full disclosure… This story was not, in fact, Yogi’s first Christmas appearance. Yes, it’s true. He appeared at least one other time in a previous Christmas story. A year prior to putting out this movie, Hanna-Barbera released Casper’s First Christmas, which featured much of the same cast (with the addition of QuickDraw McGraw) meeting that little friendly ghost. Perhaps the thrifty studio was banking on no one remembering the Casper special, as they even re-used the theme song Comin’ Up Christmas Time in the Yogi Bear story, though it was at least re-recorded. Additionally, the song Hope was originally used in 1977’s A Flintstones Christmas, but here it is sung by Boo Boo.

So, the songs are partially borrowed (two songs sung by Cindy Bear seem original to this special), and the story is a familiar one. Aside from that, all of the Hanna-Barbera characters are true to form, making for a comfortably entertaining but not surprising show. Kids will enjoy it, but parents will strain to keep enthused, as the thin story gets stretched out by mildly entertaining gags that only succeed because of our fondness for these old-time characters. In my pile of Christmas specials on DVD, this one will likely sink towards the bottom of the play list, but I’m sure that every once in a while I may want to bring this out for the kids to enjoy, and for me to visit with old friends.


Is This Thing Loaded?

This is a Warner Archive Collection release. If you are familiar with the program, you know that Warner Bros. offers these titles direct to consumers and the discs are manufactured on demand. The program is not built on lavish special editions, so one cannot expect anything other than the main feature. This disc follows the format of others in the program, with a trailer advertising the Warner Archive Collection, followed by a standard “menu” that only gives you the option to watch the movie, with further advice to use the “Next” and “Previous” buttons on your remote to advance through 10-minute increments; and they are exactly ten minutes, by the way, not planned chapters. No frills here!


Case Study:

The standard Warner Archive Collection package is in place here. Program-themed artwork appears on front and back, against the Archive blue-black background. A program synopsis is written on the back, with studio credits. There are no inserts inside the Amaray keepcase. The disc is, of course, a burned DVD, not a pressed one, so it may not play in certain, more limited, players. I had no trouble with it on my PS3 or my DVD-ROM drive.


Ink And Paint:

I was pleasantly surprised by the transfer on this disc. While it won’t win any awards, it is a reasonably clean print, though with infrequent physical artifacts present— most of which are likely original to the negative. Compression work is very good, with no noticeable aliasing or break-up. The print does not exhibit fading, and remains true to its original broadcast, and is likely better thanks to DVD’s resolution.


Scratch Tracks:

The two-channel sound is likely Stereo, though any audio tricks were pretty minimal. Nevertheless, the sound is perfectly acceptable, and there is no hissing or distortion. The voice cast, incidentally, features the famous voice actors that everyone expects. Daws Butler and Don Messick are on hand to reprise their famous roles, and Janet Waldo does Cindy Bear and Mrs. Throckmorton.


Final Cut:

This falls far down the list of Christmas classics, but I know that there are people out there with a fond attachment to this movie. The characters are as appealing as ever, even if the animation is only so-so and the script suffers from the absence of a plot worthy of a two-hour show. I might suggest viewing this in four instalments, as it was designed to be seen, unless your kids can’t wait to see how it ends. The best thing that I can say is that its release as part of the Warner Archive Collection is a great sign of things to come, and we can likely look forward to many of our personal favorites coming out direct from Warner.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?