Hanna-Barbera (1971), Warner Archive (March 12, 2013), 2 Discs, 328 mins, 4:3 ratio, Dolby Digital Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $29.95
Three bears living in a zoo live life on their own terms, avoiding the zoo staff while making frequent sojourns into the city.
The Sweatbox Review:
Ah, the zoo comedy. Hanna-Barbera had done this type of thing before, of course. Yogi Bear wasn’t in a zoo, but the dynamic at Jellystone Park was much the same as the atmosphere at Wonderland Zoo. Just as in The Yogi Bear Show, Help! …It’s The Hair Bear Bunch! has some bears trying to get the better of their supervising human. Similarly, the Wally Gator segments of 1962’s The Hanna-Barbera New Cartoon Series had an animal who enjoyed living at the zoo, but liked to escape once in a while to take a look around. Help! …It’s The Hair Bear Bunch!, then, had little new to offer in terms of its premise. Nevertheless, Hanna-Barbera – home of the recycled premise – was able to wring out 16 episodes of the show back in 1971, and the five-year olds of the time didn’t know it to be any less original than anything else on TV.
Daws Butler, the voice of Yogi, also voiced the afro-sporting Hair Bear, looking dapper in his orange vest and green scarf (only in the 1970s!). Hair is the master schemer of a posse of three bears at the Wonderland Zoo. His cohorts include little Bubi, who speaks in near-gibberish; and Square Bear, a larger bear who is more laid back and also has an invisible motorcycle (okay, so that was a new twist). The three of them love their lives at the Zoo, finding it provides all the comforts of home— especially considering the modifications they’ve made to their cave, complete with pool table, laboratory, and other necessities. Their “wardens” are Eustace Peevly, the zookeeper, and his assistant Botch. Peevly knows the bears are always up to something, but he can never prove it, at least without incriminating himself and his inability to ever actually stop them from escaping. His threats are only so much good to him, though the bears do cower at the thought of being sent to live in the wilds of the North Woods.
The three bears are addicted to the good life, and while they enjoy the Zoo, they do crave adventure outside. This leads to them to repeatedly trying to trick Peevly, whether by convincing him he has a serious disease, getting him a girlfriend, or even going along with Peevly’s own schemes in order to trick him later. During the course of the show, we also see the Bunch take over the zoo, fight bank robbers, meet aliens, play Cupid to gorillas, and enter a zebra in a horse race.
The other animals at the zoo are recurring characters, including Bananas the gorilla, Slicks the fox, and over a dozen others. They act as the beneficiaries of Hair’s plans, but also provide some of the labor to make his plans successful. All the animals seem to generally be good friends, and are all in agreement in trying to get the best of Peevly. However, while Peevly wishes to be feared by the animals, he is himself at the mercy of the Zoo Superintendent, who shows up at inconvenient times, just when Peevly is himself at the mercy of Hair and his friends. Ultimately, though, the animals like Peevly and especially don’t wish to be subjected to a more competent zookeeper, so they always make sure that Peevly ends up looking good in front of the Superintendent.
Help! …It’s The Hair Bear Bunch! may not have broken new ground, but it does provide an enjoyable sixteen episodes of 1970s-style escape-from-the-zoo humor, decades before the Madagascar films became popular. Audiences of the time gave it limited support during its CBS showings, where it went up against The New Pink Panther Show (which added The Ant And The Aardvark segments that year) and Jackson 5; and its exposure on TV since has been limited. Still, I did pick up a VHS tape of the show at some point, and it’s nice to now have a complete set. The sixteen episodes here on DVD really are complete, too, thankfully including the commercial bumpers.
Is This Thing Loaded?
There are no bonus features. The disc menus do at least give the episode titles, and the chapter stops are strategically placed around the show’s openings and credits, as well as some scene changes..
This two disc DVD-R set from Warner Archive comes in a clear keepcase with tray; no inserts or episode listing in the packaging.
Ink And Paint:
Aside from the odd bit of dust, this is a surprisingly good transfer of the little-remembered show. Colors are fairly consistent, though tones are not. The look of the show varies from episode to episode, with most looking about the same, but the odd one can be a little softer or a little brighter, and an occasional shot is soft or almost out of focus. The openings have the greatest inconsistency, with most of them looking good, but I saw one that was too yellow, and one that was too dark. The episodes themselves, though, are mostly very good, so long as you don’t compare them to each other. And of course, the limited budget of this cartoon, and the production methods of the time, mean that physical artifacts from the original negative (smudges, scratches) and a general lack of showy backgrounds prevent the show from looking too wonderful.
The original English mono soundtrack is all you will find here, with no subtitles offered. The audio is quite sufficient, though unremarkable. The best part of the soundtrack, naturally, is the fine voice work by Daws Butler, Paul Winchell, John Stephenson, and Joe E. Ross.
I don’t know how many people even remember this show. It’s pretty standard Hanna-Barbera stuff from the early 1970s, more notable for its actors that the quality of the animation or the originality of the scripts. Still, it’s a very amiable show that is a nice break from the hyper-kinetic cartoons of today. Its limited showings on cable, and lack of any syndication, mean that many have likely not been exposed to it before, and new viewers should find at least some modest enjoyment. For those who count themselves among its fans (anyone?), this Warner Archive set should be satisfactorily fulfilling. The video is merely adequate, and could have used some restoration, but the show isn’t really worth the effort, and on the whole it looks quite good, all things considered. This would potentially make a nice little purchase for curious Saturday Morning TV fans looking to fill out a purchase during a sale.