In 1958, Yogi Bear first appeared on The Huckleberry Hound Show, giving a very talented voice actor by the name of Daws Butler another chance to show off his skills. Daws, who would also go down in animation history as the original voice for characters such as Elroy Jetson, Chilly Willy, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and even the great sea-faring breakfast cereal icon, Cap’n Crunch. And, while each of the aforementioned characters are still remembered by even today’s youngest audiences (well, maybe), it’s that darn Yogi Bear that many people associate with Daws Butler’s voice more than any.
By the time the feature-length TV-movie special Yogi’s Great Escape came along in 1987, Daws had been providing the voice for the pic-a-nic basket-thievin’ terror of Jellystone National Park for nearly thirty years. But, whereas most of Yogi‘s previous adventures had been limited to television episodes, Yogi’s Great Escape marked the first time Yogi received the feature-length made-for-television film format.
The first installment of Hanna-Barbera Superstars 10 series — a run of ten feature-length animated specials broadcast from ‘87 to ‘88 — Yogi’s Great Escape begins with Yogi and Boo Boo (Don Messick, another legend in the field of voice acting) finding three orphaned bear cubs outside of their cave on the first day of Spring (the very inclusion of these critters gives the flick a Jim Henson’s Hanna-Barbera Bear Babies feeling, and that’s quite understandable considering, since Muppet Babies was a hit at the time — but it’s definitely not forgivable). From there, Yogi and Co. learn by that Ranger Smith guy that the park is going to be closed due to budgetary problems (California?) and that all animals within the park’s boundaries are to be moved ASAP to a zoo.
Needless to say, this doesn’t suit Yogi at all — and he’s soon on the run with his ursus caravan with Ranger Smith in pursuit. Along the way, the bears run into several other popular Hanna-Barbera characters (Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss and Wally Gator — all of whom are voiced by Daws); the Bike Brigade (a group of hip ‘80s bicycle kids); the Lone Raiders (the Bike Brigade’s bastard horse-ridin’ cousins); a Trapper and his dog, Yapper; and so on and so forth. Various subplots are encountered and wrapped-up by our heroes throughout the show’s 94-minute runtime, and the supporting cast of voices includes such pros as Frank Welker, Susan Blu, William Callaway and Tress MacNeille.
Yogi’s Great Escape is part of Warner Bros.’ “made-to-order” Archive Collection, available on DVD-R via www.wbshop.com. Like many of Warner’s other “manufactured-on-demand” releases, the feature has not been remastered, but the print here is a pretty decent-looking one in both terms video and audio (although the music did tend to drown out the singing in one or two spots — which didn’t bother me in the least!). The disc presents the feature in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, and does not contain any special features or subtitle options.
On the whole, Yogi’s Great Escape isn’t the best Yogi-related feature ever made (although it’s surely less-painful than the mostly-live-action big-screen 2010 film). Those of us who remember seeing it the first time around will no doubt cringe over many of the elements we (may have) found enjoyable back in ‘87 — such as the Muppet Babies clones, the occasional musical number and the script’s irritating habit to rhyme its dialogue. That said, though, it’s a pleasant way for vintage Hanna-Barbera lovers to spend some time with their kids (or by themselves).
And, if you’re a fan of voice artists such as Daws Butler, you may enjoy Yogi’s Great Escape just for the fact that it was one of the last projects the late actor worked on before his death in 1988 — so you can use this as a way to honor the man if nothing else!