The Retro Bin: Yogi’s Gang (1973)

As previously mentioned in Jason (Goldstar)’s Yogi’s Space Race review, a staple of Hanna-Barbera Studios was its’ employment of the “potpourri” show concept, namely gathering their vast and rather redundant library of star characters together in a single program, typically with them all involved in some group activity like a major sporting competition or celebrating some character’s First Christmas TM. I suppose to die-hard HB fans, these crossovers were considered the ultimate team-ups. But for folks like me, these characters were simply interchangeable; putting 20 of them on one program was like dawn of the Stepford Cartoons. One early example of the HB “potpourri” show was 1973’s Yogi’s Gang, which aired 16 half-hour episodes on ABC from September 8, 1973, to December 29, 1973 and was based on a TV movie from a year earlier called Yogi’s Ark Lark. For those who aren’t old codgers like me and weren’t around to experience this show, imagine if all of the characters from the Boomerang Zoo block appeared together in one show, suck out all of the fun and mix in the ham-handed PSA preachiness of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and The New Zoo Revue and you have the basic idea of what we had to endure back then.
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Here’s the basic crux: In the TV movie Yogi’s Ark Lark (1972), a myriad of HB’s funny animal toon stars, specifically Atom Ant, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, The Hillbilly Bears, Hokey Wolf and Ding-A-Ling, Huckleberry Hound, Lambsy, Lippy the Lion & Hardy Har Har, Magilla Gorilla, Moby Dick (from Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor), Peter Potamus and So-So, Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks, Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Looey, Ruff and Reddy, Sawtooth the Beaver (Rufus Ruffcut’s pet beaver from Wacky Races), Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole, Snagglepuss, Squiddly Diddly, Top Cat and his gang (Benny the Ball, Spook, Choo Choo, Fancy Fancy, and the Brain–not the lab mouse from Animaniacs who wants to take over the world!), Touché Turtle and Dum Dum, Wally Gator, Yakky Doodle & Chopper, Yogi Bear and Boo Boo and an unknown and unnamed dinosaur character (Phew! That’s was a long list, but no worries; since all of them contribute what is in essence a single character–they’re all basically same goofball–and as such I won’t need to delve into any of their ‘characters’ individually again and have no desire whatsoever to do separate reviews of any of their own respective cartoons, I won’t ever have to type it again) headed by Yogi, become concerned about the environment and pollution, and gather together at Jellystone Park to build a flying ship resembling Noah’s Ark with a propeller on top to find “The Perfect Place”, an environment free of of pollution, deforestation, and other forms of mankind’s despoilment. They are aided by Jellystone Park’s handyman, Mr. Smitty, and out of gratitude the gang decide to name the ship after him. The name ‘Smitty’s Houseboat’ is too long to paint on the ship’s bow, but Mr. Smitty’s first name just happens to be Noah, so they end up calling it ‘Noah’s Ark’. (Get it? How original and not at all pretentious!) Anyways, after journeying from everywhere from the Antarctic to the Sahara Desert to outer space (yes, really), the kid animals (Augie Doggie, Boo Boo, Baba Looey, Benny the Ball, Lambsy, Shag Rugg, Yakky Doodle–wait, since when are Boo-Boo, Baba Looey and Benny the Ball kids? I knew that they were short, but them being minors gives their “partnership” with their taller, adult animal partners a somewhat creepy vibe) get the idea that there is no “Perfect Place”, and that they should all simply go back home and clean up the messes that they were trying to get away from, since It’s Up To All Of Us TM. This decision is met with unanimous approval, and the animals all head for home to take pollution down to zero, and turn their home into “the Perfect Place.”
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Nifty. Well, it would seem that these guys must suffer from short-term memory loss, since the following year they were back in that flying boat again, once more looking for a place free of pollution or crime and doin’ the righteous thing for an additional 16 episodes (really 15, as episode 16 was just a rebroadcast of Yogi’s Ark Lark, split into 2 parts. Here’s the opening:

-Now, I know what you younger folks are thinking: about Boo-Boo’s line in the 3rd verse:

…Yeah, Boo-Boo sang “The world be so bright and gay”; keep in mind this was 1973, back when ‘gay’ still meant ‘happy’. It was meant to have shiny, happy connotations, but of course hearing that line now, and then seeing that shot of the little side-stepping dance all those male cartoon characters are shown doing afterwards, it’s unintentionally hilarious. Moving on…

The show typically ran along the same basic lines. The ship, curiously now dubbed ‘Yogi’s Ark’ and now with Yogi at the helm (it’s never stated exactly what happened to Noah Smitty, or at what point Yogi assumed command, but I’m guessing you just might find something interesting at the bottom of the Hudson River chained to a block of cement) traverses the skies and lands somewhere where they run afoul of some loony would-be supervillain who is the embodiment of some human vice, bad habit or negative trait: Captain Swashbuckle Swipe, Smokestack Smog, Lotta Litter, the Envy Brothers, Mr. Hothead, Dr. Bigot (and his henchmen Professor Haggling and Professor Bickering), the Gossipy Witch of the West, J. Wantum Vandal, the Sheik of Selfishness, Commadore Phineas P. Fibber, I.M. Sloppy, Peter D. Cheater, Mr. Waste, Hilarious P. Prankster, and the Greedy Genie (think a dime store Legion of Doom, only not nearly as awesome). Typically these goons would masquerade as allies to the gang, only for our heroes to discover their true intentions by Act 3 (Gee, who would have thought a guy called DR. BIGOT would be bad news), and we the audience would get the basic Moral of the Week pounded into our heads with a sledgehammer: Don’t litter. Don’t play pranks on people. Don’t be envious. Don’t cheat. Don’t fib. Don’t be selfish. Don’t gossip. Don’t steal. Don’t be a hothead. Don’t vandalize. Don’t be wasteful. Don’t pollute. Don’t be sloppy. And above all, don’t expect your Saturday morning cartoons to be in any way fun or entertaining. The preachy moralizing this show did made Smokey the Bear and Woodsy Owl facepalm.

“Dude, seriously. Just give the message to the kids straight. Don’t be drama queens. Nobody likes to be preached to, especially on Saturday morning. And you just gotta love the irony of a bear who’s made a career out of swiping peoples’ pic-a-nic baskets telling people not to be greedy or selfish. Hypocrite much?”
“Remember, TV execs. Give a hoot. Don’t pollute the air waves with Politically Correct pap!”
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Finally, why is Peter Potamus making that messed up face in the crow’s nest in the opening titles? Was he airsick? Did he just receive a vision of the future where Williams Street spoofs him on Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law? Or maybe he just came to the realization that he and his fellow HB toon stars were starring in a show in which they traveled the globe in a flying ark ramming pro-social values down kids’ collective throats. The world may never know.
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1 Comment

  1. Let's not forget, though, that the female villains on the show were voiced by a couple of comedy legends. Joan Rivers did one, and I think the other was Rose Marie. Like, whodathunk?

    Like

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