Friday, December 4, 2009

Help!!! It's The Hair Bear Bunch

Yes, the cartoon series from 1971 will put you in a goofy mood...but let that not distract you all from experiencing the Hair Bear Bunch for yourselves. The series lasted just 16 episodes which was a common practice for Hanna-Barbera in the late '60s on through the 1970's. On more than one occasion networks that aired cartoons on Saturday mornings, which would mean all three networks, were always on the look out for material to program their fall schedules with. Unlike Warner Brothers whose major contribution to Saturday morning television were four decades of theatrical cartoon reruns, Hanna-Barbera was putting out made-for-TV cartoons in quick succession. A lot of Hanna-Barbera's cartoon series seem to have more episodes than actually exist and a large part of this feeling stems from the consistent re-runs. Jabber-Jaw, for example, had only a handful of episodes but they've been re-ran off and on for decades. A lot of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons were spoofs and parodies of pop-culture. JAWS of course was the inspiration for Jabber-Jaw but in order to trump the potential violent over-tone of a cartoon focusing on a shark they gave the title character the sound of Curly from The Three Stooges. Frank Welker mimicked Curly Howard's voice in that series. Critics and fans alike refer to the cartoon as Scooby-Doo underwater because of it's mystery/teenager concept and a talking shark, instead of a talking dog.

So, what was the inspiration behind this 1971 cartoon that focuses on three bears and a couple of zoo keepers? The full title of this series is Help! It's The Hair Bear Bunch. The program isn't based on Scooby-Doo, surprisingly enough. Instead, the series is based pretty much on The Phil Silvers Show. Hair Bear, the leader, has the smooth-talking con-artist voice that Daws Butler often gave characters with this personality. Phil Silvers never actually spoke like this but yet the personality of one cooking up schemes in order to get rich quick is so synonymous with Phil Silvers' Sgt Bilko character that it's hard not to make the connection. Hair's two friends are Square Bear and Bubi Bear. Each bear has a distinct voice and personality. Hair being the leader and the brains behind their schemes. Square is the laid-back, almost hippie-like bear with an invisible motorcycle and a huge appetite. Bubi on the other hand is the short bear who talks in gibberish. It's hilarious listening to his gibberish because nobody watching the cartoon understands him but Hair and Square do. Bubi was voiced by Paul Winchell and Square was voiced by Bill Callaway. Several other animals from the Wonderland Zoo stopped by the bears cave...one of the gimmicks is that the inside of the cave could transform into a swinging singles pad but if either of the two zoo keepers was spied making their way to the cave then the bears would flip various rock switches in their cave and transform the interior back into a barren, empty cave to hide how comfortable they lived. Peevly ran the zoo as if it were a military base...another connection to Phil Silvers' TV show.

What about those zoo keepers, though?? The head zoo keeper, Mr Peevly, was always peeved about something...taking out his anger on his assistant, Botch. 99% of Peevly's irritation came from Hair Bear. Peevly was always on the quest to expose the bears for hi-jinks but he could never catch them that much...on the rare moments that he had the bears cornered and threatened to ship them off somewhere else, Hair would use blackmail and threaten to go over Peevly's head about a prior incident involving Peevly himself. This often caused Peevly to bellow one of his catch-phrases which went something like "I'll get ya for this, Hair! MARK MY WORDS!!!! ONE OF THESE DAYS..." and he'd go stomping off with Botch tagging along beside him. The zoo keepers were voiced by John Stephenson as Mr. Peevly, doing his Joe Flynn high-nasal impression, and Joe E Ross as Botch. Joe used the voice he was famous for and the "ooh-ooh" catch-phrase he made popular in the 1960's on the sitcom, Car 54, Where Are You? Botch was incredibly stupid and Peevly was short-tempered anyway...an explosive combination...factor in Peevly's irritations at the Bears and you had a walking time-bomb of anger. Joe Flynn, incidentally, played Captain Binghamton on McHale's Navy and his voice quickly became parodied on cartoons with John Stephenson often providing the vocals. Stephenson would use the Joe Flynn parody voice on other cartoon characters with similar short-tempered personalities.

This series, much like a lot of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, is mostly memorable not for any specific episode but instead for it's theme song and characters. Once a person watches this cartoon series and gets a grasp of what it's all about the individual episode plots don't necessarily tend to stick out as much as it's theme song and the personalities/voices of the characters. I think this is true for a lot of the cartoons of this time period from Hanna-Barbera. There once was a series called Where's Huddles? and if someone with some knowledge of cartoons attempts to cite certain episodes it's almost impossible to do...but yet the person can quote some of it's theme song and tell you what the show was about.

For those interested, the series can be seen on-line at various video hosting web-sites. It also airs on Boomerang.

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