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Friday, April 26, 2013

'Help! ... It's the Hair Bear Bunch!" Ready for Primetime Animated Sitcom

Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch!: The Complete Series
 "Help!... It's The Hair Bear Bunch" is a particularly fantastic recent addition to Warner Archive's spectacular DVD releases of really fun lesser-known '70s Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoons.

This effort is beyond awesome for those of us who thought that that we would have to live out our days without ever seeing shows such as "Goober and the Ghost Chasers" or "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids" again.

"Unreal" memories regarding "Hair Bear" extend beyond Saturday mornings eating Quisp cereal and watching episodes with a very low volume to avoid waking my mother. This show enjoyed a well-deserved second life as one of the first groups of characters welcomed on the then-fledgling USA network in the early '80s during the era in which cable channels filled their schedules with somewhat obscure shows.

The premise of "Hair Bear" is that a trio of kid-friendly hippie type bears share a cave at the Wonderland Zoo. Fear of having to support the answer to the well-known rhetorical question regarding whether bears conduct a certain type of business in the woods prompts the group to keep their prohibited activities secret from zookeeper Mr. Eustace Peevly and Peevly's large dim-witted assistant Botch.

The series' pilot prompts memories of the classic '60s live-action sitcom "Hogan's Heroes," which revolves around charming Colonel Robert Hogan and his fellow prisoners in a World War Two era German prisoner of war camp conducting espionage and sabotage activity behind the back of their own "zookeeper" and that warden's large dim-witted assistant. The similarities extend to the "zookeeper" having a feared commanding officer who shows up every few episodes.

Like Hogan, Hair Bear is an intelligent and charismatic leader who is very tolerant of his underlings' shortcomings. Bubi Bear is like Carter from "Heroes" in that both are small and have sweet naive natures. Square Bear is largely like "Heroes" Newkirk in that both are laid back. Unlike Square Bear, Newkirk does not have an invisible motorcyle that apparently is always with him.

The similarities in the series extends as well to catchy theme songs. Anyone who hears the "Hair Bear" theme once will likely have the "Here come the bears" lyric stuck in his or her head for days.

"Hair Bear" quickly establishes a very "Heroesesque" tone in an early scene in its pilot episode. Stepping on a rock and triggering other concealed levers transforms their habitat, which is a cavern that only has three straw mats, into a real man cave. The improved amenities include actual beds, a kitchenette stocked with tasty treats, and a color television. Later episodes show that the bears also have a pool table.

The pilot plot is also very similar to a "Heroes" storyline. A crackdown by Peevly prompts the bears to convince him that he is so sick that he requires a long vacation. In true sitcom style, the bears regret their success when the replacement zookeeper is much tougher than Peevly. Anyone who has ever seen a sitcom generally knows how this one ends.

The second episode also has a "Heroes" feel to it in that it revolves around the bears suspecting that a new bear that Peevly assigned to their habitat is a spy with a mission of reporting the unauthorized activity that includes escapes to carouse in the nearby town.

A later episode in which the bears play matchmaker so that a new spouse will distract Peevly from the ursine antics also is akin to a "Heroes" plot.

An additional episode is more like "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space." This one has the bears and their keepers travel to a weird alien planet. It does not seem that their trip takes them through the Ursa constellations.

Other episodes have more traditional sitcom elements. One plot involves Hair Bear rigging a raffle with the objective of obtaining ownership of the zoo.

All 16 episodes in the series also makes one wonder why this show did not last beyond one season and did not earn the primetime status of Hanna-Barbera shows such as "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons." The zoo setting lends itself to good humor, and the series is written at least as well as many highly successful sitcoms from any era.

Additionally, Hanna-Barbera recruited great primetime quality voice talent for "Hair Bear." Hair Bear portrayor Daws Butler was the Mel Blanc of Hanna-Barbera '60s and '70s cartoons in that he provided the voices of numerous characters that included Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Elroy Jetson, Peter Potamus, and the Funky Phantom.

Other voice cast members included wildly popular ventriloquist Paul Winchell, who is best known for bringing Winnie the Pooh's Tigger to life, and Joe E. Ross, who starred in the '60s sitcom "Car 54, Where Are You" and provided the voice of Sergeant Flint in the '70s Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Hong Kong Phooey." 

The bear fact is that the cute cartoon zoo animals and silly antics of "Hair Bear" will appeal to those who among us who are still young and folks who have chosen to not fully grow up. The good sitcom stories will appeal to the rest of us.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Hair Bear" is encouraged to email me.