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Saturday, April 20, 2013

'Yogi's Gang:' A Perfect Earth Day Cartoon

The numerous innovative elements of the 1973-74 Saturday morning cartoon series "Yogi's Gang" provide many reasons to thank Warner Archive for adding this release to its collection of great rarities in the catalog of Hanna-Barbera (HB) shows from that era. The series' strong environmental messages, which make it a truly fun Earth Day gift, is only the tip of the rapidly melting icecap.

"Gang" is the first HB show that united a plethora of beloved characters from the HB universe. The super heroes smorgasbord series"Super Friends" is a better known example of this, and many "Gang" members later appeared as members of the Yogi Yahooeys team on the 1977-79 series "Scooby-Doo's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics" in which three teams on that series traveled the globe competing in traditional and non-traditional sporting events.

"Gang" began life as a one-time episode, which appears in a slightly edited version on the DVD release, titled "Yogi's Ark Lark" on "The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie." The "Movie" series inserted popular fictional and real personalities in cartoons in an attempt to gauge their potential for stand-alone series. "Gang" and a "Brady Bunch" cartoon made the cut.

The original premise of "Gang" was that widely popular '60s cartoon character Yogi Bear (millenials should just Google any unrecognized character name) and his diminutive sidekick Boo-Boo Bear summon virtually every other '60s HB animal character, and that character's sidekick, to Yogi's home in Jellystone Park.The purpose of that summit was discussing the deplorable litter and similar woes that rendered the characters' habitats unpleasant places.

A very incomplete list of those characters include Top Cat, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Magilla Gorilla, Atom Ant, Snagglepuss, Trixie and Dixie, and Wally Gator. Many of the original voice actors contribute their talents to this production.

The gang's solution to this inconvenient truth is to work with park handyman Noah Smith to build a flying ark to transport HB's stable of stars to the "perfect place." This quest also prompts a short song-and-dance member that is repeated a few times during the roughly 45-minute presentation.

The search for paradise brings our intrepid group to an unspoiled arctic region, a pristine forest, and outer space. This gang's experience each time illustrates a problem that still plagues us, namely that the beauty of these special spots attracts development that spoils their appeal.

The group ultimately catches up with any viewer over the age of eight in realizing that the proper solution is to return home and clean up their own small piece of the earth.

The environmental message extends to having a treadmill-powered engine. Characters take turns providing the energy in the pilot, and Magilla Gorilla takes over that duty in the series. A particularly cute segment in the series' premiere episode has the super-powered Atom Ant running on the treadmill that provides the power for the ark's dinghy.

Battles against Mr. Smog, Lotta Litter, and Mr.Waste provide additional environmental lessons during the series. Other episodes have characters fall under the spells of villains who induce bad behaviors that include bigotry, envy, selfishness, and cheating in the course of the gang's missions to help those in need.

Of course, "Gang" presents these messages in kind and gentle ways that are appropriate for Saturday morning cartoons. The episodes additionally include great humor, such as simply repainting a window pane after a ladder shatters a previous pane that was painted on the side of the ark and the lazy Pa of "The Hillbilly Bears" dozing through much of the drama that the crew encounters.

All of this attributes add up to a fun environmentally conscious series that is nostalgic fun for Gen Xers, tasty vegan fluff for environmentalists, and a nice way to teach toddlers how to play well with others.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Gang" or classic HB characters is encouraged to email me.