The Warner Archive—which as far as I can tell is a label created by Warner Home Video specifically to combat the “It’s not available on DVD” excuse for piracy—is offering a few animated shows this month; these are pretty stripped-down offers, with literally zero special features and not even interactive menus (they’ve got just a generic Warner Archive menu), this is a way to get some low-cost, perfectly legal copies of little-known and little-circulated older material.
Yogi’s First Christmas, a 90-minute feature from 1980 that featured Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy come to Yellowstone Park (yes, that’s what the sign says—not Jellystone) and wake up Yogi Bear and Boo Boo from their hibernation with a raucous Christmas party. There’s a cantankerous, creepy, bearded man in red and white who’s kind of an anti-Santa Claus, who provides most of the movie’s conflict when he tries to terrify the partygoers and thereby lead to the sale of their lodge (and thereby keep them from having future parties) in order to get rid of the loud, cheerful singers outside his mountaintop abode.
Yeah, it’s a little Grinchy. If you can ignore that, all the better.
Yogi is, of course, an odd duck as a character. The “Wacky Races” program that he and a lot of the other Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters were featured in for years established a bit of a universe for them, not unlike “Looney Tunes,” even though the H-B characters rarely interacted in their own (mostly solo) short adventures. Seeing these characters all sitting around, and not having to be introduced to each other, is a little strange—and of course seeing characters like Cindy Bear and the Doggies, fourth-tier characters at best, interacting with relative headliners like Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound, seems a little off-kilter, but not as much as it would be if Yogi and Boo Boo hadn’t already been established in the minds of the audience as members of the whole “Wacky Races” gang.
The animation is better than what you see on a lot of today’s cartoons, of course, as the Hanna-Barbera animators of the ‘70s and ‘80s were pretty decent…but with no real effort put into packaging the release, it just LOOKS old. The color hasn’t been remastered or anything, and it’s pretty washed out. The musical numbers are kind of generic and grating (and, according to Wikipedia, some of them are just reworks of stuff from a Casper Christmas special filmed and aired shortly before Yogi had his), but it’s overall a fun watching experience for its intended audience: young kids, or those who like the characters enough to want to watch a 30-year-old, made-for-TV Christmas special.
A little more intriguing is The Flight of Dragons, a feature-length cartoon featuring the voices of James Earl Jones, John Ritter and a handful of other notable TV actors from the time and based on the children’s book by Peter Dickinson. I myself had never heard of either, but it’s a charming little movie. Again, not great (or it probably would have gotten a little more notice)…but good fun. It kind of reminded me a bit of “The Last Unicorn,” which by the look of the animation and the sound of the music, probably came out around the same time as this one originally. The basic premise of the flick is that you’ve got a world on the precipice of making the decision: will we follow the ways of science or magic? The dragons here are depicted as having been an actual, vital part of the world in the days before the Age of Reason. There are also fairies, elvish sorcerers and other supernatural characters who interact as equals with the dragons—they aren’t the ordinary, troublesome dragons from most myth, instead more like the one you see in “Shrek”—used more for transportation and companionship, like horses. The story revolves around four brothers (all of different races) who are wizards and who each control a different element (the old standby earth-water-wind-fire dynamic), and who must work together to save the world of magic…by disappearing from the visible world altogether.
It’s an interesting story—and one that I could see being a big hit with the “Land Before Time” crowd—so I’m a little surprised that it never caught on and that there hasn’t been at least an attempt in the past to release this animated movie to DVD. Both of them are available at Warner Archive’s website, or on some of the major online retailers, although from what I can tell the Warner Archive product isn’t available in most brick-and-mortar stores.