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"Yogi’s First Christmas": A Very Cheap Stocking Stuffer

by on December 9, 2009

Back when I was a kid, we must have had longer attention spans than the young ‘uns do today. I mean, we must’ve. How else we could have managed to sit through something like Yogi’s First Christmas? Even two hours of a good thing can wear on a boy’s nerves, and Yogi’s First Christmas (which is not that good) gets awfully thin awfully fast.

The story is set, naturally enough, in Jellystone Park during the winter holidays. Yogi and Boo Boo usually sleep right through Christmas, but this year they are awakened by revelry in the Jellystone Lodge. When they investigate, they are quickly swept up in all the jollity that park ranger Smith and lodge manager Mr. Dingwell can arrange, for the latter are bent on showing the Lodge’s owner, Mrs. Throckmorton, as good a time as can be arranged. (If they don’t, she’s likely to sell the Lodge so a highway can be put through.) Along the way, they and their friends (Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, and Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy) unwittingly get in fights with and foil the plots of Herman the Hermit (who hates Christmas and Christmas-time visitors) and Snively, Mrs. Throckmorton’s spoiled, bratty nephew.

The special actually starts promisingly enough, with most of the cast singing a catchy little Christmas tune as they drive to the Lodge. Things become more intriguing when one of the characters alludes to the “scary things” that happened at the Lodge the previous year, and for a little while I entertained wild hopes that Yogi and his friends might be in for a Shining kind of holiday. (“To what scary things do you refer, dear old dad? You mean like all the blood that came sluicing out of the elevator Christmas Eve last?”) Well, it wasn’t to be. There wasn’t even any mild, G-rated, Scooby-type skullduggery. Instead, what came next was a very slack and uninteresting ninety minutes.

In brief, and at the risk of giving away spoilers: Thanks to a variety of mishaps, Yogi continually but accidentally wins a bunch of competitions or saves the lives of other characters. Each time he does, he impresses Mrs. Throckmorton, and she keeps arranging for him to be promoted at the Lodge, until he replaces Mr. Dingwell as manager. Herman and Snively, separately and then together, don’t take kindly to all this, until, Grinch-like, they dress up like Santa and elf and conspire to steal all the Christmas ornaments. They are foiled, but then they have a change of heart, and everything ends happily.

There’s not much of a story here, and what plot there is doesn’t need ninety-eight minutes to tell. Basically, it’s just one very, very, very mild comic adventure after another, each one climaxing with Mrs. Throckmorton ordering another promotion onto Yogi. Now, children and Christmas specials don’t need complex drama, and predictability is not a bad thing under the circumstances. But there is just not enough variety in Yogi’s First Christmas to sustain this kind of running time. I don’t remember watching this when it first aired, but I’m pretty sure that it would have left the ten-year-old me limp, cross-eyed, and drooling out of the side of my mouth before the third commercial break.

The special’s technical quality is what you’d expect from a 1980 Hanna-Barbera cartoon: cheap animation, boring layouts, and coloring and soundtrack errors galore. The vocal track features such Hanna-Barbera stalwarts as Don Messick and Daws Butler, and these professionals give it what little zip it has. There are numerous songs sprinkled throughout, most of them rather pretty, but they don’t give the proceedings much of a lift.

Warner Bros. has released Yogi’s First Christmas through its new made-to-order Warner Archive Collection, so don’t go looking for it in stores or on Amazon. Instead, you can get it directly from the studio at this link. The package cautions that the disc is designed solely for use in “play only” DVD devices and may not work in computers, but I had no troubles playing it on my Macbook Pro. Production values on the disc are rudimentary: Chapter stops are inserted at ten-minute intervals, whether they interrupt a scene or not, and there are no extras. But the box, though rather plain, is professionally done and not unattractive.

Despite being cheap, pedestrian, and way too long, Yogi’s First Christmas has its heart in the right place, and it doesn’t shame the season. Though it hasn’t the charm to stand alongside a Frosty the Snowman (let alone Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or A Charlie Brown Christmas) it is not deservedly forgotten either. Back when I was growing up, this is exactly the kind of special that would have found a good home as a Saturday afternoon feature on an independent station. Taken in that spirit, it deserves a minor place in the pantheon.

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