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Formally called Help! It's The Hair Bear Bunch!, this Hanna-Barbera cartoon was essentially an ursine Hogan's Heroes in that it featured three screwball bears who live at Wonderland Zoo where they bargain for better living conditions and constantly sneak out for a night on the town. The zoo is run by Eustace P. Peevly and his dimbulb assistant Lionel J. Botch. The bears get assistance from their zoo inmates who include Bananas the Gorilla, Fumbo the Elephant, Pipsqueak the Mouse, Stretch the Giraffe, Fur-face the Lion and others. The bears' antics get Peevly in hot water with the zoo superintendent, but Hair's fast talking usually bails him out.The bears were Hair Bear, so called because of his big orange afro; Bubi Bear, who speaks in gibberish quite often, and Square Bear, a clumsy lumberer with a big appetite, and the strange ability to ride a non-existant motorcycle.The show was created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears (who scripted the debut episode). It was developed as "The Yo-Yo Bears" and was renamed some two months before it hit the air on CBS September 11, 1971. It ran one year, was shelved, then returned in replays in September 1973. It ran Sunday mornings then was moved to Saturdays in February 1974 after CBS revamped its Saturday line-up. It was canceled that fall and remained dormant until 1984 when USA Network ran it on its Cartoon Express block. Cartoon Network and its sister channel, Boomerang, have also run the series.
This series provides examples of:
Art Shift: In preliminary models, Hair Bear was given a jutting chin, similar to Scooby-Doo. It was later refined, but this preliminary version was briefly seen in the debut episode, "Keep Your Keeper", as well as throughout its comic book adaptation, "Zoo's Who" (Gold Key #1, February 1972).
Catch Phrase: Mr. Peevly's "I'll get you for this, Hair!" Also, Botch's "There goes my promotion" whenever he goofs on something.
Cold Opening: On the CBS run, only the first episode had a cold open—the 15 other episodes had the regular theme song opening and the pre-episode title teaser. Upon returning in 1984 to USA (and later CN and Boomerang), all the 15 other episodes were reformatted with cold opens.
The DVD set has episodes seven through sixteen as CBS originally ran them—opening title, teaser, episode title and episode. The first six episodes are formatted with cold open teasers. All episodes have the "we'll be right back" bumpers as well.
Comic Book Adaptation: Nine issues from Gold Key Comics (February 1972–February 1974) and an appearance in issue #13 of Hanna-Barbera Fun-In (August 1974). All stories were drawn by H-B layout artist Jack Manning. Issues #1 through #4 and the first story of issue #5 were either truncated or very loose adaptations of TV episodes.
Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: In "Closed Circuit TV", the bears, putting on a show as Three Bear Night, get Mr. Peevly to do impressions and goad him into impersonating the zoo superintendent. He does so, unaware that the superintendent is watching in the office on Peevly's closed circuit monitor.
Expy: A loose expy of Hogan's Heroes, except with a zoo instead of a German P.O.W. camp. Peevly is the show's Col. Klink and Botch its Sgt. Schultz.
Following this line of thought, Hair would be the show's Hogan, Bubi its Carter, and Square its LeBeau (in his cooking prowess). Other animals such as Slicks the fox and Stretch the Giraffe could be fill-ins for Newkirk and Kinchloe.
Forgotten Birthday: Zig-zagged at the end of "The Diet Caper." Hair's alibi for raiding Peevly's refrigerator is that the animals were celebrating Botch's birthday, which Peevly grudgingly buys. While left to clean up, Hair confesses he made up the alibi and that Botch couldn't blow the whistle because Botch himself doesn't remember when his birthday is, either.
Gilligan Cut: In "King Klong vs. the Masked Marvel," Mr. Peevly assigns the bears outside their cave to act like bears entertain the people:
Bubi: We have to [go out there] and act like bears??
Square: I don't believe it. (Sudden cut to outside where Square and Bubi are on their backs tossing a ball back and forth with their feet) I believe it!
Hammerspace: The bears' cave. When the keepers aren't around, the bears' cave transforms into a luxury den with a fully stocked kitchen. Another part of the cave conceals Bubi's laboratory, which he employs to create a perfume for Arnie the lovesick gorilla in "Love Bug Bungle".
I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: Done in "Love Bug Bungle." The bears are out of control on an air-filled inflatable toy horse (using jet-propulsion to go). Whe Square asks how to control it, Hair says, "I'm a bear, not a cowboy!" Then in "I'll Zoo You Later," the bears make a getaway on a helium tank using the same jet-propulsion principle.
Square: Hey, Hair...can't you steer this thing?
Hair: Look, I'm a bear, not an astronaut!
Laugh Track: An H-B–created laugh track was used starting with episode four ("Bridal Boo Boo"). It was removed when it returned on USA in 1984 and has been absent during its Cartoon Network and Boomerang broadcasts.
Man, I Feel Like a Woman : At the beginning of "I'll Zoo You Later", the bears try to sneak back into the zoo with Hair dressed as a mother (Bubi and Square are in a baby carriage hidden under a blanket).
Later in the series, Hair Bear is dressed up as Mama Bear when the bears try out for a revisionist movie of the "Goldilocks" story. Botch dresses up as Goldilocks at the conclusion.
Mythology Gag: In "The Diet Caper", the bears find themselves in what appears to be a haunted house (actually the haunted house of an amusement park). Background music from Scooby-Doo is used.
The aforementioned tweaked version of the "Goldilocks And The Three Bears" story. The actress playing Goldilocks, Twinkles Sunshine, is built up as a lovable sweetheart, but she turns out to be an Alpha Bitch.
In "Love Bug Bungle," Hair pulls a ventriloquist act to fool Peevly, using Bubi as his ventriloquist dummy. Bubi's voice actor, Paul Winchell, was a prolific ventriloquist.
At the end of "I'll Zoo You Later," the bears are watching Yogi Bear on their TV.
In the comic book story "Mission Fantastical" (Gold Key #6, May 1973), the bears (having been recruited as special secret agents) take a newly-released-from-prison amnesiac thief to an abandoned movie studio to re-enact his bank robbery crime and learn the whereabouts of the missing money. The studio: Hanna-Barbera.
Omniglot: Bubi. He's able to communicate to inhabitants of another planet ("No Space Like Home").
Pro Wrestling Episode: "King Klong vs. the Masked Marvel". Bananas the Gorilla was King Klong and Botch was the Masked Marvel, but neither was aware of them being opponents. (Of note, the episode title card errantly says "Kling Klong.")
Scooby Snacks: Botch's promotion. Averted in that he never achieved it.
Zig-zagged in the missing scenes from "I'll Zoo You Later": When Peevly accosts a wild bear and sees it's not the Bunch, he panicly runs for it and gets his belt loop caught in a tree branch.
Botch: If I help, do I get my promotion?
Peevly: (hysterically) Yes! Yes!!
(Botch tweaks the branch and Peevly flies out, landing on the ground)
Peevly: (slow-burning) I promote you from a third-class dolt to a first-class nincompoop!!
Botch: (actually pleased) Gee, thanks!
Shout-Out: The bears put on a scam on Peevly through role-playing, calling themselves Hair's Mighty Art Players (in "Rare Bear Bungle") or The Mighty Hair Bear Performers ("I'll Zoo You Later"). This is a nod to the Mighty Carson Art Players from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Syndication Title: Some reference material claims that the show went into syndication under the name "The Yo-Yo Bears" (its working title) after its CBS run. It actually remained dormant until USA Network acquired it for their "Cartoon Express" show in 1984.
Talking Animal: The bears. As well as all the other inhabitants of the zoo.
Team Rocket Wins: Mr. Peevly wins at the end of the debut episode, "Keep Your Keeper." But deep inside, Peevly's not a villain per se, he's saddled with the job of tending to a zoo full animals who don't take him or his assistant seriously. In other words, he's a punch clock butt monkey.
At the conclusion "I'll Zoo You Later," the superintendent lauds Peevly as a hero for not only corralling his runaway bears but also capturing two bank robbers.
Verbal Tic: Botch's "Ooh! Ooh!," which was Joe E. Ross' verbal tic.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Many of the bears' zoo pals that were on the TV show appeared in the first four issues of the comic book. From then on, they were replaced by more generic beasts.
Who Is Driving?: Square Bear is able to conjure up an invisible motorcycle when the situation calls for it. Hair Bear has commented on Square Bear's unusual ability, but generally accepts it as convenient.