Yogi's First Christmas (1980)

One of the main plot threads of Yogi's First Christmas is that the bears - Yogi, Boo Boo, and Cindy - are constantly struggling to stay awake. In a stroke of artistic genius, the producers of this hour-and-thirty-eight-minute TV movie found ways to not just depict this on screen, but fully immerse the audience in the story by lulling us into the same state. I am not exaggerating when I say I found myself physically and emotionally drained when I paused this movie to discover I was less than thirteen minutes in.

I should mention this seems to borrow heavily from Casper's First Christmas, a half-hour special also from Hanna-Barbera, released the previous year. The cast of characters is virtually identical, including Yogi and Boo Boo. Technically, I suppose this could be a prequel to Casper's First Christmas, though I doubt anyone was worried about continuity when making this. On top of everything else, this includes a couple songs from the prior year's special (as well as one from a 1972 special), there are recurring plot elements, and of course the titles are virtually identical.

The movie starts with Hanna-Barbera characters Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, Doggie Daddy, and Augie Doggie being driven to Jellystone Lodge by Ranger Smith. The lodge is in danger of being sold by its owner, Sophie Throckmorton, for "business reasons" stemming from their last Christmas Carnival being sabotaged by Herman the Hermit, a curmudgeon who hated the holidays. He's not alone in his anti-Christmas sentiment: Throckmorton's spoiled nephew, Snively, is likewise motivated by a desire to ruin everyone's good time, though it'll be an hour or so before they meet and team up.

First, we've got to get Yogi and Boo Boo into the picture. Being bears, they're of course hibernating, at least until the aforementioned IP accidentally wake them with Christmas carols. They head up to investigate and get mistaken by the lodge chef for hired help. When they realize it's almost Christmas, they decide to stay awake and experience the holiday for the first time.

Ranger Smith and the manager chase Yogi, hoping to force him back into hibernation before Throckmorton sees him, reasoning he'll destroy any hope they have of convincing her not to sell the lodge.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone, Herman tries burying Throckmorton's car in a snow drift. While fleeing from the ranger and manager in a stolen plow, he accidentally saves her, and she orders he be promoted, thus Yogi and Boo Boo become bellhops. This becomes a running pattern - Yogi keeps inadvertently being a hero and getting promoted, becoming ski instructor, carol leader, chief of security, and finally hotel manager.

Snively, of course, hates him and tries to humiliate him at every turn. But of course, everything he does backfires, making Yogi look better and better. Same goes for the ranger while he's working against Yogi (though this doesn't last particularly long) and Herman.

Meanwhile, Cindy Bear gets woken up by Boo Boo when they realize they need more women carolers. Her plot arc is trying to get Yogi to kiss her. When she discovers mistletoe, she focuses on using it to steal a kiss. She actually has a few musical numbers about the plant, one of which is creepily horny (though probably the best song in the entire movie, though the bar on that is low).

Eventually, Snively runs away in an attempt to ruin Christmas. He comes across Herman, and the two finally realize they share the same goals. They disguise themselves as Santa and an elf to infiltrate the lodge on Christmas Eve and steal the ornaments that will be used to decorate the tree. They try and make their getaway in the ranger's helicopter, but it all goes wrong due to a geyser, a snow bus, and the three bear characters (it mostly makes sense in context; I just really don't feel like explaining).

The ranger is about to arrest Herman, but the others persuade him not to in honor of the holiday. There's then a big dinner, orphans are invited, Yogi dresses up as Santa, and Throckmorton reveals she's decided not to sell the lodge, but rather to donate it so orphans can use it year-round, and all the Hanna-Barbera characters can return every Christmas. Then the real Santa shows up for some reason and tries to give Yogi a picnic basket, but he's already fallen asleep. All the characters - including a now reformed Snively and Herman - carry the sleeping Yogi back to his cave.

You are no richer for reading, nor am I any richer for writing, that synopsis.

All right, let me try and explain what this is actually like. The key thing to understand is that, while ostensibly a movie, the individual sections are first and foremost self-contained cartoons. We're following the same characters and there's an ongoing throughline, but this was clearly written with the expectation it would be chopped into half-hour chunks and aired as episodes (which it was). And if you missed one, came in halfway through, or only saw a single episode, it wouldn't really matter. The continuity is optional, which obviously doesn't make for much of a story.

But that's not the real problem here. The problem is it's just not fun. The animation is cheap, featuring a great deal of recycling and cutting away from moments that would require intricate design or much effort. The selling point here is the characters themselves - their silly voices and zany behavior. And maybe that was enough forty years ago, but now it all feels trivial and underdone.

I do think the voice cast deserves some recognition. I'm impressed with how much character they're able to instill in simple designs and simpler movements. It doesn't redeem the experience of watching, but it's still clearly good work.

I can't say the same for the writing.  There are a handful of funny moments in this movie, but they're few and far between. The vast majority of the runtime consists of repetitive sequences and disappointing animation. I understand the animation was likely limited by budget, but this is the one area that could have salvaged the film and just fell flat.

Maybe diehard Yogi fans (are there diehard Yogi fans?) will find something worthwhile in this, but even then I doubt it. There's nothing in here that comes close to justifying the length.