Yellowstone A Huge Inspiration For Yogi Bear And Boo-Boo In Jellystone

The original Yogi Bear cartoons by Hanna-Barbera shows Jellystone Park as a funhouse mirror version of Yellowstone, which was a key to its incredible success. An animation historian says Yogi and Boo-Boo were the original "tourons."

AR
Andrew Rossi

June 09, 202414 min read

The entrance to Jellystone National Park as it appears Hanna-Barbera's 1958 cartoon "Yogi Bear's Big Break." This episode was the first appearance of Yogi, Boo-Boo and Jellystone.
The entrance to Jellystone National Park as it appears Hanna-Barbera's 1958 cartoon "Yogi Bear's Big Break." This episode was the first appearance of Yogi, Boo-Boo and Jellystone. (Hanna-Barbera Co.)

People expect to see bison, geysers and grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park. They wouldn't expect to find brain-swapping scientists, active military exercises or a NASA rocket launch pad.

These are some of the things discovered by the green hat and tie-wearing, picnic-loving, park ranger-harassing nuisance bear Yogi, one of the most iconic characters in vintage pop culture and classic cartoons.

Yogi's "smarter than the average bear" antics created by the Hanna-Barbera Animation Co. had him and his ever-loyal sidekick Boo-Boo elude and torment Ranger Smith in their ongoing quest to snatch as many pic-a-nic baskets they can.

The backdrop for Yogi's misadventures is Jellystone Park, a setting almost as iconic as the bear perpetually living and trying to escape from there. It’s a stylized Yellowstone conveniently able to adapt to Yogi and Boo-Boo’s exploits through cartoon physics.

Collaring The Market

Greg Ehrbar is a writer, author and historian who's dedicated the latter half of his long career to sharing the animated history of Hanna-Barbera.

His next book “Hanna-Barbera: The Recorded History from Modern Stone Age to Meddling Kids” will be released in August, and he's the host of the podcast “The Funtastic World of Hanna and Barbera.”

"To me, it's not cool old stuff," he told Cowboy State Daily. "Nothing is old if it continues to find an audience. But unlike Disney, Hanna-Barbera seems to have been either lost or misunderstood, and it's been my mission to change that."

Hanna-Barbera was responsible for “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons,” “Scooby-Doo” and hundreds of other popular and recognizable characters and franchises.

But what Ehrbar wants the world to know is how the animation company, founded by Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera, was revolutionary in its time and profoundly impacted modern-day media and pop culture.

Using Yellowstone as a backdrop and inspiration for their wildlife-based adventures seems a no-brainer.

Using creative shortcuts to simplify the complexities of hand-drawn animation, Hanna-Barbera dominated the newly emerging television animation market in the 1950s and 1960s.

"They came up with a process where you could get good quality entertaining cartoons with strong visuals, strong characters and great audio," Ehrbar said. "They didn't invent TV animation and limited animation, but they proved where others had tried."

Heads Up

The key is in the collar.

Hanna-Barbera designed their characters to have a clear dividing line between their heads and the rest of their bodies, usually with collars, bandanas, neckties and bowties.

A character's head could be animated separately, allowing for all the expressions and lip movement while the body remained mostly or entirely still.

In most early Yogi Bear cartoons, Yogi's head moves and talks while his body remains in a handful of simple poses. Discovering these cost-saving, corner-cutting methods paved the way for Hanna-Barbera's incredible output of animated television shows.

Their cartoons looked cheaper and choppier than the lavish animation of Disney and Warner Brothers, but that didn't hamper the company’s success.

"’The Huckleberry Hound Show’ (in 1958) was the first half-hour of animation completely made for TV," Ehrbar said. "It was a mammoth success and a critical darling. It won the first Emmy for a children's television show. People watched it in lounges in the evenings because it was on late in the afternoon, and it was considered sophisticated by college students. It proved that sophisticated, multi-level humor could work for TV animation."

An animation cel from the opening of Hanna Barbera's "The Yogi Bear Show" from 1961. Yogi was a breakout hit for Hanna-Barbera, becoming one of the most popular and iconic cartoon characters of the 1960s.
An animation cel from the opening of Hanna Barbera's "The Yogi Bear Show" from 1961. Yogi was a breakout hit for Hanna-Barbera, becoming one of the most popular and iconic cartoon characters of the 1960s. (Courtesy Mike Rossi)

A Rather Exceptional Bear

Yogi Bear and Jellystone were there from the beginning. The character was developed for the supporting cast of the Huckleberry Hound Show but was immediately recognized as the breakout star and soon became Hanna-Barbera's most popular character.

Ehrbar considers Yogi Bear part of the same pantheon of animated characters as Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. He believes Yogi's strength came from an aspirational relatability that his contemporaries lost over time.

Mickey and Bugs started as snide, irreverent rascals in the 1930s. Their edges were sanded off as they transcended from cartoon characters to pop-culture icons and corporate mascots.

Ironically, both were eventually outshone by costarring ducks. Donald and Daffy became more popular while indulging in the less-savory aspects of their personalities.

Ehrbart said Yogi had the same traits that made Mickey and Bugs iconic but had mostly lost by the 1960s. Compared to Mickey's squeaky-clean cuteness and Bugs' smug nonchalance, Yogi's acerbic wit and overt rebelliousness resonated with the Baby Boomers who were tuning in to watch his antics.

"He was a very human character," he said. "Everybody gets frustrated and tired of being told what to do. How can I get around that? That's the classic Yogi to me. Clever little tricks and pranks. They all had ways of dealing with things that people could either wish they could do or identify with, and Yogi was like that."

Yogi got his own show in 1961, and Hanna-Barbera made him the star of their first animated theatrical release in 1964, “Hey There, It's Yogi Bear!”

The character has been in dozens of TV shows and movies and has been revived countless times along with his lesser-known compatriots like Lippy the Lion, Hokey Wolf, Snagglepuss, and Pixie and Dixie.

However, Yogi's adventures often start and end in the same place: Jellystone Park. He's been trying to escape the confines of that vast wilderness since the beginning, never realizing that his success is intimately tied to his location.

Jellystone's Rockets, Mad Scientists And Live Ammo

Hanna-Barbera wasn't the first company to be inspired by the fertile landscape and potential for hijinks in Yellowstone National Park.

Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny squared off in "Jellostone National Park" in 1941's “Wabbit Twouble,” and Donald Duck was nominated for an Academy Award for his felonious "Yellowstone Nat’l Park" adventure in 1949's “Duck Scouts.”

Ehrbart doesn't think anyone at the Hanna-Barbera Co. ever visited Yellowstone National Park with the intent of using it as a reference for Jellystone Park. One needn't look any further than the inconsistencies in the Jellystone entrance sign.

"There's as many Jellystones as there are cartoons," he said. "Different artists painted different backgrounds, so it was a completely different park from episode to episode.

There are some very beautiful, ornate Jellystone signs, some very 1950s, and some with a modern mid-century cartoon look."

In one episode, Ranger Smith bemoans how Yogi always manages to find trouble in the "over 400 square miles" of Jellystone. He's only off by 3,000 square miles. Yet, there are some things uniquely Yellowstone, like geysers.

Yogi And Boo-Boo Were Tourons

The infrastructure and events in Jellystone that lend to Yogi's antics would be considered sacrilegious in the real Yellowstone, but they make for excellent animated antics. Here's a small sample of what kind of things Yogi's gets up to in Jellystone.

  • Yogi commandeers the Jellystone Park Patrol helicopter, flies it into a train tunnel and bursts through the top of a mountain, although not a volcano, in "The Buzzin' Bear."
  • Police officers (from who knows where) search for an escaped zoo gorilla that almost starts a forest fire in "Stranger Ranger," which also establishes that rangers are specifically "assigned" to problematic bears.
  • Ranger Smith creates booby trapped picnic baskets to ensure Yogi avoids human food in "Booby Trapped Bear" — until he's told to stop "molesting" bears. The episode also implies that all park employees steal from visitors, including Jellystone's unnamed superintendent.
  • Yogi avoids dive bombers and tanks during active war games in the western half of Jellystone in "Missile Bound Yogi," an episode where Ranger Smith declares he can disband a U.S. general's army if that general's actions harm a government-protected bear.
  • A mad scientist with a laboratory in his trailer transfers Yogi's brain (and then his own) into a chicken's head in "Brainy Bear." A ranger tells the scientist he is "one of the good ones" because he promises not to feed Yogi.
  • Yogi, Boo-Boo, and Ranger Smith end up on a rocket and get launched into space in "Missile Bound Bear" after finding the military's secret rocket-launching pad in Jellystone.

That's all well and good for Jellystone Park, but there are no train tunnels, mad scientists or secret launchpads (that we know of) in Yellowstone. Meanwhile, several state and federal agencies would have some stern words for anyone using the park as a corridor for transporting gorillas, let alone ones capable of arson.

  • Screenshot from the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Yogi's Big Break," where Yogi Bear is determined to escape all the attention from tourists at Jellystone Park. But he's always foiled by the ranger stationed at the park's entrance.
    Screenshot from the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Yogi's Big Break," where Yogi Bear is determined to escape all the attention from tourists at Jellystone Park. But he's always foiled by the ranger stationed at the park's entrance. (Hanna-Barbera Co.)
  • Screenshot from the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Yogi's Big Break," where Yogi Bear is determined to escape all the attention from tourists at Jellystone Park. But he's always foiled by the ranger stationed at the park's entrance.
    Screenshot from the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Yogi's Big Break," where Yogi Bear is determined to escape all the attention from tourists at Jellystone Park. But he's always foiled by the ranger stationed at the park's entrance. (Hanna-Barbera Co.)
  • Screenshot from the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Yogi's Big Break," where Yogi Bear is determined to escape all the attention from tourists at Jellystone Park. But he's always foiled by the ranger stationed at the park's entrance.
    Screenshot from the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Yogi's Big Break," where Yogi Bear is determined to escape all the attention from tourists at Jellystone Park. But he's always foiled by the ranger stationed at the park's entrance. (Hanna-Barbera Co.)
  • Screenshot from the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Yogi's Big Break," where Yogi Bear is determined to escape all the attention from tourists at Jellystone Park. But he's always foiled by the ranger stationed at the park's entrance.
    Screenshot from the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Yogi's Big Break," where Yogi Bear is determined to escape all the attention from tourists at Jellystone Park. But he's always foiled by the ranger stationed at the park's entrance. (Hanna-Barbera Co.)

Won't Find The Logic

While Jellystone Park changed every episode, there's no denying that Yellowstone National Park inspired more than just the name. Ehrbar acknowledged that Yellowstone is "a pretty great name," but the writers and animators of Yogi Bear found more inspiration from the national park.

"It depends on the cartoon and the gag," he said. "Yogi Bear had the same formula as all cartoons. You'd set up the premise, hang gags on it and have a resolution. It comes and goes from reality, so they make it as real a park as they need."

The backdrop and terrain of Yellowstone, the natural conflict between Yellowstone's rangers and wildlife, and the inanities of traveling tourists lent a lot of material to Yogi Bear's creative team. They were also OK with taking creative liberties to tell the stories they wanted.

And of course, all these misadventures involve clothes-wearing apex predators that can talk.

"It's never a good idea to find any logic or continuity in Hanna-Barbera cartoons," Ehrbar said. "They gave you 60 seconds to get the premise, and then you were on your own. It's what makes them so delightful and fun to analyze."

Ehrbar's observation of a lack of logic applies to the characters themselves. Despite Yogi's keen determination to escape Jellystone, he almost exclusively attempts to do so by sneaking through a gate under the nose of a watchful ranger rather than the hundreds of miles of unguarded forests that Yellowstone's grizzlies almost exclusively use.

Jellystone isn't Yellowstone, and yet ...

Keystones Of Yellowstone And Jellystone

"Yogi Bear's Big Break" the first appearance of Yogi and Boo-Boo, premiered on the premiere episode of the Huckleberry Hound Show on Sept. 29, 1958.

In it, Yogi tries busting out of Jellystone National Park to escape the hordes of shrieking tourists, something most Yellowstone grizzlies and locals could relate to.

"Jellystone National Park" would be simplified to "Jellystone Park" after the first season of the “Huckleberry Hound Show,” suggesting a clear delineation between the fact and fiction of Jellystone and Yellowstone.

However, the creatives working on Yogi Bear added enough incidental details to make it clear that these antics couldn't happen anywhere else but Yellowstone, or at least its Hanna-Barbera funhouse version of it.

Several lines, antics and blink-and-you'll-miss it moments in Yogi Bear cartoons play out like deliberate homages to Yellowstone.

In addition to being a bear himself, presumably a grizzly with a green and white fashion aesthetic, Yogi regularly encounters animals that live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, like porcupines and mountain lions.

The trees that cycle repeatedly through the backgrounds, a Hanna-Barbera hallmark, almost always resemble the park's lodgepole pines, with occasional white-trunked trees intended to be or inspired by aspens.

Then there are the geysers.

Yogi Bear "Bags Bad Guys On Geyser" in skit in the episode "Big Brave Bear," stopping two bank robbers by trapping their car on the top of the erupting Old Dependable geyser, a gag featured to the opening titles of “The Yogi Bear Show” in 1961.

Even the Three Stooges recognized the comedic potential of Yellowstone's geysers. Ehrbar knows that Hanna-Barbera and many other animation studios eagerly embraced the same potential.

"Geysers were always a popular thing in cartoons because you could do anything with them," he said. "Somehow, people stayed on the very tippy top of them. But it was a cartoon, so you could do that."

Even Yogi's core character motivation — stealing picnic baskets from tourists — was a uniquely Yellowstone phenomenon at the time. The natural conflict created, along with the added element of Ranger Smith, updated and modernized the Bugs-Elmer riff that dominated theatrical cartoons but was somewhat stale by the era of television animation.

"This was the post-World War II era," he said. "The era of the automobile, the family drive, and the superhighways. In the ’50s, there was this huge movement to go on outings, so people were piling into the parks more. Making Jellystone Park a perfect fit because culturally, people were becoming very aware of and going to the national parks."

Yogi Bear captures bank robbers at the top of Old Dependable Geyser in Hanna-Barbera's 1958 cartoon "Big Brave Bear." Geysers are something Jellystone shares with Yellowstone National Park.
Yogi Bear captures bank robbers at the top of Old Dependable Geyser in Hanna-Barbera's 1958 cartoon "Big Brave Bear." Geysers are something Jellystone shares with Yellowstone National Park. (Hanna-Barbera Co.)

‘I'm Government Property!’

An argument can be made that Jellystone Park was ahead of its time when it came to educating people about bears. And that includes Jellystone's real-life inspiration.

Ehrbar noted that Jellystone rangers had been telling visitors not to feed the bears since the first Yogi Bear cartoons in 1958.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service didn't implement its intensive bear management program, returning grizzlies and black bears to feeding on natural food sources, until 1970.

"Yogi was flying on an ark and saving the world from pollution with Peter Potamus and Top Cat by 1972," he said. "He wasn't even stealing picnic baskets anymore."

Several episodes discuss the legalities of bear hunting. In Yogi's first appearance, he manages to escape Jellystone only to find a constant barrage of bullets shot at him once he's outside the park.

"Huntin' season opened today," a Jellystone ranger wryly observes before Yogi launches himself out of a cannon made from a hollow log (at least he was wearing a helmet). Unlucky for Yogi, Jellystone's gates are locked after 6 p.m.

Most intriguingly, Yogi Bear was keenly aware that he was a federally protected species. Yogi constantly reminds Ranger Smith and others that he is "government property" and leverages his protected status to save his skin, sometimes literally, multiple times throughout the series.

Jellystone Forever

Since his first appearance in 1958, Yogi Bear has traveled the world, traveled through time and gone into space. Yet he always ends up back in Jellystone Park with Boo-Boo, stealing picnic baskets and trying to get one over on Ranger Smith.

Consistency is one of the many factors of Yogi's success Ehrbar credits to Hanna-Barbera. No matter where or when old fans or new faces look, they'll always find Yogi in Jellystone.

"Yogi's been revived at least once every decade now," he said. "Hanna-Barbera still continues to find relevancy, whether it's in a remake, revival or rediscovery."

The latest Yogi-centric animated venture is “Jellystone!,” an animated comedy on HBO Max starring a menagerie of famous and forgotten Hanna-Barbera characters. Yogi is a surgeon in the city of Jellystone, so Ehrbar's "don't look for logic" approach still applies 66 years later.

There are more than 75 Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp Resorts in the United States and Canada, where families can camp, swim and enjoy meet-and-greets with Yogi and Boo-Boo. There are two Jellystones in Colorado and a new resort opening in Utah this year, but none in Wyoming.

The ever-present interest and enjoyment in Yogi Bear have helped Ehrbar's efforts to increase awareness of Hanna-Barbera's history and the company's extensive list of accomplishments.

The enduring legacy of Yogi and other franchises like the “Flintstones” and “Scooby Doo” is a testament to their success in creating shows and characters that resonate with new generations just as they did with the generation they were created for.

"One of the things Hanna-Barbera was always doing was looking at current trends and all facets of what people are doing and what would appeal to them," he said. "Hanna-Barbera created cartoons where you saw the same characters in generally the same place, just like a sitcom. You got very comfortable and attached, and I don't think Hanna-Barbera realized how much people got attached to the characters and their voices."

The attachment to the "Jellystone formula" is as essential to Yogi Bear as any of the characters. Yellowstone National Park isn't Jellystone, but Ehnbar believes Yogi Bear will always be there.

"I don't think that Yellowstone's identity revolves around Yogi Bear, that's unrealistic," he said. "But if people like me go to Yellowstone, they're going to say Jellystone. They're going to ask where Ranger Smith and Boo-Boo are. The staff there have probably heard every joke and every reference over the years. It's so funny, so cute, and so harmless."

Contact Andrew Rossi at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com

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Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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