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Yogi Bear Gets a Bit of the Ren & Stimpy Attitude : The much-loved character and friends, created by Hanna-Barbera, are back--but with John Kricfalusi's twist.

September 23, 1999|MICHAEL P. LUCAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hey, there! It's Yogi Bear--in an art film, no less.

Cartoon Network revives Jellystone Park's animated denizens Friday in a prime-time two-part special, "Boo Boo Runs Wild" and "A Day in the Life of Ranger Smith," that's as audacious as it is genuinely riveting.

The show corrals the cartoon icons created by the late William Hanna and Joseph Barbera and now owned by Time Warner into the oeuvre of eccentric animator John Kricfalusi and his Spumco Studio. John K, as he's known, is the father of Nickelodeon's odd couple of household pets, "Ren & Stimpy"--an absurdly bloated cat and a skeletal, bulging-eyed Chihuahua--and here he does little to sully his reputation for cartoons with a bizarre twist.

In "Boo Boo Runs Wild," Yogi's nebbishy little sidekick simply snaps when Ranger Smith enforces one too many arbitrary man-made rules--that is, animals must wear an article of clothing and bears can't scratch trees. Boo Boo flips out to a billowing, slobbering ursine state, leading an uprising of forest creatures, at last seducing Cindy Bear into joining an edgy orgy of beehive honey-diving. The mayhem prompts the ranger to get down his blunderbuss--but Yogi grabs for the gun in an intense fight sequence before things careen back to normal--or what passes for normal in Kricfalusi's vivid imagination.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 24, 1999 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Hanna and Barbera--In some editions of Thursday's Calendar, a story about characters created by the Hanna-Barbera animation studio mistakenly characterized William Hanna and Joseph Barbera as deceased.

Cartoon Network programming chief Mike Lazzo asked Kricfalusi to edit the fight by 10 seconds, removing what comes off more as locker-room horseplay that gets just a little bit out of hand.

"I told him: This is a cartoon psychodrama," Lazzo said--quickly adding that he is completely happy with the way the shows turned out, and indeed there will be more if viewers respond, he said. Kricfalusi has reinvigorated the characters with a high-voltage comic visual style that they lacked in Hanna-Barbera's heyday of thrifty, dialogue-driven production.

"You could freeze a frame of 'Ren & Stimpy' and be amused, but you couldn't do that with so many cartoons made in the '60s and '70s," Lazzo said.

Kricfalusi began pitching this idea about five years ago, recalling that Yogi was introduced in "The Huckleberry Hound Show" in 1958 as a wastrel intent on stealing picnic baskets. His character evolved over the decades until, when last seen in the 1991-92 NBC series "Yo, Yogi!," he had left the forest and become a mall rat. Now the bear and his friends go back to the woods.

"This is a fresh look at their original motivation," Kricfalusi said.

And he convincingly recaptures Hanna-Barbera's basic style, not only in the character design but in uncanny vocal characterizations by Corey Burton as Ranger Smith and Greg Burson as Yogi. Even the 1950s Atom Age curve embellishments in the title cards are a tribute to the original illustrator, Ed Benedict.

"Yogi and Boo Boo and Ranger Smith had these great relationships, but they made the cartoons so fast they didn't have time to develop them--and that's what I did," Kricfalusi said. "I love Hanna-Barbera cartoons. They're experimental in the art, animation, design, but their characters deserve more development--they're so strong in their own zygote stage."

"As you get older you think if only Yogi could take a swing at the ranger once," Lazzo said, and recalled Hanna-Barbera's pair of wild-spirited mice, adding: "I'd like to see his version of Pixie and Dixie, frankly."

* "Boo Boo Runs Wild" and "A Day in the Life of Ranger Smith" can be seen Friday at 10 p.m. on Cartoon Network. The network has rated it TV-Y-7 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 7).

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