By Phil Hall | September 24, 2010

BOOTLEG FILES 342: “Hoppity Hooper” (animated TV series by Jay Ward that ran on ABC from 1964 to 1967).

LAST SEEN: A few episodes are available at several online video sites.

No official release, although some episodes emerged on a few dubious labels.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It is not clear why this is out of circulation.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Hopefully, it will turn up again.

This week’s column was inspired by an online entity that goes by the punny moniker Eva Destruction.  Thanks to this little Eva, who brought the subject to my attention via an off-hand comment in a non-cinematic forum, we are able to appreciate the brief and largely forgotten world of Hoppity Hooper.

Back in 1960, animation producer Jay Ward and his merry band of wacky writers were bouncing around ideas for new TV cartoon characters. Ward had already achieved success with the characters of Rocky the Flying the Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, and he was eager to expand on his animated menagerie of offbeat creations.

One of the characters created during this period was Hoppity Hooper, a plucky frog who was teamed with a dimwitted bugle-blowing bear named Fillmore.  A couple of pilot cartoons were created, but Ward was unable to snag any interest for a series involving these characters.

By 1964, however, Ward was ready to wrap his popular series featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle and move on to new endeavors.  The half-forgotten frog was recalled, and Ward successfully negotiated a new deal that featured corporate sponsorship through General Mills and the De-Luxe Reading toy company. Pete Burness, an Oscar-winning animator, was on the team to helm the new effort. A minor snag occurred when Alan Reed, the actor that provided the voice of Fillmore in pilot episodes, was contractually unavailable to resume the role – he was already signed by Hanna-Barbera as the voice of Fred Flintstone.  Bill Scott, Ward’s business partner and chief writer, took over the voice performance.  Scott had already provided the voice of Bullwinkle, and he agreed to play Fillmore on the condition that he did not receive screen credit.

However, there was one considerable problem that no one seemed to notice: Hoppity and Fillmore were not original characters with distinctive personalities.  They were little more than reconfigurations of Rocky and Bullwinkle – a diminutive and serious hero teamed with a lumbering and none-too-bright comic lummox.  Even the voices between the two teams were very similar – actress Chris Allen’s Hoppity sounded like a squeakier version of June Foray’s Rocky, while Scott’s Fillmore was simply Bullwinkle at a slower pace and lower octave. Both shows also shared the same gimmick of fast-talking narrators (William Conrad offered breathless running commentary for Rocky’s adventures, while Paul Frees pretty much imitated Conrad’s style for Hoppity’s romps).

The only major difference between the series was the inclusion of a third primary character in “Hoppity Hooper”: Waldo G. Wigglesworth, a shameless fox with a talent for get-rich-schemes. Voiced by the versatile comic actor Hans Conried, the charlatan fox’s absurd penchant for low-grade miscreant activities inevitably kicked off the various dilemmas that created the foundation for the “Hoppity Hooper” episodes. The fox would be referred to as “Uncle Waldo” by Hoppity and “Professor” by the various victims of his shabby scams, while Waldo repeatedly screwed up Fillmore’s identification – he would call the bear “Stanislaw,” “Beauregarde,” and anything but his proper name.

“Hoppity Hooper” followed the same formula as the earlier Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons: the main characters would travel a multi-episode story arc where they would face a number of unlikely situations.  Perhaps the most unusual offering in the series was the four-part journey into “The Traffic Zone,” a wild spoof of “The Twilight Zone” (complete with a bogus Rod Serling-style narration) that found Fillmore crossing into a mysterious detour in the space-time continuum and re-emerging as a giant turnip.

Pop culture spoofs percolated throughout the series. One adventure found the heroes facing the gangster brothers Costa and Nostra – an obvious riff on the underworld Cosa Nostra. A Christmas adventure included a squad of elves marching to work at Santa’s toy factory – they start singing the Seven Dwarfs’s theme “Heigh-ho” when they are warned by their foreman that the song is copyrighted.  When Waldo incorrectly identifies Santa Claus as Uncle Sam, he rebuffs the correction by mumbling, “Santa Claus, Uncle Sam – it’s the same thing!”

On the whole, “Hoppity Hopper” seemed like a lite-version of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. The cartoons were not bad, but they were just going over territory that had been previously (and brilliantly) staked out. It was simply a case of been-there/done-that.

Complicating the lack of originality was the format for the series. Each half-hour “Hoppity Hooper” episode consisted of two Hoppity cartoons that wrapped around cartoons previously used in the Rocky and Bullwinkle series: “Fractured Fairy Tales,” “Aesop and Son” “Peabody’s Improbable History” and “Dudley Do-Right.”  Ward outsourced the animation for the Hoppity cartoons to Gamma Productions S.A. de C.V., a studio in Mexico City, and a total of 104 cartoons were produced.

“Hoppity Hooper” debuted on in September 1964 on ABC in the high-visibility Saturday morning slot of 12:30pm and ran on the network through 1967. Beginning in 1965, the already-broadcast ABC episodes were repackaged to local stations via a syndication deal that repackaged the production as “Uncle Waldo’s Cartoon Show.”

Today, however, “Hoppity Hooper” remains virtually unknown.  The cartoons have been out of syndicated release since the early 1970s and were never made available on a commercial home entertainment label.  Labels specializing in public domain titles have offered a few episodes, though it doesn’t appear that the series’ copyright expired.  Some enterprising bootleggers have assembled all 104 cartoons and are offering them in unauthorized DVD packaging; lazier bootleggers posted a few cartoons online.

It is unclear why “Hoppity Hooper” has been out of circulation for so long, or even if it will turn up in the near future.  If the series doesn’t represent the best of Jay Ward, it was still an amusing piece of the producer’s wider canon.  Someday, with luck, Hoppity will hop back into view and, perhaps, a new generation will come to enjoy his antics.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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  1. Christopher Cook says:

    Remembering Hoppity myself, it seemed odd that they would concurrently repackage it for syndication under the new title. There are some arenas online that mistakenly believe that Uncle Waldo’s Cartoon Show was the original series, as the opening title featured the segment where Hoppity, Waldo and Fillmore suddenly appear and march towards the camera. That was culled from the original opening title that had the three “O”s from Hoppity’s name dropping to the ground then forming the three characters.

  2. Chris Sobieniak says:

    Too bad the picture you used for this article Phil doesn’t have Hoppity on it, but I guess it was hard not to include Waldo and Filmore anyway so I’ll let it pass!

    The current ownership of the Hoppity Hooper property may be through Classic Media Ltd. which also has Rocky & Bullwinkle and George of the Jungle.

    When it comes to TV rights, those might still be with the syndicator of the Rocky & Bullwinkle series, Program Exchange, who has a page on their site for “Uncle Waldo’s Cartoon Show”.

  3. Oddly, for a cartoon fan, I never saw Hoppity Hooper on ABC. I only caught it in syndication, on an independent station in Saint Louis. That station chopped and edited a lot of their shows. When they had to fill an hour in October, they took the story arc where the trio wound up in the haunted village of Ware, where they were captured by HOOHAS – the Horrible Order Of Haunts And Spooks.

    I have a theory as to why Hoppity Hooper didn’t make it. It was, indeed, derivative Jay Ward. By this time, Ward’s humor – filled with puns and pop-culture references – was getting a bit old. The show never had anything to make it stand out among the other Ward cartoons.

    Well…maybe one thing. In a little bumper to introduce previews of next week’s show, there was a nice bit of animation of Hoppity quickly drawing cels on an animation desk, then quickly photographing them on an animation stand, then threading the film on a projector. It was a nice piece of animation, and since Hoppity (like Rocket J. Squirrel) was mostly a passive, reactive character, it was the most pro-active thing he ever did.

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