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.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: 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!