Saturday, May 16, 2020

Animation Celebration Saturday - Mr. Bug Goes to Town

Paramount, 1941
Voices of Jack Mercer, Stan Freed, Tedd Pierce, and Pauline Loth
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Shamus Culhane
Music by Hoagy Carmichael and Sam Timburg; Lyrics by Frank Loesser

Flush from the runaway success of Gulliver's Travels, Paramount wanted Dave and Max Fleischer to quickly whip up another blockbuster, in time for Christmas 1941. This time, there were major problems from the get-go. Dave and Max's relationship was rapidly deteriorating, to the point where Paramount put a clause in their new contract to allow one brother or the other to leave after they finished the film. It got so bad, the brothers communicated via memos passed between them. Did they still manage to give them a good movie despite the troubles? Let's head to an aging garden in New York City, next to an old cottage, and find out...

The Story: A group of bugs live in the garden of Dick (Kenny Gardner) and Mary (Gwen Williams) Dickens. Dick is a struggling songwriter who doesn't have the money to repair the fence around the garden, allowing people to use it for a shortcut and toss their cigarette butts into the greenery. The bugs live in fear as the butts burn their homes and the humans trample them.

"Real estate magnate" C. Bagely Beetle (Pierce) wants to marry the lovely Honey (Loth), but she's holding out for the return of her sweetheart Hoppity (Freed). The good-natured young cricket does return, just in time to save Honey's father Mr. Bumble's (Mercer) Honey Shop from a cigar butt. He tells Honey he'll find the "Lowlanders" a new place to live, but his first choice of a penthouse garden isn't as safe as it looks. Even when the rest of the community shuns him, Honey believes in him. After he discovers a plot by Beetle to keep the Dickens from getting a much-needed check that could repair the fence, he has to figure out how to get the "Human Ones" their rightful money and lead his community to a better home than they could have ever hoped for.

The Animation: Unlike Gulliver's Travels, which used realistic rotoscoped figures with cartoonier ones with mixed results, here the rotoscoping is limited to "the Human Ones." It does make everything flow a bit better and works more with the melodramatic story. There's still a ton of detail bursting from the frame, and the Technicolor, whether it's depicting the bugs' home or the sizzling red rivets in the skyscraper, really pops here. Check out the wild scene where Hoppity gets electrocuted at the nightclub and turns into a neon outline, giving a wild performance that Honey thinks is a new dance.

The Song and Dance: It's too bad this one never really got a fair shake then or now. In some ways, it's an improvement on Gulliver's Travels. The story is less episodic, and even a little dark for the time, considering what happens to the Dickens' and the bugs' original home. The sidekicks are limited to Beetle's mosquito and fly hench-bugs, who are not only fairly funny, but have some bearing on the story.

Favorite Number: "Katy Did, Katy Didn't" is the big nightclub number that starts with bugs singing to ladybug chorus girls and ends with Hoppity's electrified neon dance routine. "I'll Dance at Your Wedding (Honey Dear)" is another chorus routine, this one showing how the bug community prepares for Honey and Mr. Beetle's wedding. "Be My Little Baby Bumblebee" becomes a cute duet for Honey and Hoppity on their way back from the club. "We'll Be the Couple In the Castle" is the Dickens' big ballad that causes all the fuss with the check later in the film.

Trivia: Dave Fleischer did resign after the film's completion.

This was the first animated movie to credit the voice cast. It was also Paramount's last animated film until Charlotte's Web in 1973.

The release date was originally supposed to be December 5th, 1941, but then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It didn't make it out in the US until February 1942, after which it was such a huge flop, other studios canceled their planned animated films.

This is also known under the titles Hoppity Goes to Town and Bugville.

What I Don't Like: The melodramatic story is cliched to the max. Most of the characters are your basic stock drama tropes - the damsel in distress, the eager everyguy, the evil businessman, the cute kid, etc. The few songs aren't much more memorable. Beetle is one of those villains who is just so much more personable than the heroes, you almost wish he would get Honey.

The Big Finale: Fans of vintage animation and families with older kids who can handle the cliches and some of the darker elements may find this worth checking out.

Home Media: As a public domain film, there's a couple of copies floating around. The best one currently can be found under the title Hoppity Goes to Town and is often sold for under 10 dollars.


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