Friday, July 27, 2007

In the Bag - July 27, 1956

Rarely will you see the 1956 Humphrey Bear cartoon In the Bag discussed or even acknowledged in scholarly animation circles. It exists without the presence of a major Disney cartoon star such as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, and was produced during the late 1950s, when animated short subjects were beginning their slow but steady march to the precipice of near-extinction. Yet this little underrated gem of a film stands as one of the studio's funnier efforts. And its little piece of George Brun's produced music has kept it alive in the memories of countless viewers since it was released on this day some fifty-one years ago.

First you stick a rag, put in the bag, bump bump
Then you bend your back, put it in the sack, bump bump
That's the way it's done, it's a lot of fun, bump bump
Cuttin' capers puttin' papers in the bag


That little ditty has survived in the subconscious minds of so many. Few remember the lyrics beyond the exaggerated "bump bumps" but they can clearly hum the tune and mimic the hip action of Humphrey and his pals. The song became so popular, it inspired a Mickey Mouse Club recording entitled the "Humphrey Hop."In the Bag was the second of only two cartoons to headline the character of Humphrey Bear and costar Ranger J. Audobon Woodlore, both of whom had attained some measures of success in a number of Donald Duck shorts. The short centers on the Ranger's efforts to clean up a litter-strewn Brownstone Park by cleverly tricking the resident bears into "playing a game" that will effectively take care of the mess. Failing that, he bribes them all with a meal of chicken cacciatore. Humphrey is ultimately left "holding the bag" and his efforts to clean up his assigned section are portrayed in a series of gags and pratfalls, and feature a hilarious cameo from another famous bear of 1950s popular culture.

What is especially notable about In the Bag is that it was one of only a few CinemaScope cartoon shorts produced by Disney. It has been only with its inclusion in the Disney Treasures Rarities DVD set that viewers have finally been able to see it in its original widescreen theatrical format.

Director Jack Hannah and his crew very specifically composed In the Bag for CinemaScope, and it's striking to see their results in a presentation that hasn't fallen victim to cropping and pan-and-scan revisions. As the following screen shots illustrate, it is easy to see how Hannah's original designs for the film were severely compromised in subsequent television and home video appearances. In any of these examples, imagine one third of the screen effectively cut away:

Clever, funny and well realized in its cartoon modern style and widescreen presentation, In the Bag stands as one of those off-the-radar productions that still compares favorably to many of the studio's better known and more historically recognized animated shorts.

Images © Walt Disney Company

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, Humphrey the Bear, one of the best nearly-forgotten Disney characters.

Tony M said...

This is EXACTLY what I was talking with you at MagicMeets about, Jeff! Thanks for the great details!!

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

I have always loved that short! You are right. The part that I always remember about the lyrics is the exaggerated Bump Bump.

June said...

I LOVE this short! Humphrey and Ranger Woodlore are quite possibly my favorite Disney characters ever--this coming from a "child of the 80s" who wasn't even alive when Humphrey first appeared.

Hanford said...

The short can be seen on Youtube, I linked to it (and to this blog) a few months ago:

http://www.junkyardclubhouse.com/2007/03/27/j-audubon-woodlore/

april said...

Thank you for profiling my favorite Disney short of all time! I was wondering, does this short appear in its original aspect ratio on the Walt Disney Treasures?

Jessica said...

Hands down, one of my all-time favorite Disney shorts. I remember getting so excited when they would show it on the Disney Channel during their cartoon blocks. During your podcast with Lou when you discussing these characters, I started singing the song and it got stuck in my head for days! I guess I can expect the same now. :-)

Humphrey and Woodlore deserve so much more recognition than their given - hopefully that will all change in the future as more people discover them.

FoxxFur said...

Humphrey the Bear is awesome and this short is his funniest, as well as one of the funniest of the post-War Disney animated shorts. I actually used to think there were more Humphrey shorts proper than there really are, I guess by dint of segments of them being played on Disney Channel in big blocks of other shorts. Those were the days!

hearyoume said...

Don't know if you've seen this, but an original Humphrey Celluloid from 1959 is up for auction on ebay...

http://cgi.ebay.com/Original-1950s-Humphrey-the-Bear-J-Audubon-Woodlore_W0QQitemZ320142095311QQihZ011QQcategoryZ1532QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

Namowal said...

I remember Humphrey, and I liked him too. He may have cost me a chance to work at the Disney store when I was in my teens. The interviewer asked me to list my favorite Disney characters and I mentioned Humphrey. She'd never heard of him and I got the impression she thought I was either making him up or confusing him with a character from another studio.
There was another Humphrey cartoon I remember where Donald was a bee keeper. I remember the duck sampling the honey and Humphrey gong crazy in anticipation of getting some of his own! :)