Cast & Crew
In a New York City garden, a miniature city populated by insects exists among the grasses of a small, empty lot. The insects are in danger of losing their homes because a broken fence now admits humans to walk through the garden. As a result, grasshopper Hoppity returns home from his adventures in the world to find his home has changed: Mrs. Ladybug's thatched home burns down because a human carelessly tosses a discarded match, and human children playing stickball in the garden unwittingly trample insect homes. C. Bagley Beetle, a ruthless insect entrepreneur, feels safely ensconced living in the neighboring lot, which is owned by humans, but he offers to sell Mr. Bumble space if he gives Beetle permission to marry his daughter Honey, who is in love with Hoppity. Mr. Bumble rejects Beetle's offer, and Beetle angrily pushes a burning cigar butt down a slope into Mr. Bumble's shop. Hoppity risks his life crossing the street to get water from a hydrant, but the cigar is pushed over and the shop is saved. Beetle then orders his minions, the mosquito Smack and the fly Swat, to exterminate Hoppity, but when Smack instead accidentally electrocutes himself with a radio wire, Hoppity saves his life, and his romance with Honey continues uninterrupted. Hoppity and Mr. Bumble go on a mission to find a new home, and climb the extensive wall that leads up to the neighbors' walled garden. Hoppity and Bumble are impressed by the beautifully maintained garden, and when Mary and Dick, the human owners, rescue Bumble from drowning in a watering can, the insects are convinced that they have been invited to move there. The entire insect village makes the long trek to their new garden home, but they are soon flooded out when Mary waters the garden with a hose, and after returning home, everyone blames Hoppity for their predicament. Depressed, Hoppity packs his traveling bag, and ends up on Dick's windowsill, while Dick, a composer, plays his newest composition. Hoppity overhears Dick and Mary say that they will fix up the garden if someone buys the song, but will lose the house if no one does. Hoppity reports back to his fellow bugs that they will all be forced out unless Dick and Mary get a check from the publishers. As time passes, the bug community gets more and more trampled, and Hoppity anxiously awaits the daily mail delivery. Hoppity is thrilled when the check finally does arrive, but is unaware that Beetle has arranged for Smack and Swat to hide the check so that Dick and Mary never receive it. Dick and Mary are evicted, and unknown to the insects, the house is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a skyscraper. Beetle kidnaps Hoppity, then takes advantage of the situation and tells Bumble that he will allow all the insects to move up to his "land" if Honey will marry him. Honey reluctantly consents in order to save her village. The wedding ceremony is disrupted by a construction crew, however, and the fleeing villagers are unable to find a piece of land that is not dug under. Hoppity, meanwhile, has been trapped inside the envelope with the publisher's check, and when he is finally freed, he tells the villagers about Beetle's scheme, but they are all scooped up by a big tractor before they can act on the news. Later, Mary and Dick revisit their old homesite, and fantasize that they could be living in a penthouse with a garden if they had sold Dick's song. After once again overhearing their discussion, Hoppity then retrieves the envelope and makes sure that it is redeposited in the mail. He then rallies his terrified community into climbing the skyscraper's girders, convinced that a glorious new home awaits them at the top. After being bounced from address to address, the publisher's check finally reaches Dick. The insects, meanwhile, reach the top of the skyscraper by the time it is finished. At first, it appears that Hoppity was once again misinformed about the garden, but when they look over the edge of the roof, the insects see their new garden awaiting them, with Dick and Mary as their hosts. The villagers settle into their new high-rise home, as Beetle, Smack and Swat look on enviously through the bars of a grate.
The Four Marshals
The Royal Guards
Anthony Di Paola
H. C. Ellison
Mr. Bug Goes to Town aka Hoppity Goes to Town (1941) - Mr. Bug Goes to Town
Dave Fleischer's initial idea for a second animated feature was to adapt La Vie des abeillies (The Life of the Bee), the famed 1901 essay by Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck. After finding that the rights were not available, a platoon of Fleischer story men set about fashioning an original scenario. After establishing a huge, gleaming city of skyscrapers, the movie opens as the camera focuses in on a colony of insects living in a garden alongside a busy street. A broken fence allows human pedestrians and children access to the garden, where the bugs are in danger of being trampled. Hoppity the grasshopper (voiced by Stan Freed) returns home from his journeys to witness the danger firsthand; discarded matches from humans cause entire insect houses to burn down, for example. The unscrupulous C. Bagley Beetle (voiced by longtime animation story man Tedd Pierce) has a safe haven and offers to sell the space to Mr. Bumble (voiced by Jack Mercer, who also played Popeye at Fleischer Studios) in exchange for his daughter's hand. Bumble's daughter is Honey (voiced by Pauline Loth), Hoppity's sweetheart. Hoppity, meanwhile, tries to reverse the fortunes of a human couple, Dick and Mary (voiced by Kenny Gardner and Gwen Williams). Dick is an aspiring songwriter and if he makes a sale, the couple can move to a private home with a garden. Hoppity's attempts are foiled by Beetle and his cronies at every turn. With its lanky "everyman" hero and populist storyline, Paramount executives decided to call the film Mr. Bug Goes to Town as a play on Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), the Frank Capra classic starring Gary Cooper.
Mr. Bug Goes to Town is packed with captivating visuals. The opening shot is often praised and justifiably so; it consists of a breathtaking camera move on a sweeping cityscape. The city (unnamed in the film, but obviously based on the former New York environs of the Fleischer staff) is mostly an elaborate forced-perspective three-dimensional model, painstakingly made up of dozens of skyscraper sides and thousands of tiny windows. The overall design of the film charmingly takes the bug's-eye view - humans are seen mostly as just hands and feet. People are animated via rotoscoping (transferring live-action film frames to drawings), but the effect is done tastefully and is well-integrated (Gulliver's Travels features an overuse of the technique since all shots of the title character are rotoscoped). The background artists for Mr. Bug had a field day, playfully incorporating discarded objects from humans as bug accessories, such as a woman's compact for a circular bed or a harmonica as a pipe organ. Some found fault with the designs of the bugs themselves, however. In his book Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation (Wings Books, 1994) Charles Solomon quotes Mr. Bug writer Cal Howard, who complained about the character designs: "You can draw a bug and make it cute as hell - as cute as a bug's ear, in fact, but I thought those character designs were gruesome. Hoppity has a big, bloated head stuck on a skinny body."
The reviewer for Time magazine called Mr. Bug Goes to Town "a workmanlike effort designed for youngsters" and went on with non-effusive praise, writing, "Its color and atmosphere are first-rate; it is in good taste and not overdone." This critic had more to say about the score: "...the best of Mr. Bug's attributes is the music. The background music (by Leigh Harline, who composed most of Snow White's good music, Pinocchio's music and melodies) is notable. One tune by Sammy Timberg (Boy, Oh Boy), five by Hoagy Carmichael (lyrics: Frank Loesser) are hummable. We're the Couple in the Castle has already become a nationwide hit."
One factor in the poor box-office showing of the film was bad timing: it opened just two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Americans subsequently had little interest in seeing movies that month, especially something as jolly as Mr. Bug. Paramount tried to recoup their losses, reissuing the picture soon after as a second-feature and bearing the new title Hoppity Goes to Town. (It was under this title that the picture later played on television and was known for many years.)
Modern critics usually comment that Mr. Bug Goes to Town was a missed opportunity. In Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, (Plume, 1987), Leonard Maltin called the film out for its "...shallow characters and weak story line. Hoppity is a happy-go-lucky type with an insipid voice, and his girl friend Honey is a bland heroine. The plot elements... are too hackneyed to enlist an audience's involvement. And, once again, the film is plagued with a passel of undistinguished songs." Maltin has high praise for certain sequences, particularly the closing one, but, "unfortunately, one great sequence cannot sustain a feature-length film, and that's exactly the problem with Mr. Bug."
Similarly, Charles Solomon wrote that the film featured some excellent sequences, but "...these entertaining moments are separated by long, pedestrian scenes that allow the audience's interest to wander." Solomon also feels that "the early Fleischer films had a charming innocence that easily won the viewer's affection, and innocence Mr. Bug lacks. There's something too obviously calculated about the comic bits involving Mr. Beetle's inept henchmen, Swat the Fly and Smack the Mosquito, just as the romantic scenes between Hoppity and Honey reveal the artists trying too hard to be touching. This self-conscious quality makes the entire picture seem effortful."
Despite the success of Gulliver's Travels in 1939, the Fleischers were heavily in debt to Paramount when Mr. Bug opened, due in part to the move of the studio to Miami, and also partly because of the high production cost of their ongoing series of cartoons based on the Superman character. Complicating matters was a family feud: Due to personal reasons, Max and Dave were not speaking to each other, communicating only through memos. To secure the advances for the production of Mr. Bug, the Fleischers had to agree to hand over undated letters of resignation to Paramount. As expected following the film's failure, the studio activated the letters and terminated the brothers. The studio in Miami was closed, and Paramount continued production on the Superman and Popeye cartoons back in New York, under the name Famous Studios. Paramount hired several key Fleischer personnel to take over, including animator Seymour Kneitel, Max's son-in-law. The new regime lasted for several years.
Interestingly, while the Fleischer's feature Gulliver's Travels fell into Public Domain early on and has been repeatedly duplicated on poor-quality video releases for years, Mr. Bug Goes to Town has remained under copyright. That has not stopped rampant duplication and distribution of this feature too, but the issuing parties are incorrectly assuming that it is in the Public Domain.
Producer: Max Fleischer
Director: Dave Fleischer; Shamus Culhane (uncredited)
Screenplay: Dave Fleischer, Dan Gordon, Tedd Pierce, Isidore Sparber (original story); Dan Gordon, Carl Meyer, Tedd Pierce, Graham Place, Isidore Sparber, Bob Wickersham, William Turner, Cal Howard
Photography: Charles Schettler
Music: Leigh Harline
Cast: Kenny Gardner (Dick, voice), Gwen Williams (Mary, voice), Jack Mercer (Mr. Bumble/Swat, voice), Tedd Pierce (C. Bagley Beetle, voice), Carl Meyer (Smack, voice), Stan Freed (Hoppity, voice), Pauline Loth (Honey, voice), The Four Marshals (Chorus Interpretations, voice), The Royal Guards (Chorus Interpretations, voice)
by John M. Miller
Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, Leonard Maltin, 1987, Plume.
Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation, Charles Solomon, 1994, Wings Books.
Serious Business: The Art and Commerce of Animation in America from Betty Boop to Toy Story, Stefan Kanfer, 1997, Da Capo Press.
"Fleischer in Florida, Part 2 - Up, Up, and Away!," Steve Fritz, Newsarama.com, 2009.
Mr. Bug Goes to Town aka Hoppity Goes to Town (1941) - Mr. Bug Goes to Town
Those Human Ones! Why, the way they're taking to tramping through the lowlands, it's getting so your life ain't worth a sunflower seed anymore. One never know who's gonna get it next.- Mrs. Ladybug
It's my daughter's right to listen to what her little heart says, and it just don't seem to say "Beetle".- Mr. Bumble
It's no use to go, and don't forget I told you so!- Mr. Creeper
I told you we belong here in the garden. The lady human said so. You heard her.- Hoppity
Gosh! And she knew my name.- Mr. Bumble
Look at the Human Ones down there! They look just like a lot of little bugs!- Boy bug on skyscraper rooftop
The viewed print was titled Hoppity Goes to Town, which was the film's reissue and British title. Mr. Bug Goes to Town was the second feature-length animated picture produced by Max Fleischer. The first, Gulliver's Travels, was released in 1939. The aforementioned are the only two feature-length films created and produced by the creative team of the Fleischer brothers. According to modern sources, the opening credits shot, which begins in space and moves down to New York City, was accomplished with a miniature set of the city. The set took four months to construct, and consisted of over 16,000 miniature panes of glass set in wood and plastic models.