Animation History
July 15, 2017 posted by

“Bearly” a Star: A Tribute To Disney’s Humphrey the Bear

This summer, anyone going camping will probably become very familiar with the saying, “Please Don’t Feed the Bears.”

This rule now so prevalent in campgrounds around the world could almost be blamed on one bear in particular: Humphrey.

Years before Yogi frustrated Ranger Smith in Jellystone Park in Hanna Barbera’s TV cartoons, Humphrey frustrated Ranger Woodlore, (voiced by veteran Disney vocal Star Bill Thompson, who brought to life such characters as Mr. Smear and Jock, from Lady and the Tramp).

This series of cartoons from Walt Disney Studio have gained quite a following through the years.

Humphrey made his debut in the 1950 short subject Hold That Pose.

This was, essentially a Goofy “How to” cartoon and, in this one, Goofy was learning how to be a photographer.

As part of this, he ventures to the Zoo and begins taking pictures of a surly bear, who bears a striking resemblance to Humphrey, but has none of his personality trademarks.

However, many sources through the years (most notably John Grant’s “Encyclopedia of Animated Characters”) site this as the “flashpoint” for Humphrey.

In the 1953 Donald Duck short subject Rugged Bear, we see the Humphrey that audiences came to love. In this short, Humphrey hides in Donald’s cabin, disguised as a bearskin rug, in order to avoid hunting season. Filled with a number of clever sight gags, all at Humphrey’ s expense, the short reveals more of the personality traits that became associated with Humphrey- the skittish, panicked movements, the sheepish smile and the insatiable appetite.

In 1954’s Grin and Bear It, Donald ventures to Brownstone Park, where he once again encounters Humphrey and the Ranger.

A very simple plot: Humphrey of course spends the entire time trying to finagle Donald out of some food, a standard of many of the Humphrey cartoons.

Bearly Asleep, released the following year, centered on Humphrey struggling with trying to find a place to hibernate. What’s interesting about this short is that Donald plays the role of the Ranger, with that character absent.

That same year saw Beezy Bear, a very 1950’s stylized short, in wide screen CinemaScope, as they all would be afterward.

This time, the ranger is back and Donald is a bee keeper, trying to keep Humphrey away from his large stash of honey.

Hooked Bear, released in 1956, has Humphrey as the featured player. The only appearance Donald makes is in the opening credits, as he shines the spotlight on Humphrey’s face, confirming that the bear was the star of this film (a staple of Disney cartoons was to feature a “head shot” of the star of the short in the opening credits).

Hooked Bear was all about Humphrey’s attempts to grab a fish from Brownstone National Park’s fishing hatchery.

In the Bag, also released that same year, is probably Humphrey’s most well known short. In it, the Ranger concocts an idea to con Humphrey and the other bears into cleaning all the litter in the park, by coming up with a catchy song and dance:

“First you stick a rag, put it in the bag, bump, bump

Then you bend your back, put it in the sack, bump, bump…”

So catchy is this song, that Disneyland Records actually released it as the “Humphrey Hop,” on the 1959 LP Goofy Dance Party.

In the Bag also features another famous bear-Smokey- who appears in a cameo (and on the poster).

This would actually be the last Humphrey theatrical cartoon short. While Humphrey was popular with audiences, his timing wasn’t the best, as his short subjects came during the waning days of Disney’s short subjects, when television cartoons were signaling the end of theatrical shorts.

This didn’t stop Humphrey from gaining a fervent cult following through the years.

Compilations of the shorts were shown as part of Disney’s weekly TV series many times. Additionally, Humphrey joined other members of the Disney character canon as part of the opening credits of “The Mickey Mouse Club.”

Forty years later, when Walt Disney World opened its Wilderness Lodge Resort in 1994 (a resort themed around the Pacific Northwest) they decided to feature Humphrey prominently in the lobby: a totem pole, just outside the Merchandise shop depicts Humphrey with Donald, Goofy and Mickey stacked up on his back.

After the turn of the century, Humphrey’s following grew, as a new generation of Disney animators, who had grown up loving the shorts, featured Humphrey on such TV shows as “Mickey Mouse Works” and “House of Mouse.”

To this day, die-hard Disney devotees immediately know who Humphrey is when the character is mentioned (they also invariably break into a few bars of “The Humphrey Hop”). “Ol’ Humph” has even been featured on various pieces of Disney Merchandise.

And this summer, anyone who has seen Cars 3 knows that Mater provides a shout out to Humphrey in a post credit sequence (no spoilers here!)

The secret to the character’s success lies with veteran animator and director Jack Hannah, who was at the helm for all of Humphrey’s classic shorts. Hannah was able to get the most out of Humphrey’s non-verbal actions. The character’s pantomime is truly animation in its purest form- comedy, action and emotion without the benefit of dialogue.

While he may not have the marquee value of Mickey or the blockbuster status of Olaf, Humphrey holds a special place for Disney and animation fans, who would gladly ignore all the signs and feed this bear…Bump! Bump!

14 Comments

  • I’ve noticed that Jack Hannah also did a animated cartoon series for Walter Lantz Productions with a bear character that looks exactly like Humphrey the Bear but was named Fatso called Eggnapper (1961) with Inspector Willoughby as the park ranger. Both Fatso and “Ranger” Willoughby were voice by Dal McKinnon. Other cartoons in the Fatso the Bear series were

    Hunger Strife (1960)

    And

    The Bears and the Bees (1961)

    Sadly the Fatso the Bear series weren’t as popular like Humphrey the Bear series.

    • As Leonard Maltin (1980, “Of Mice & Magic”) says, Yogi was similiar to this as well.

    • And now I’m just noticing author Michale Lyons’s acklowedgement of the apparnet in fluence on Yogi.

  • Flash forward to 1965- I’m pretty sure someone at Cambria remembered the Humphrey cartoons (Dave Detiege, maybe?) and did a bunch of those wretched New Three Stooges cartoons with the Stooges pitted against a bear (named “Tim Bear”. *ba-dum-tiss*).

  • Walt’s focus on Disneyland in the early 1950s — as with his focus on Latin America in the early/mid 1940s seemed to allow his directors more freedom to slip Warner Bros./MGM-style humor into the shorts. In the 40s, that was mainly Jack Kinney’s Goofy sports cartoons, while in the 50s it was Jack Hannah’s unit which too advantage of the greater freedom, with the Humphrey shorts being the main beneficiaries (though Hannah showed in a cartoon like “No Hunting” he could do Warners/Tex Avery-ish type comedy without Humphrey or Ranger Woodlore around (and of course, Tex was using Bill Thompson’s voice for Droopy long before it migrated over to the Disney studio).

  • Lyrics for the Humphrey Hop written by none other than Daws Butler.

    • And hey out there, there’s another conneciton to Yogi Bear! (And I thought Mary Poppins’s one turtle was the only Butler Disney voice.)

  • I wish Disney would release all the Humphrey cartoons on one DVD, plus Grand Canyonscape. Those were the funniest cartoons ever made at Disney studios.

  • He was also in an episode of Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers.

  • Most of the Humphrey/Ranger/Donald shorts were compiled in the TV program “The Ranger of Brownstone”. This was re-run and re-edited a few times on “The Wonderful World of Color” series and the subsequent titles by which the Disney anthology series was known. this program includes new animation plus new live-action/animated sequences–puts all of the shorts “in context” as so many of the Disney animated shows did. At the top of the hour there is a great animated bit, with a song, about the Opening Day of Brownstone National Park. It’s one of the better-done compilations, despite cutting out some of the best gags from “Rugged Bear.”

    It was released in this form on VHS, but I believe only the original shorts have been released on DVD. The VHS tape is worth a look.

  • It looks like “Hooked Bear” is a “cheater cartoon” of sorts, because it reuses the hunting scene from “Rugged Bear” at the end. It’s a disappointing, disjointed filler to an otherwise solid cartoon.

    • Still it kinda worked to joke on the sudden change in season with the Ranger simply not caring about Humphrey’s safety right there!

  • I always loved Humphrey’s tic where he would whimper and scurry in place until he hit upon an idea.

    Before it hit theaters, the “Humphrey Hop” actually made its debut TV’s Mickey Mouse Club, where the Mouseketeers performed the routine in bear suits. I heard that it was a nightmare for the kids in those costumes, and the show never did anything like that again.

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