Animation History
July 24, 2014 posted by Jerry Beck

“Mr. Bug” and “Hoppity” Go To Town

mr-bug-lobby

While Steve Stanchfield takes a well-deserved break after a whirl-wind trip to LA this past week (he’ll be back next week with BIG news), I’ll fill in today by posting this fascinating email I just received from another “Steve” – Cartoon Research reader Steven Losie:

Recently, I had the chance to do some original research on old Hollywood films – “Mr. Bug Goes To Town” being one of them. Your readers might be interested to know that two commonly held beliefs concerning the film are probably bunk. Namely:

1) The film’s box office failure wasn’t a result of Pearl Harbor, and…

2) The film’s first commercial release wasn’t under the name “Mr. Bug Goes To Town”.

What’s the evidence?

I’ll start with the trade mags. According to the December 3, 1942, issues of Variety and Film Daily, “Mr. Bug Goes To Town” would be having its first screening the following day–three days before Pearl Harbor, consistent with common knowledge.

Clipping from Variety, December 3rd, 1941

Clipping from Variety, December 3rd, 1941


But this wasn’t its general release premiere. This was an invitation-only press screening. In Variety, it was listed under the “Tradeshows” section. Film Daily announced that the New York City screening that day would be held “at the 20th Century Fox projection room.” Like today’s press screenings, this was a pre-release event held regionally to give critics a jump on their reviews in time for the film’s imminent commercial debut, and for exhibitors to decide whether or not to book the film.

Based on this preview, trade mags Variety, Film Daily, and BoxOffice all published reviews of the film the following week. All three gave “Mr. Bug” positive notices, and predicted a hit.

“Mr. Bug” wasn’t heard from again until the end of the year, when Film Daily announced a special December 30th New York screening for “the children of movie press folks.” Three days later, an ad ran in the L.A. Times listing “Mr. Bug” among Paramount Pictures’ films “Coming Soon”. By the end of 1941, the public at large still hadn’t been given a chance to see the film.

The premiere US engagement of "Mr. Bug" from the Thursday February 12th issue of the Los Angeles Times

The premiere US engagement of “Mr. Bug” from the Thursday February 12th issue of the Los Angeles Times


And the Fleischer brothers still hadn’t been given a chance to see if their film was a hit. According to several latter-day accounts, both Max and Dave were gone from their namesake studio by the end of 1941 and, thus, before the film’s commercial release. Paramount then took over their studio. If this timeline of events is correct, then this had all the makings of an awfully awkward Hollywood premiere for the Fleischer/Paramount collaboration.

So what did Paramount do? They released “Mr. Bug” first in the UK instead. According to the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, and others, on January 23, 1942, the film premiered at London’s Carlton Theatre. But not under the name “Mr. Bug Goes To Town”. It premiered under a different name. That name? Why, “Hoppity Goes To Town”, of course.

As way of explanation, according to the January 29, 1942, edition of The Guardian:

“One of the peculiarities of difference between the English and American languages has just cropped up in the case of a film, the original title of which was Mr. Bug Goes To Town. . .[W]hile in the American language ‘bug’ is a generic term for all kinds of insects and carries no unpleasant implications, things are very different in this country, where the word has acquired a specialised meaning associated with slums and other unpleasant things.”

The film was fairly successful at the Carlton, playing there for four straight weeks. But back in the States, Paramount all but disowned the film. Its American premiere, according to the L.A. Times, came on Thursday, February 12, 1942, at the Paramount Theater, under the original “Mr. Bug” title. L.A. Times critic Edwin Schallert published a mixed review the following day.

The film’s debut was so momentous that “Mr. Bug” wasn’t even the main attraction at its own American premiere. It was the second half of a double bill with “Sullivan’s Travels”, a film that had premiered two weeks earlier in New York City. Worried that I might have missed an earlier premiere date, I combed through all contemporary L.A. periodicals I had at my disposal, but could find no evidence of any earlier public premiere in the area, and the L.A. Times review date of February 13th almost certainly confirms it. For further confirmation, Variety also listed the film with a “Week of 2/12/42″ release date in its “Film Booking Chart” section over the following months.

After only seven days, “Mr. Bug” disappeared from L.A.’s Paramount. The next day, February 19th, it first appeared in New York at the Loew’s State Theatre, and was reviewed by all the major New York newspapers the following morning. This time around, it was the main attraction, but again, it only played for a single week.


As for the “Mr. Bug/Hoppity” issue, this brings up an interesting aside alluded to earlier. Since the “Hoppity” name came about years before commonly believed, you might want to check your remastered Japanese DVD release of “Hoppity Goes To Town”. (I don’t have one.) It’s possible it’s a remastered TV print prepared by NTA in the 1950s. But it might also be an original 1942 overseas print, a hidden treasure contemporary with the American “Mr. Bug” print recently remastered by the UCLA Film Archives.

It also puts it into perspective: the film possibly wasn’t renamed by NTA or anybody else during subsequent re-releases. It’s likely that the re-releases were just made using an overseas print, perhaps because it was more readily available in either Paramount’s or someone else’s archive, and, thus, the alternate title has propagated ever since.

The original 1942 British release poster for "Hoppity Goes To Town"

The original 1942 British release poster for “Hoppity Goes To Town”

This might not be news to you, but all this information was new to me!

And I thank you for taking the time to document it for all of us (Steve sent me all the clippings cited above to back up his research). Mr. Bug Goes To Town is one of my favorite animated films – and its neglect is a huge oversight in he history of animation. I’m always glad to help set the record straight.

18 Comments

  • Jerry:
    Fascinating post! Personally I would have preferred the Mr. Bug reference, paying homage to Jimmy Stewart (Mr.Smith Goes to Washington) However,I can also see where the “bug” word in England could pose problems.Interesting that a word we in America basically take for granted would have such negative connotations overseas Thanks again for the post!

    • Title is more of a homage to “Mr Deeds Goes To Town” with Gary Cooper.

    • Just look at “Shag” next time you’re not thinking of a type of carpet. :-P

  • This is great detective work, Jerry. Now the question is whether Mr. Bug got a fair shake in the marketplace or did Paramount dump it? It would have been embarrassing if the film had been a hit and Paramount had fired the people who made it. The film’s success also might have made the Fleischers more attractive to other studios and they could have ended up competing against Famous Studios.

    • Dumpage seems likely. If the film had been a big hit, would that have given the Fleischers legal grounds as well as a financial incentive to put up a fight?

      I’ve read that in modern Hollywood it was (and still is?) common for new executives to shut down or bury projects by immediate predecessors. On the one hand, it’s a way to imply the predecessors’ work was too bad to release. On the other, it’s insurance against the potential embarrassment you describe.

  • Well, that clears a lot up, putting more questions to why Max and Dave left Paramount……………
    Now all of the Fleischer history books are out of date.

  • If it has the slug “A NTA release,” then, quite obviously, it’s not from a Paramount retitling.

    While a successful MR. BUG certainly might have changed things for Max or Dave, by Dec. 1941 the two brothers were not going to be working together under any circumstances—no matter what the outcome.

  • The title for it’s release in Argentina and Latin America (I provided a clip of Fernando Martín Peña presenting the film) is CASTILLOS EN EL AIRE, or “Castles in the Air”.

  • The Pearl Harbor argument never seemed likely to me. The Wolf Man was released December 12, 1941, and was a considerable hit, sparking the 1940s wave of Universal horror films. If that could do well, a colorful, pleasant film like Mr. Bug ought to have been a sure thing.

  • To Dale:
    You’re right about that! I wasn’t up on my movie knowledge like I thoguht I was! Like the kids say.MY BAD! Thanks for steering me straight!

  • Fascinating post! This is all news to me as well.

    My question is, where did the title “Bugville” originate? And for what reason? My “Mr. Bug” DVD bears that title, with no explanation for the change.

    Also–it would be interesting to see a discussion of the film itself, which is on many levels a remarkable piece of animation, especially for its day.

    Any info on the general critical and public reaction of the time?
    Did it make ANY impact at all?

  • The Japanese R2 DVD release that was made available courtesy of Ghibli appears to use a print similar to the one used for the 80′s VHS releases though obviously much cleaner and includes the 1970′s NTA logo at the start.

  • A most interesting and informative read. Thanks, Steven, and thanks, Jerry, for posting it!

  • There were other occasions where U.S. movie titles required revision to work around English sensibilities. Al Jolson’s feature “Hallelujah I’m a Bum” went to UK cinemas as “Hallelujah I’m a Tramp” (“bum” being slang for “posterior,” as any Monty Python fans around here already know).

  • That it premiered in England might explain the reference to English currency (“Quid”), in the song “Katie Did”.

  • Oh, bugger! Wow. As someone who snapped up Cabarga’s ‘The Fleischer Story’ in 1976, I realize it now needs another addendum. Even more time has passed of course, so we’ll probably never get the real story on why the movie was released so shabbily. We can speculate, but not know.

  • Simply incredible to have this come to light after all these years. And it certainly opens a new perspective on what title should be on this film should Mr. Stanchfield decide to press forward with making a Blu-Ray release.

  • While Hoppity may have been scuttled by Paramount, being on a double bill with one of the brilliant Preston Sturges’s most successful films, Sullivan’s Travels, is not quite like being dumped in the trash.
    This pairing actually makes some kind of sense since a major plot point of the film has Hollywood director John L. Sullivan convicted and sentenced to a chain gang but ultimately redeemed when the prisoners are shown a Disney cartoon, Playful Pluto.

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