Suspended Animation #266
Spike the Bee is an appealing little character who appeared in a supporting role in several Disney animated shorts released during the 1950s.
In recent years, the Spike character has reappeared in episodes of the animated series Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (Goofy’s Bird, Minnie’s Bee Story, Mickey’s Little Parade) and in the Disney Channel Mickey Mouse short cartoons (Bee Inspired, New Shoes). In Bee Inspired, Spike continually disrupts Mickey from posing for Minnie’s painting. However, by the end, he saves Mickey from an angry swarm of bees.
In the Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers episode entitled Risky Beesness, there is a swarm of bees that resemble Spike.
Jack Hannah in my first interview with him told me that when he became a director on the Donald Duck shorts that “One of the first things I did was begin to find some foils for the Duck. There are only so many stories you can come up with for him but if you have a strong supporting cast that provides so many more interesting springboards for stories.
“We used a bee character we called ‘Buzz Buzz’ a lot to antagonize the Duck. Probably the idea was that the bee is a menace with that stinger as a weapon and is much smaller than the Duck so it would be funny having the little guy battling a big bully. You can get a funny sound effect out of a bee. They can cuss you out with that little bee noise.”
That bee-talk was the work of Disney sound effects expert Jimmy MacDonald who always found unusual solutions to difficult problems like creating the sound effect of Maleficient’s dragon breathing fire by using a military flame thrower.
For Spike and his bee companions, MacDonald made the sound of the bees by blowing through a rubber tube and rubbing on a taut rubber membrane stretched across an old wooden spool.
MacDonald told me, “This condom, which I had my young assistant buy for me at a drug store is the only thing exactly the right thickness and resonance that worked. I’m sure the manufacturer never thought it would make the sound of bees for a Walt Disney cartoon.”
The design for Spike owes a lot to Bill Justice who animated on most of Hannah’s cartoons especially the ones featuring Chip’n’Dale. In fact, Dale’s large clownish nose was borrowed for Spike to make the character more appealing and childlike.
If not for the fact that Disney was getting out of the business of making theatrical cartoons in the 1950s, Spike might have ended up with his own series like Pluto, Humphrey the Bear and others.
Here is a filmography of the classic cartoons that featured Spike:
Inferior Decorator (1948): Directed by Jack Hannah. Spike is pollinating flowers in the garden outside Donald’s house and mistakes the flowered wallpaper in the house for real flowers. He gets tormented by Donald but eventually invites the other bees from his hive inside to sting Donald’s rear end. The original title for the cartoon was Bees in Your Plants. The short was adapted into a one page story in rhyme drawn by Don Gunn in Walt Disney Comics and Stories #92 (1948)
Bubble Bee (1949): Directed by Charles Nichols. Pluto discovers that Spike is able to get into a bubble gum machine and pull out a gumball that he takes to his hive. While Spike is away, Pluto gorges himself on the gumballs and when the angry bee returns, Pluto defends himself with the bubbles he blows from the chewed gum including trapping the bee in one of them.
Honey Harvester (1949): Directed by Jack Hannah. Donald is working in his greenhouse when he notices a bee harvesting nectar. Donald tries various things to find the hive and eventually discovers it in the radiator of an old car. He drains the honey into jars and starts to leave when Spike catching him and adds a cactus needle to extend his stinger. Donald relents and returns the honey. Spike can be heard buzzing the song Whistle While You Work from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when he is harvesting. The short was adapted into a one page story in rhyme drawn by Harvey Eisenberg in Walt Disney Comics and Stories #99 (1948)
Slide, Donald, Slide (1949): Directed by Jack Hannah. Spike is listening to classical music on the radio pretending to be a conductor. Donald wants to listen to a baseball game and pretend he is a player. A battle ensues with the bee eventually winning.
Bee At the Beach (1950): Directed by Jack Hannah. Donald goes to spend a nice day at the beach but when he arrives he disrupts Spike trying to do the same. Once Donald gets comfortably in the ocean in an inflatable flotation ring, Spike attacks this inner tube, leaving Donald at the mercy of sharks.
Bee on Guard (1951): Directed by Jack Hannah. Spike is put in charge of guarding the hive that looks like a castle while the other bees go out to gather honey. He is tricked by Donald (wearing a bee costume) who steals the honey. The hive is run by a king bee rather than a queen as in real life.
Let’s Stick Together (1952): Directed by Jack Hannah. An elderly Spike recognizes an elderly Donald picking up litter in the park and it sparks memories of the first day they met. They do many jobs including mending clothing. Donald sold balloons at an amusement park but gets more money when Spike pops them and the kids have to buy another one. They get another job tattooing sailors. Spike falls in love with a bee girl and leaves Donald. All these years later he reconciles with Donald after his girlfriend who is now his wife have a marital spat.
The VHS Limited Gold Edition II released by Disney in 1985 entitled Donald’s Bee Pictures included Inferior Decorator, Honey Harvester, Slide,Donald,Slide, Window Cleaners, Bee at the Beach (replaced on some copies with Tea for Two Hundred with Donald battling ants), Bee on Guard, and Let’s Stick Together.
He also makes cameo appearances in Beezy Bear (1955) also directed by Hannah and the television episodes The Mad Hermit of Chimney Butte (1960) and The Ranger’s Guide to Nature (1966).
Of course, more aggressive bees have appeared in several Disney cartoons including The Band Concert (1935) where a bee disrupts the musical performance.
In fact, an earlier more rough-and-tumble design of a bee often identified as Spike despite a significantly different appearance was in Window Cleaners (1940) battling Donald Duck who is attempting to clean windows on a sky scrapper and Home Defense (1943) where Donald mistakenly thinks the buzzing sound is from enemy aircraft.