ANIMATION ANECDOTES
May 8, 2020 posted by Jim Korkis

Spike the Bee

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.

24 Comments

  • On one hand it’s interesting to speculate how Spike, along with Humphrey Bear, Ranger Woodlore etc. may have fared had Disney not dramatically reduced its cartoon output.

    Unfortunately we do have an idea of what might have happened – because of Jack Hannah being given the welcome mat by Walter Lantz to make theatrical cartoons.

    Ranger Woodlore morphed into Ranger/Inspector Willoughby.

    Chilly Willy, the Beary Family and Hickory, Dickory & Doc were other series Jack Hannah worked on.

    In 1977 I was watching “The New MIckey Mouse Club” every weekday where Disney cartoons played most days – complete with individual credits (albeit at the end of the show).

    That is when I first began to recognise individual styles such as Jack Hannah, Jack Kinney etc.

    On Saturday afternoons I watched “The Woody Woodpecker Show” and was especially excited when I saw the Jack Hannah name appear. However by the end of the cartoon, I too often felt deflated by the just average result.

    Even the Jack Kinney Popeye 1960 TV cartoons with minimum budgets also airing on weekdays at that time at least were often more interesting at seemingly trying to make an effort.

    Sources have indicated that Hannah was despondent by his stay at Lantz, but he was also paired off at times with one of his funny ex Disney co-worker writers Al Bertino (as well as Dick Kinney). Even ex Disney Ray Huffine was often in the act.

    Maybe Walt Disney’s minimal input into the short subject cartoon output during the early 1950’s (when not being distracted by live action, parks, True Life, TV etc) was still the major catalyst decider on Jack Hannah’s quality output.

    • Jack told me he loved working with Lantz who he felt was an outstanding guy and very supportive. Lantz even allowed Jack to bring over some of his crew from Disney when Disney cut their shorts staff. However, Jack was disappointed that he was never given a sufficient budget or time to do what he had done at Disney. One of the things he did do was sometimes send the submitted scripts back for a rewrite (since he had been a storyman at Disney) which angered the writers who were used to just giving anything to Lantz, getting paid and moving on. Finally, Jack just got so frustrated that he left. Lantz would have kept him forever since Jack was able to turn out the cartoons on budget and on deadline which is all Lantz wanted from directors.

    • Unfortunately?! While I’d admit Hannah seemed to feel a bit board at Lantz because of the studio not having the luxury as Disney, I thought his output was way better than slowly rapid decline of Smith. Besides, after that, he briefly worked at Clampetts which seemed a bit more his fancy (working mainly on the Harecules Hare bits).

    • Jack told me he loved working for Clampett as well but that Clampett was crazy. The Harecules Hare was a half hour pilot and the only thing Jack worked on for Clampett. When Clampett needed more material for Beany and Cecil, he cut the pilot up into segments to use as separate cartoons. He laughed that he got credit on the entire series because Clampett wanted more names in the credits so it seemed like a bigger studio. Clampett told me he liked working with Jack and wished Hannah had done more work but by that time Jack had drifted off into doing landscape oil paintings that were getting exhibited at art galleries.

  • I’m having trouble visualising Jimmy MacDonald’s bee-buzzing apparatus from your description of it, but I marvel at his ingenuity. I always assumed he used a kazoo. When I was young I discovered that a very nice buzzing effect could be achieved by blowing into the open end of an empty Good and Plenty box; however, this didn’t work with Good and Fruity, even though they were manufactured by the same company, and the box was presumably made of the same material. My guess is that the candy coating of Good and Fruity was slightly stickier and therefore impeded the resonance of the box.

    I for one would love to read more anecdotes about the cartoon sound effects men in the old days, before the medium was taken over by digital sampling.

    • There’s a lot of footage from the 1980s of Jimmy showing his devices, including, if I recall, the buzzing bee thing.

    • Thanks, Tony. I found an old clip of him demonstrating the bee-buzzer on David Letterman’s show.

    • Jimmy appeared on the Late Night with David Letterman and the segment was used as the preshow for the Monster Sound Show (an audience participation attraction starring Chevy Chase and Martin Short) at what is now Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. He demonstrates the bee buzzing sound device as what he used as the voice for Evinrude in The Rescuers.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sn6MFI7-gjQ&pbjreload=10

  • I still remember watching that Wonderful World Of Disney episode with Donald and Jiminy Cricket where Spike was called ‘Buzz-Buzz’.

  • Hey Jim,
    Is that Spike in “The Plight of the Bumble Bee” Mickey cartoon that was never finished? It uses Jim MacDonald’s bee voice and adds hiccups to it for a drunken effect. Would this be admitted to the Spike the Bee canon if it had been completed? Thanks for your post!

    • Omigosh! I completely missed that connection. Even though the bee in PLIGHT is called “Hector”, the cartoon was made at the height of Spike’s usage and it seems pretty much on model for the Spike character that they were still calling “Buzz Buzz” at the time.

      Of course, Disney was never consistent. Spike stings a lot but honey bees do not (except for the queen) and die after one sting but bumblebees do sting alot. Yet Spike is very much associated with collecting honey. (I guess it is like sometimes Donald Duck can have teeth.) My opinion is that Mark Kausler is a genius and that “Hector” was a version of Spike. Thanks for making me smile today with this perceptive revelation.

  • Was Bee At The Beach ever controversial at one time? In addition to the replacement on the Donald’s Bee Pictures VHS, it was also placed in the “From the Vault” section when it was released on the Disney Treasures.
    I can’t imagine what would be objectionable in this one.

    • That’s something I wondered about as well. The only thing I could see is when Donald tells Spike to “Drop Dead!” Maybe a parent complained.

  • My mind went to “Sea Salts”, which echoed “Let’s Stick Together” by introducing Donald as an old sailor and an ant as his lifelong buddy. The ant then narrated their adventures as castaways. I think the ant turned up at least a few other times, and at least once on the anthology show as Von Drake’s sidekick.

    Ants were pretty busy in cartoons. Likewise fleas. Flies would turn up as pests, but occasionally played heroes opposite spiders. Worms would elude birds and sometimes take a proactive role as fish bait. The one mosquito cartoon I remember from boomer youth was a Warner title — I now think it was recycled gags and animation from a Private Snafu.

    Porky Pig’s silkworm was one of a kind. A Japanese caricature with a pair of knitting needles, he caused women’s undergarments to appear in Porky’s hands.

  • There’s a bee that is much closer to being Spike than those two cartoons mentioned. He’s in Pluto’s Blue Note. Much more anthropomorphic than the previous bee. Perhaps he could be referred to,a# Proto Spike.

    • What a great eye (and memory) you have. The bee who appears briefly in the first minute or so of PLUTO’S BLUE NOTE does indeed look like a “proto Spike”…the head is smaller, the legs are longer and thinner but overall this unnamed character has the small coloring and general facial characteristics.

      People get all excited about finding “Hidden Mickeys” but thanks to you and Kausler I am now searching for “Hidden Spikes”.

  • I find it interesting how similar Spike’s head is designed to Mickey’s head. Disney already knew Mickey Mouse was appealing, so he used essentially the same face on a different potential star character! Remove the bowling balls, add antenna and voila! …a new character!

    • I agree with you on the face being similar to Mickey’s including that “M” shape over the eyes. For a relatively unknown supporting character, there is certainly more to be discovered about the character. Thanks for the comment.

  • Sorry Jim I have to disagree with you regarding “Disney was getting out of the business of making theatrical cartoons in the 1950s” There was shorts produced in the 60’s too such as Litterbug, Donald, and The Wheel , Aquamaina, and the two Goofy Freeway shorts (narrated by Paul Frees) both releases months apart in ’65 It’s true that rather alot of these shorts were of an educational variety, yet they still count in the field of short subjects.

    • The point is that Disney shut down regular production of the shorts in the 50s. Up until 1956, they produced 12-15 shorts a year. After that, shorts were only made sporadically, most often to go along with one of Disney’s feature films. The animated features were largely what kept the animation department alive after 1956.

  • To each his own. Personally, bee-sting gags in cartoons give me the creeps, even when Donald asks for it. At least I don’t think we ever see Donald suffer the grotesquely rendered welts as we do in a couple of MGM cartoons and a Roger Rabbit short involving bees. Admittedly, the natural reality (as you know from grade school bee-ology, male bees don’t have stingers, but of course cartoons usually call for some suspension of dis-bee-lief.) does present dramatic possibilities which as far as I know have never been mined in animation. Evidently, a real honeybee doesn’t realize it can’t hit and run the way its cartoon counterpart can, as it twists around trying to release the barbed stinger from the victim and fly away without disemboweling itself. One example of nature’s inherent sadism.

  • One of the worst Disney cartoon characters ever in my eyes. I don’t see anything appealing or interesting about this bee whatsoever. The cartoons where Donald was battling small insects or animals were some of my least favorite ones in general.

    • At least they were WAY better than most Daffy and Speedy shorts.

    • Likely, but most things are.

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