BONGO BEAROriginal medium: Prose fiction
Published in: Cosmopolitan magazine
First Appeared: 1930
Creator: Sinclair Lewis
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When we think of the ongoing Disney characters, the ones that first come to mind are Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Goofy. But for every Winnie the Pooh or Uncle Scrooge, there are dozens that never quite made it — Pablo Penguin, Humphrey Bear, Elmer Elephant They made a
valiant effort with Bongo Bear, still trying, laconically at least, to promote him decades later, but he's another that the public simply failed to embrace.
Bongo first appeared in the short story "Little Bear Bongo", by Sinclair Lewis, which appeared in the September, 1930 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. His introduction as a toon was in the feature Fun & Fancy Free, released September 27, 1947. Like the majority of Disney features of the 1940s, it consisted of more than one segment, and it's the other, Mickey & the Beanstalk, that the feature is mostly remembered for. Maybe the fact that Mickey, Donald and Goofy teamed up for the first time in ten years (and the last for over 50 more) in the Beanstalk adventure contributed to overshadowing Bongo's (no relation) introduction, thus hobbling his send-off. Whatever the reason, he fizzled.
Bongo was a talented young bear who started out in a circus. He wore a spiffy outfit, juggled, rode a unicycle, and got wild applause from the crowds. But when the applause ended, he was treated the way Stromboli the showman treated Pinocchio, thrown unceremoniously into a cage and ignored, while the circus folks enjoyed the proceeds of his act. But he escaped, rode his unicycle off into the forest, and never saw the circus again.
At first, he wasn't sure he'd made the right decision. It was hard to sleep with all those scary outdoor sounds. He didn't know what bears were supposed to do. (Chip'n'Dale, who hadn't yet become stars, made a walk-on to laugh at him for trying to climb a tree.) He even failed in his attempt to emulate another bear, and catch a fish to eat. Only when he met a lovely young she-bear named Lulubelle did he begin to see worthwhile aspects to his new lifestyle. He had a rival for her hand, a huge bully of a bear named Lumpjaw, but his circus tricks enabled him to defeat the larger foe; and he and Lulubelle lived happily ever after.
The movie was followed by a Little Golden Book titled Bongo, and by a few new adventures in Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, starting in the 82nd issue (July, 1947). Even after those adventures stopped, he made occasional guest appearances — his forest was the same one inhabited by The Seven Dwarfs, Li'l Bad Wolf, the Brer Rabbit characters and other forest-dwelling Disney creatures. Starting in 1956, he had a series of stories in the back pages of Dell Comics' Scamp series. At the same time, Dell devoted two issues of its catch-all Four Color Comics series to a Bongo & Lumpjaw title, but they didn't sell well enough to warrant a third. He was spotted in comic books as recently as 1971 — Gold Key Comics starred him in one of that year's issues of of Walt Disney Showcase. There's an echo of him even today, as Lumpjaw remains a heavy among the forest characters. But the little guy with the unicycle hasn't been seen in years.
Bongo was likeable enough, but he didn't catch on, and Disney has even let its rights to Lewis's story lapse in some countries. Nowadays, he's like Peter Pig, Little Hiawatha and Clara Cluck — one of hundreds of old-time Disney characters the majority of people have never heard of.