CUBBY BEARMedium: Theatrical animation
Produced by: The Van Beuren Studio
First appeared: 1933
Creator: Mannie Davis
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studio when Van Beuren's minority partner, Paul Terry, split because he wanted no part of Van Beuren's profligate plans to add sound to all of the studio's cartoons
so minor, its biggest home-grown star was a virtual unknown named Cubby Bear.
Cubby has been called a blatant imitation of Mickey Mouse. He was that and more — actually, the cartoon stars Cubby was imitating go all the way back to animation's first superstar, Felix the Cat, the first designed as an easy-to-animate blob with a ball on top and rubber hoses for limbs. Replace Felix's pointy cat ears with long rabbit ears, and you have Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Replace Mickey's big, round mouse ears with a smaller, slightly off-round set, add a little fuzz, shorten his snout a bit, and that's Cubby. Other than the fact that Mickey was the leading cartoon character at the time, the only clear indication that he, specifically, was who Cubby was based on, was the fact that his shorts looked something like Mickey's. Mostly, tho, Cubby was merely a generic cartoon guy who did a few funny things but mostly had funny things happen to him.
Whoever he was imitating, Cubby was introduced in Opening Night, released February 10, 1933. Credit for his creation is usually given to animator Mannie Davis, who later followed Terry to the new studio and made a career out of Farmer Alfalfa, Dinky Duck, Little Roquefort and the like. Cubby achieved reasonable success; and within a few months Tom & Jerry (not the Tom & Jerry), who had hitherto been the studio's stars, were phased out.
Like most of the early Van Beuren cartoons, Cubby Bear's vehicles were distinguished by bizarre gags and surreal situations — much like those of the Fleischer Studio, which happened to be located across the street, and whose personnel often moonlighted for Van Beuren. But the Cubby Bear output was further distinguished by the fact that a couple of them were produced by the Hugh Harman/Rudy Ising outfit, fresh from its break with Warner Bros. At least one of the Harman/Ising Cubby Bear cartoons was never released, apparently because of conflicts between the two studios. Shortly afterward, Harman/Ising hooked up with MGM.
Cubby appeared in a total of 20 cartoons, the last of which was Fiddlin' Fun, released June 15, 1934. Even while he was current, the studio was starting to experiment with licensed properties — a series starring The Little King had been running since the previous September, and radio stars Amos & Andy had appeared in a couple of cartoons. Van Beuren's biggest non-licensed, post-Cubby star was Molly Moo Cow.
Cubby Bear was later released on 16-mm film, for home use, under the name Brownie Bear. He appeared on early television under both names. After TV went to color, he, like the studio he came from, was virtually forgotten for decades. More recently, all of his cartoons have become available on DVD, but these days, that doesn't make him much more of a star than he ever was.