MR. BUG GOES TO TOWN (aka HOPPITY GOES TO TOWN, aka BUGVILLE)Medium: Theatrical Animation
Produced by: Fleischer Studio
First Appeared: 1941
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When it first reached theatres in 1937, Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs sent shock waves through the animation industry. Other studios talked about producing features, and some even made moves that could be interpreted as moving in the direction of producing features but of all Disney's competitors, only Max Fleischer and his studio, producers of the Popeye cartoons, actually responded with a feature of their own. Fleischer's Gulliver's Travels was on the nation's screens only a couple of years later. As Disney followed up his success with with Pinocchio and then Fantasia (both 1940), Fleischer, too,
forged ahead. His Mr. Bug Goes to Town (later renamed Hoppity Goes to Town and still later Bugville) was released on December 9, 1941.
The Fleischer studio made a big contrast to Disney, so it isn't surprising that its cartoons were very different. Disney's Mickey Mouse could be pretty anarchic, especially in the early days, but Fleischer's Betty Boop was all that, plus she had an air of the forbidden about her. Disney's output dripped quality, but never really let loose, like, say, Tex Avery did. As one critic put it, Snow White looked like a fine picture book, but Hoppity Goes to Town looked like the Sunday funnies.
The story was about decent, honest people (who happened to be bugs) being threatened in their own homes by mammoth, impersonal forces, some of which had an economic component and all far beyond their control. Hoppity, a grasshopper, had recently returned to Bugville from a sojourn away, and was picking up his relationship with his old sweetheart, the lovely Honey, daughter of old Mr. Bumble, who was in danger of losing his honey shop to the rapacious real estate magnate, C. Bagley Beetle. Meanwhile, humans, who had recently been in the habit of trampling their homes and creating fire hazards with their smoking materials, were starting to look on Bugville's location as land ripe for development.
With America recently having been through the Great Depression, in which most people could relate directly to the insectoid folks' anguish, this would seem like a sure crowd pleaser. But things had been looking up recently. U.S. involvement in World War II was just starting, and was already beginning to usher the people into a new phase of their lives. It also suffered from Disney's having released Dumbo just a few weeks earlier. Whatever the reason, it was a financial flop.
This came at a time when the studio was already over-extended financially, having recently built a whole new headquarters in Miami and still in hock to Paramount Pictures (which distributed its cartoons) following Gulliver's release, and were paying an extraordinary amount for the special effects required in their Superman shorts. This setback proved the studio's undoing. The Fleischer brothers were ousted in a forced sale to Paramount, which continued their operation as Famous Studios, only without the creative spark that had made its '30s output so memorable.
But later generations have vindicated the product, at least, by continuing to keep the film alive as a commercially viable product, if not one that millions flock to see with every new release. The original title was a play on the 1936 film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town; and as memory of that faded, later releases used the less exact parallel Hoppity Goes to Town as their title. A few video releases in recent decades titled it Bugville. Under whatever name, it's a steady, if not spectacular seller.
Hoppity's voice was done by Stan Freed and Honey's by Pauline Loth, neither of whom is known for any other animated roles. Her father was Jack Mercer, a writer whose best-known voice role was Popeye, but who also did Katnip on occasiom. C. Bagley Beetle was Tedd Pierce, also a writer, mostly for Warner Bros. cartoons, who also did occasional minor voice work, such as Babbit or Bertie.
The film is seldom if ever seen in a theatrical re-release, but shows up occasionally in out-of-the-way television slots and is available on home video. Mostly, it stands as a very early example to show that Disney wasn't the only one who could make an enjoyable animated feature.