Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Making of Mr. Bug

Critics and apologists have come up with all kinds of reasons the second and last Fleischer feature Mr. Bug Goes To Town was a failure (Variety used the terms “mediocre” and “meagre” to describe the film’s weekly take figures). Some blame the release coming around Pearl Harbor Day. Others say an unfair comparison to Disney influenced movie goers. Still others say it just wasn’t very entertaining.

Whatever the reason, Variety announced on January 23, 1942 the Fleischer Studio would no more make feature films. And, as fans of old cartoons likely know, Paramount soon swooped in and took over the studio.

The feature seems to have received an extensive PR build-up. Here’s a newspaper column from the National Enterprise Association. The film was completed on November 6, 1941. Within two weeks, Dave Fleischer was in Hollywood, allegedly scouting talent but likely looking for work (he was in charge of the cartoon department at Columbia five months later).

This was originally posted at the Golden Age Cartoon forums with better versions of the pictures. I no longer have them and could only find these weak copies.

500 Glamor Girls Required to Make Film Star at Miami
Oldest Cartoon Studio Is Bughouse These Days During $1,000,000 Production of ‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ To Be Released Near Christmas

(NEA Service Staff Correspondent)
MIAMI, Aug. 8—In Hollywood it takes one glamor girl to make a picture star. Here in Miami it takes 500.
The 500 girls are artists who draw cartoon characters — “stars” — stars for the Fleischer Studio, oldest movie cartoon makers and, next, to Disney, the biggest. And the fact that it takes 500 girls to create a character of only one of a multitude of differences between the set-up in a West Coast studio and the situation here.
For one thing, the Fleischer company is the only major movie concern to be established successfully outside the Hollywood area. It moved here in 1938, after 22 years in New York. For another, it manages to do business without any of Hollywood’s hullabaloo. Although it has one of Florida’s largest payrolls, most Miamians don’t even know of its existence.
The company, under the leadership of Dave and Max Fleischer, now has under way its second full-length production (first was “Gulliver’s Travels”), the biggest project in its history. Titled “Mr. Bug Goes to Town” and costing over $1,000,000, it may prove a minor milestone in the progress of movie cartooning. It is the first all-cartoon feature-length picture with a non-fantasy plot—production officials describe it as a “modern romantic comedy-drama”—and instead of human actors it has insects.
Most Artists Have Two Jobs
These insect actors are, in a sense, among the highest paid in the business. Hoppity, the Jimmy Stewart-type grasshopper hero, draws $5000 a week, and Honey Bee, who reminds you of a Deanna Durbin heroine, gets $3750. C. Bagley Beetle, the insect menace, makes $1750. At least, it’s fair to set down those sums as salaries, because that is what the artists who create these characters are paid for the time Hoppity, Honey and Mr. Beetle are actually “in production.”
As in Hollywood, 55 per cent of the Fleischer feature’s budget is earmarked for “talent.” But instead of going into the pockets of five or six big-name stars, the $550,000 is divided among the 700 artists, including 500 girls, who create, animate, ink and color the make-believe movie stars feature players and extras, as well as design the “sets,” which are painted backgrounds.
Most of the girl artists are “inkers,” whose precision work consists of inking in the outlines of the penciled sketches created by the top artists and animators. Their average age is only 23, and they’re the prettiest bevy of beauties that never saw the screen.
Few of them, however, have Hollywood ambitions. They like Miami and the studio, and they want to stay here.
Hardly a soul at the studio holds down less than two jobs. Artists suggest story ideas, gagmen do art work, every one gets his or her chance to become the “voice” of a cartoon character.
Veteran Fleischer employee Mike Meyer [photo to the right], for example, is the voice of a popular comic strip character as well as of Smack, the “dead-end” mosquito in “Mr. Bug Goes to Town.” But he’s also an idea man who creates stories and gags and sketches characters.
Teamwork keynotes studio activity. Conferences are constantly being held—not the fabled, interminable conferences West Coast movie magnates are forever holding, but short staff meetings for the making of decisions and interchanging of opinions.
Unlike Hollywood, a cartoon studio can’t afford retakes; each foot of cartoon film requires weeks, even months of work. So changes must be made before work begins on the “shooting script.”
Planning and producing a Fleischer cartoon is an elaborate process—“Mr. Bug Goes to Town” has been in production for over a year, although it won’t be released until Christmas time. Over a month was spent deciding on the general outline the story should follow, then three months creating characters, which means perfecting their appearances, action, voices.
A cartoon studio doesn't need to hunt for talent as Selznick did for “Gone With the Wind” and Paramount is now doing for “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” If it wants a certain type of actor for a particular role, it just draws him.
When the story outline is complete, Dave Fleischer, this studio’s producer and director, puts the pencil sketches in his “moviola”—a device of his own invention which rapidly turns the sheets of drawing paper, gives the effect of motion. Thus he can tell, how nearly the preliminary sketches come to the desired effect.
Revisions then are made, details added to the script, backgrounds designed and colors selected. All the speaking parts are filled and voices recorded, for animators use the sound to visualize action.
Then the animating side of movie cartoon-making really begins to move. Pencil drawings are made, 24 per second for each character. There are 24 “frames,” or squares of film, shown on the screen each second, so for every second a moving character is on the screen, 24 pencil drawings must be made. Girl inkers place transparent celluloids over the drawings, trace the lines in ink. Others, called “opaquers,” color these outlined characters. The present Fleischer feature is in that status now “Mr. Bug Goes to Town," when it gets there, will have used up six tons of specially-mixed paint, including 1500 colors and three times that number of shades.
Film Uses 600,000 Pictures
The various characters, inked and colored on celluloid, are then placed against the color backgrounds and photographed, frame by frame, onto film. An hour-long motion picture contains 86,400 frames, and “Mr. Bug Goes to Town” will contain slightly over 100,000—average for a feature-length picture. But into this will have gone close to 600,000 separate celluloid action pictures, 650 separate backgrounds. In all, including working sketches, more than 1,000,000 drawings will have been made.
Final process in movie cartoon-making includes transferring the pictures, dialogue, music, other noises, all of which are on different films, to one film. After this is done, cutting and editing ready the film for release.
That’s when beaming, bespectacled Dave Fleischer, who has his finger in every studio pie, breathes a sigh of relief and takes a plane to New York, where he was born 47 years ago. It’s characteristic of him that when he arrives he stays quietly at the same small Broadway hotel he lived at in less lush days.
It is largely because of Fleischer’s unassuming qualities that his studio lacks Hollywood atmosphere. But he says it is due to the studio’s location. “You get a chance to be natural here and to forget the picture business,” he says.


  1. Always thought the "Pearl Harbor" theory was bunk. People crave escapist entertainment during times of tragedy and uncertainty. Dumbo, released two months prior, continued to do brisk business. Likewise, The Sword and the Stone, and Monsters, Inc., coming out in the aftermaths of the Kennedy assassination and 9/11 respectively, were both huge successes.

    The most likely scenarios for Mr. Bug's failure are 1) the marketplace couldn't support two animated features at once (still true today), and 2) moviegoers were repulsed by the notion of insect protagonists.

  2. TC, there may have been another factor. I think the title didn't help. If people had seen Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Deeds, why would they want to see a Jimmy Stewart-esque bug in a movie with a rip-off title?

  3. The Wolf Man premiered the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, yet it managed to be a hit.

  4. Posting this simple statement nearly got me kicked out of a diehard animation group once, but I've always thought the reason MR. BUG failed might have had a lot to do with the fact that it simply isn't very good.

  5. It was a press release in December 1941. It wasn't available to the public until the following year. and not only that, in England it got a title change "Hoppity Goes to Town". In North America, Mr. Bug was part of a double feature alongside Sullivan's Travels.

    Here is the cartoon research link (and also check out Ray Pointer's comment):

    1. It was already being called "Hoppity Goes to Town" in England? That's been the longtime title that US audiences got stuck with later (in TV shows anyway). Understandable, given the above explaination of insects being the main characters.SC