Disney Cartoon #15, CinemaScope Special: Bearly Asleep" (August 19, 1955)
by Albert Gutierrez
Howdy, readers! As we near the end of April, we're reaching the midpoint of my CinemaScope Special series as I cover a fifth cartoon. In a cosmic twist of irony, I pull number four out of the hat! How is that ironic? Well, the cartoon, "Bearly Asleep," is all about bears going into hibernation for the winter. And yet, here we are, one day before Easter, a celebration of life and rebirth! On the plus side, at least I didn't pull out number three, "No Hunting," a cartoon whose violence caused it to be placed in the "From the Vault" section of the DVD it's in!
In this short cartoon, Donald Duck is a ranger at the park, and he's waving goodbye to the tourists at the end of the summer season. His wailings of goodbye get the attention of the bears, and they all cut in front of Donald in order to wave goodbye as well. An unseen narrator then tells viewers that since the season is over, the bears must now go into hibernation. The bears line up in formation and are prepared to march. On their way to the hibernation cave, Donald and the bears come across Humphrey, napping in a hammock. A quick kick in the pants gets Humphrey out of the hammock and at the back of the line. After the bears settle into their cave, Donald heads off to his own cabin. However, Humphrey's continuous distractions during hibernation annoy the other bears, and they kick him out, rolling a stone at the entrance so he can't get in. Humphrey first tries to sleep inside a log, only for a rabbit to also kick him out. He sees another cave and enters, but runs out immediately when a train comes barreling out!
He soon sees Donald's cabin, and the bunk bed that would be perfect for him. Knocking on the door, Humphrey fakes sleepwalking into the bunk bed, with Donald watching incredulously. He soon catches on to Humphrey and kicks him out, but the bear manages to sneak back in. Now, he simply has to keep Donald from finding him. First he hides in the shower, then in the over, but eventually is found out. A chase ensues and Donald kicks him out once again, along with other bear-related things in the cabin. Among them are a teddy bear with a baby bonnet, and a basket. Humphrey gets the ingenious idea to wear the bonnet and get in the basket, pretending to be a baby bear. He knocks on the stone at the cave's entrance, and the other bears find "baby" Humphrey there. They bring him in for hibernation, allowing him to finally rest over the winter.
What I really loved about this cartoon was the ingenuity of Humphrey. He's often portrayed as a rather dumb and lazy bear in his shorts. I've even called him dim and absent before. It was part of his appeal, and allowed for a broader variety of gags to be portrayed in the shorts. But this short shows that when necessary, Humphrey could outsmart anyone in order to get what he wants. Despite being billed as a Donald short, Humphrey really is the star. It was part of a way to help develop his popularity, and a year later, Humphrey did get his own short-lived series.
I also really like the use of CinemaScope in this short, or rather, the lack of it at times. In a couple shots, Humphrey is in an enclosed space, and the filmmakers wisely stage the shot so that we only see Humphrey in the enclosed space. The claustrophobic nature of the shots help to emphasize the scale of CinemaScope and also serve to enhance the story. It's not exactly a new trick, but one that's utilized well here.
"Bearly Asleep" is only available on DVD in "Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald, Volume Four." By my count, I'll be saying that three more times, as three more CinemaScope cartoons are found only in that set, with one more in "Disney Rarities." Hopefully when those opportunities come up in the following weeks, I can make it more inventive and fun. For the time being, the rhymes-with-ZooChoob is the other way to check out these cartoons. Maybe I'll just find other ways to rhyme that word. This week's rhyme: MooStoob!