Disney has, for many years, had kind of an unsettling balance between anthropomorphized animals and animal-like animals. The traditional “Mickey Mouse has a pet dog” discussion. And I think the weirdest examples of this are cartoons where animals living in the wild interact with animals living like humans, or in this case actual humans. Is there a reason that these bears don’t live in houses? We’ll never know. We just pretend it all makes sense.
This is actually the last Humphrey the Bear short released in the theatres. Humphrey is lying around in Brownstone National Park with the other bears. Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore is disgusted—it’s the end of the tourist season, and the tourists have left the park a mess. Obviously, the solution is to get the bears to clean up the park, because Woodlore is the only human employee, I guess? Anyway, the bears don’t want to clean up the park, so first, Woodlore makes it a game. The bears figure this out. Then, he decides to bribe them with food. The other bears all dump their trash in Humphrey’s patch, and he is left to clean it all up.
So I guess the question is—no. There are lots of questions. But we’ll start with, “Is Woodlore really dumb enough so he doesn’t notice that the other bears have not done their share?” He hasn’t provided waste disposal, so where does he think those bears put the trash? Where does he expect Humphrey to put his? But no, the burden’s all on Humphrey. Come to that, maybe—just maybe—the tourists left all their trash everywhere is the lack of proper waste disposal?
Okay, so the bigger question is “why bears?” If you were looking for a work force to clean a national park, would bears be your choice? I mean, okay. Bears can be drawn as human-sized without too much effort, and they’ve got something much more closely resembling hands than, say, deer. But are there no humans? This is a thing I’ve noticed about the various Woodlore cartoons, and we’ll be looking at other Woodlore cartoons. There are no other humans in them. When it comes down to doing it himself or letting the bears do it for him, I suppose Woodlore’s choice is a bit more logical.
Even the littering tourists are just a group of roaring cars in this one; it isn’t even that they’re not given personalities. It’s that they aren’t even given faces. I don’t think the Disney animators intended it to be any sort of metaphor for the careless destruction of the environment, but of course Smokey Bear (the “the” is not officially part of the name) gets a cameo, preventing Humphrey from burning the trash. After all, Woodsy Owl wouldn’t be created for some fifteen years. So who knows? The point remains that it’s an anthropomorphized world with only one human in it.
In the end, Woodlore isn’t wrong that the trash needs to be picked up. It’s just perverse that his solution is bears. It’s also odd that none of them quite talk; Humphrey and the others make grunting noises in which we can glean intent but not dialogue. I’m not quite so fond of Humphrey as many other people are, but I’ve always disliked this particular cartoon. It’s not fair to him.
Help me afford a nice trip to a national or state park with my kids; consider supporting my Patreon!