It is my considered opinion that J. Audubon Woodlore (Bill Thompson) is a lousy ranger. I mean, no ranger deserves to deal with Donald Duck, Aquatic Sociopath quite so much as Woodlore does, but let’s leave that aside. In this short, he tells Donald to keep his bees on his own property. Now, I am fully aware that the state of forestry in 1955 held some prominent differences from the state of forestry today. Science marches on. That’s fine. But I feel like we knew in 1955 that bees could be kind of helpful to an ecosystem?
Donald (Clarence Nash) has land next to the national park. (Presumably this is, as usual, Brownstone.) He’s a beekeeper. Humphrey (Jimmy MacDonald) is interested, because bears like honey. Donald doesn’t want his hives broken into. He actually gets Woodlore to do an actual, honest-to-Gods bear lineup, which doesn’t help because “they all look alike.” He and Humphrey have a battle of wits over the whole thing, which is basically therefore a pair of unarmed combatants.
The fact is, if these were actual wild bears as opposed to the sentient-but-mute ones in these cartoons, the fault would clearly be Donald’s. Bears are not in general familiar with the concept of the property line, and there simply isn’t bear-proof fencing between Donald’s land and the park, and Donald’s hives are right next to the fence. It’s yet another example of the fuzzy boundaries in Disney shorts between Pet and Person. Not that wild bears are pets—but that’s another issue, really, because they might as well be pets in these shorts.
I’ll even agree that it’s not unreasonable of Donald not to want bears in his beehives. He’s farming, essentially, or ranching if you prefer that terminology, and he’s not wrong to want to keep the honey—and presumably wax, but since Humphrey isn’t interested in wax it doesn’t come up—he gets from the hives. My intense dislike of Donald aside, it does make sense that he doesn’t want bears stealing it. However, I feel as though the absolute minimum he needs to do is put up proper fencing, and a couple of strands of barbed wire, especially in the Disney universe, doesn’t cut it.
This is possibly the only Humphrey short where I genuinely feel he’s just acting on his instincts. Sure, in a particularly clever way that a real bear wouldn’t, but he is, at the base, being a bear. He likes honey. There are easily accessible beehives. He goes after them. Yes, he’s clever enough to pretend to take a bath when he’s in the water hiding from the bees—a running joke of which I am fond—but he’s not operating machinery or what have you. He’s just a bear. It’s unjust of Woodlore to blame him instead of Donald.