I like Humphrey the Bear. Considerably more than I like J. Audubon Woodlore, who’s frankly kind of a jerk. This, along with “In the Bag,” is one of the two cartoons released with the pair of them where they don’t interact with any other Disney characters—Humphrey first appeared in the Goofy short “Hold that Pose,” and Woodlore first appeared in two 1954 cartoons, one of which we’ve already covered—the Cinemascope short “Grand Canyonscope,” both with Donald Duck. I feel confident there would have been more, had this not been at about the time Disney gave up on making shorts for theatrical release, a decision I still wish they hadn’t made.
It’s fishing season at Brownstone National Park. Woodlore’s job is to make sure the anglers are happy by stocking the lake; there’s even a clever sight gag where he plants fish in a trough from a packet of seeds. Humphrey, meanwhile, is just trying to get some fish himself. However, the gods are just not with him. Woodlore insists that he fish like a bear, but Humphrey comes up with about six other ways of fishing like a human instead, none of which end up working out for him for whatever reason.
As I’ve said before, part of the problem is that Humphrey is in a different part of the Anthropomorphism spectrum from the various major Disney characters. He is not fully there, not like Mickey and the others—Humphrey wears no clothes, speaks no human language, holds no job. He lies around in the forest. But he’s clearly intelligent, has opposable thumbs, and can communicate his wants and needs. It’s frankly unsettling to me that Woodlore seems to have no moral objection to hunting season in a park full of intelligent bears with names. Humphrey is even a little above Pluto—opposable thumbs, for one—and Pluto is given more agency by the other characters.
So should Humphrey fish like a bear? Well, I’m willing to hear an argument that Woodlore shouldn’t just feed him—though he’s certainly willing to put him to work in another short—but there’s no reason he should get mad at Humphrey for using a rod and reel to fish, if he can. Humphrey’s even clever enough to use a fake shark fin to scare the anglers away from the water and steal their catches, even if no one’s clever enough to remember that they’re fishing in a freshwater lake.
The cartoon strongly suggests that the point of a National Park is to be used by humans; the only reason Woodlore stocks the lakes and so forth is for the anglers, and once fishing season is open, so what if the lake is empty? (And of course fishing season is followed in the park by hunting season, and I doubt Woodlore’s got a pack of bear seeds back in that rack.) Also, the whole thing reminds me of the live-action thing I watched with my five-year-old (actually, it was shortly before his birthday) called “Yellowstone Cubs” and how no one in all of Yellowstone couldn’t seem to follow a “do not feed the bears” sign. Maybe everyone was expecting Humphrey, who was well known enough at the time to appear in the opening credits of The Mickey Mouse Club.