Release date: 10/11/41
The version we see is the Blue Ribbon re-issue of 7/12/52
You can watch a better-than-average TV version HERE.
The original credits for this cartoon may or may not have had Fred Avery listed as supervisor. Like many Warner Brothers cartoons, this one lost its original credits when reissued 11 years after its first run, at which time Avery was winding down his time at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Bug Parade was the last thing on his mind then, unless he happened to go see a movie in mid-July 1952 and saw it as part of the program.
Bug Parade was probably titled The Bug Parade in its 1941 release, in a reference to the 1925 silent war film The Big Parade, King Vidor's epic drama of the First World War. The punny title hung on a cartoon with no connection to that cast-of-bazillions film. It would have gotten a laugh from older theatergoers who might have seen the original run, or the film's 1931 reissue with a musical score.
We open with a complex display of insect transit, as our narrator, who sounds like Robert C. Bruce but may not be him, comments in that sunny, condescending tone we've come to expect.
"The Garden of the Moon," a winsome tune by Harry Warren, Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer (and from the 1938 picture of the same name) underscores this ground-level pageant. Narrator promises us of "little-known facts in the lives of these tiny creatures."
"First, the musta domestica, or common house fly..."
Narrator notes that the fly's ability to walk on the ceiling is due to tiny
suction cups supplied by Mother Nature. So, of course...
"Although the fly appears to have two eyes, our microscopic lens shows that they
are composed of thousands of smaller eyes."
Fly's utterance of "I seeee you" still evokes a chill.
As do those countless eyes all blinking at once.
Horseflies, narrator tells us, are noted for "their impossible speed."
"Here is the vespa germanica, or wasp..."
Carl Stalling's music cue is "If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight,"
always a gateway to gags of a bawdy nature. Narrator goes on about the
wasp's tiny waist, which causes the insect to strut her stuff...
Girdle malfunction occasions some delightful drawings.
"The queen bee is noted for her ability to lay many eggs
at one time." We know what's coming.
The "whew" of effort spent is always funny.
The vibe of this cartoon is more sedate and collected than prior spot-gag cartoons.
The energy of Avery's earlier and later cartoons isn't here.
Tree spider noted for its ability to snare victims much larger than self in web.
Indeed. Poses of bovine struggle ensue...
"This is hard to believe, isn't it?"
...and back to sein kampf.
The firefly "is supplied by Mother Nature with
its own source of illumination."
Unlit bug "didn't pay my light bill last month."
"Caterpillars are interesting little fellas...
...they propel themselves by use of numerous little legs."
Handshaking and greeting orgy occurs.
Orgy repeated with opposite hands. It goes on juuust too long in that Avery way.
Moths, narrator informs us, are known to be attracted to flames. What appears to be the
narrator's hand (in a rare on-screen appearance) attempts experiment.
Moth arrives, disgusted by the fire.
Angrily accosts narrator:
"Whaddaya tryin'a do, stoopid--start a fire?"
James Cagney-esque wave of disgust makes routine 2.88% funnier.
Grasshopper is exhorted by narrator to show off its hopping skills.
Cycle of hopping plays out...
Then blank screen.
Camera searches to no avail...
dollies up to bird in tree.
When asked if he's seen grasshopper, utters immortal line...
"...it's a possibility."
Is jounced about by devoured insect.
Centipede gag. You know what's about to happen.
But then it goes somewhere unexpected--always a delight in these spot-gag shorts.
Centipede kicks errant part of self...
...is satisfied that it's been injured...
...re-attaches to rest of body...
...and in a final gesture of masochism, squishes the misbehaving pod...
...which it abandons.
This dark moment has more inspiration than anything else in Bug Parade, and is such an odd departure from the norm that it's worth lingering on for a moment. Avery never tried another gag quite like this. The self-harming aspect is fascinating and troubling. It's one thing for a character to detach another's appendage, harm it, and return it to its owner. But doing so to one's self is a strange concept that is undersold here, as if its creator knew it was too weird to call attention to, but too good to leave out.
Next is "the common cootie"--a louse bug that was a pestilence to World War I soldiers. They caused misery in an already hellish situation. They spread various typhus diseases, including one known as "trench fever." In short, great fodder for an entertaining Hollywood color cartoon.
Mel Blanc-voiced pest rhapsodizes:
"Millions and millions of soldiers..."
"...and they're mine... all mine!"
Narrator notes that snail "carries his house on his back."
That F.H.A. gag, which I explained in an earlier post on this here blog, must have
laid 'em in the aisles in post-Depression, pre-war America.
Before we go on, it's always bothered me that this background painting has such a visible and obvious join line on it, yet that divide is not used in the animation. That jagged line is distracting, and if the gag was any good, that would be more of an issue. Anyhow: termites...destructive.
Blanc voice shouts "TIM---BER!"
Rule of Three Gag Trifecta at work here. Third tree...
Whaddaya we got next? Silkworms. Narrator stops his spiel to ask about worm inactivity.
A falsetto mass of voices squeaks "Look!"
Mildly amusing, eh?
A suite of ant gags follows.
Black ant and red ant encounter one another...
...address one another as "Red" and "Blackie."
Dissolve to an anthill, as narrator enthuses about strong work ethic, etc.
they say "bread and butter" as they pass between a blade of grass,
This is an old superstition you can read up on HERE. Warning: knowledge of its meaning will cause you to adopt this quaint custom, like it or not.
A seafood moment.
Camera's downward pan reveals hidden still life with jug.
These drawings are much fun to look at; hence a whole lot of 'em.
The money shot.
The Bug Parade is on the slightly better side of the spot-gag curve. This concept had worn thin by 1941, and Avery dropped them altogether during an inspired streak at M-G-M from 1943-8. It might have been a relief to get away from the format for a few years.
The fatalism of the centipede episode, which contains a dark and complex comedic idea, is the biggest payoff this middling cartoon has for modern viewers. Those expecting great wrap-up insights from me will be disappointed here. I think I've said my fill about these spot-gag cartoons. I'm glad to have survived the majority of them--we have one more (although it was completed by Bob Clampett). Once an innovation, the format had played out, as can be seen in wartime efforts by Clampett, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones and Norman McCabe, in which the dead horse is beaten into a frothy pulp.
As the final Warner Brothers cartoon completed by Avery, The Bug Parade is a milestone, but in a format that had become a millstone to its maker.
Up next: Deconstwucting Wabbit Twouble: Is it weawwy a Wobert Cwampett cartoon?