The Fleischer Bros., Max and Dave, were doing just ducky off Betty Boop and Popeye before getting prodded into keeping up with those damn Burbank Disneys and their money-pit Technicolor features. Their first long-player, 1939’s Gulliver’s Travels, found Fleischer Studios playing against its natural strengths (elastic slapstick; a hot rhythm section) to load every cel with off-brand “enchantment.” In Hoppity, they hit the right balance of pastoral treacle and Tin Pan Alley jump. While Walt was forever reconstructing the Main Street USA of his mind, the Fleischers (and many of their staff) were old New York City boys, and Hoppity‘s urban-renewal fable recalls the city’s changes in their lifetime. Opening views slide through skyscrapers to finally burrow into the lawn of a 19th-century manor house, revealing a collection of matchbox shanties and their humble anthropomorphic insect inhabitants. Their village ecosystem is already being threatened by stomping pedestrians when a billboard announcing a “Modern Skyscraper” spells extinction (its hectically ascending construction shows the Fleischers’ audio-visual syncopation at its swingingest).
Hoppity is the community’s forthright, Capra-esque savior (his preferred profanity: “Gee weeds!”), and Honey Bee is his squeeze, doll-eyed with Varga-girl proportions. C. Bagley Beetle is the caricature capitalist, a real-estate hog who wants to pry Honey away, backed by bickering Bowery bum airborne pests who keep the gag-writers occupied (“Nice woik feddahbrains, why ya’ goggle-eyed microbe . . .”). Head animators get their breakaway solos: a thrill ride in a swaying watering can; Hoppity’s shock-treatment neon jitterbug; the full-cast show-stopper “Honey Married Money.” A real charmer, born under a bad sign: Started by an independent Fleischer Studios, Hoppity (and the Fleischers) was foreclosed upon by distributor Paramount before production wrapped. Days before the film went to theaters, Tojo went to Pearl Harbor. More recently, it’s been re-titled Bugville, given MS Paint cover art, and distributed on DVD in a nappy transfer—all the more reason to see it now, a teasing look at an alternate film history with room for a competing Big Two in feature animation.