January 20, 1971 – The Featurette Bongo is Released
“But mostly, this is a story about Bongo. He was a circus bear: was born in the circus, grew up in the circus, in fact, Bongo was the star of the circus.”
On January 20, 1971, the Bongo segment from the animated feature film Fun and Fancy Free was released as a featurette. Based on the children’s story “Little Bear Bongo” by Sinclair Lewis, first published in 1930, it was originally slated to be a complete feature film, but the production was interrupted by the onset of World War II. In the end, with Bongo and The Legend of Happy Valley (later retitled as Mickey and the Beanstalk) were turned into a package film, as neither one was considered to be sophisticated enough to stand alone as a feature film. Bongo was narrated by musical star Dinah Shore.
The story begins with Dinah explaining that Bongo was the star of the circus, able to do any trick that was asked of him. He performs a tightrope trick while juggling several dozen items before jumping off the tightrope and landing on a wet sponge. However, life isn’t all that glamorous for Bongo, as he is chained and sent into a cage after the performance, “tossed around like an old shoe.” He dreams of living out in the wilderness, away from the circus, trains, and his current life. But every day it’s the same, he’s called out to perform, and then sent back into his gilded cage. One day, having had enough of his life, he decides to follow the call of the wild and escapes from his cage.
Free at last, he travels the woods excitedly, stopping to smell the flowers and jumping over tree roots. He meets the other animals of the forest, who laugh at his inability to act like a bear. He doesn’t get easily discouraged, as he is just happy to be free. That night, Bongo attempts to sleep, but is disturbed by the sounds and experiences of the forest before he gets caught in a storm. In the morning, Bongo wakes up to find himself on the ledge of a cliff, is very discouraged at his situation, as he doesn’t know how to act like a bear. He worries that he made a mistake, especially when he can’t catch anything for breakfast. He soon meets a female bear named Lulubelle, and the two proceed to flirt as they frolic through the woods.
Lulubelle and Bongo quickly fall in love, gathering all the attention of the bears in the woods. However, a bear named Lumpjaw, who also has feelings for Lulubelle, soon hears news of Lulubelle’s new beau, and decides to break the happy couple up with the intent of stealing Lulubelle for himself. He starts fighting Bongo, but Lulubelle stops Lumpjaw from beating him up, and then punches Bongo herself. Bongo is heartbroken, thinking that Lulubelle no longer loves him, and when she tries to punch Bongo for a third time, Bongo ducks, and she hits Lumpjaw instead. Bongo was unaware of the bear custom that slapping is a sign of affection, and sadly walks away while everyone else celebrates the “happy” couple of Lulubelle and Lumpjaw. As he looks back at the scene of the bears, he finally understands that bears “say it with a slap,” and goes back to challenge Lumpjaw. The two duke it out, and Bongo emerges victorious, using skills he learned in the circus. Bongo is reunited with Lulubelle, and gives her an affectionate slap, which she returns in kind.