Disney releases Fleischer’s “Mr. Bug” – in Japan!

In 2009, we reported on the Ghibli Museum exhibit devoted to Max Fleischer’s Mr. Bug Goes To Town (1941). I believe this was somewhat tied into Studio Ghibli’s Arrietty (2010). Ghibli and Disney have since teamed to release Mr. Bug (aka Hoppity Goes To Town) on home video in Japan.

Brew reader Rick Nodal sent us this report about the DVD (and supplied the images in this post):

“Hoppity Goes to Town (Mr. Bug Goes to Town) was released on DVD (region 2) in Japan back in 2010 by Studio Ghibli through Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment Japan. I just received the copy I purchased online and it’s fantastic. The audio & video quality is excellent, and although the disc defaults to Japanese subtitles when it begins, you can change the setting to “no subtitles.” I’ve attached a few screen shots/grabs including the end title Paramount logo.”

As Mr. Bug is still protected by copyright, does this mean Ghibli, Disney or Pony Canyon (their Japanese video distributor) sub-licensed the film from Paramount Pictures? If so, that’s very interesting! Disney presenting a Fleischer cartoon?!

Click thumbnails below to see larger images of the box (with Disney castle logo clearly visible, lower left on the label) and several frame grabs. According to Rick, this is a transfer of an NTA Technicolor print, with NTA’s reissue opening titles. This is a shame as the UCLA Film Archive recently restored the film from the original Paramount three-strip negatives. Hopefully we will see that version released soon – from Disney or anyone.

In the meantime you can order the Japanese Ghibli/Disney release from CDI Japan for $46.43 (U.S. $).


  • MrMister

    I’m guessing that this film was a big influence on Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata? Because I’ve never heard them say that they were fans of the Fleischer cartoons or any Golden Age animation.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      It’s usually been noticed some influences of the Fleischer studios can be seen in Miyazaki’s works, such as as the giant flying robot in Laputa (who originally appeared in an episode of Lupin III years before that was inspired by the ones in the Superman short “The Mechanical Monsters”).

      • Gray64

        The episode of Lupin III where the robot appears even has a bystander exclaiming “Just like in Superman!” upon seeing the robot fly by.

    • http://ukanimation.blogspot.com Neil

      There’s an essay which talks about Mr. Bug in Miyazaki’s book Starting Point, although if I remember correctly his comments on the film were negative…

      • http://www.cementimental.com Tim Drage

        His comments on EVERYTHING are negative :)

  • Kristjan

    If this is a sub-licensed DVD release then why not try to contact Disney and tell them about the UCLA print and use it instead of the NTA print.

    I do wonder if this was sub-license just for Japan only or if this was sub-licensed for use around the globe.

    But Im sure that Disney would never go on and violate anyone’s else is copyright specially given Disney’s track record.

  • Loco the Clown

    Didn’t Disney Home Video distribute the Kit Parker (16mm) Color Classics as ‘The Fabulous Fleischer Folio’? I’m pretty sure there are some 35 prints of those in decent shape at UCLA. I saw their print of Mr. Bug (with original titles) on the big screen a few months ago and it blew my mind. It would be wonderful for someone to step up and rescue this stuff. Fleischer cartoons are dense with detail that only 35mm can bring out.

    • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

      Disney did release THE FABULOUS FLEISCHER FOLIO on VHS way back when, but those were public domain cartoons. The difference here is that MR. BUG GOES TO TOWN is stilled owned by Paramount Pictures.

  • Saturnome

    I hope someone will get an answer soon enough! I’d love to see someone taking care of this film, and Disney could do it. I don’t want another nightmare like the Gulliver Blu-Ray.

    Here’s Ghibli’s “Ghibli Museum Library” DVD collection :
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghibli_Museum_Library
    What amazing, diverse choices. It’s like some sort of Criterion Collection of animated films.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      What we should be having over here!

    • http://palais.wikidot.com Jordan Scott

      That, and Geneon Universal’s longer-established New Animation Animation: http://www.geneon-ent.co.jp/anime/NAA for short films and Jiří Trnka, not to mention the less selective but gloriously eclectic Horng En World Animation collection in Taiwan: http://myvideo.com.tw – To a population a fraction of that of the US or Japan (about a 6th of the latter; I’ve done the maths) they’ve released collections of such things as Joanna Quinn’s Beryl films, which don’t have more than a DVD-R self-release in their native English-language market.

      The nearest we have with English subtitles is KimStim. Which, to be polite, is not excellent (on their Tezuka DVD the menu for turning on or off the subtitles has no effect, it misleadingly has to be done manually and for at least one of the films they’re about five seconds out of sync). But at least it’s region-free, which beats Criterion, and their Yamamura one points to a promising game-upping, loosing the extras but adding three more films which had to purchased separately in the Japanese releases.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        We try. We certainly do need something like a Janus/Criterion label for animation here.

  • AaronSch

    I vaguely remember Disney releasing some Fleischer animated shorts on DVD or VHS a number of years ago. Hopefully, they will handle a domestic release of “Mr. Bug” and make it the first Fleischer film released properly in high definition. Perhaps even “Gulliver’s Travels” will be given proper treatment and aspect ratio.

  • Billy Batz

    The Japanese respect all animation, they released the Russian classics as well. All we need is Gulliver!

  • merlinjones

    This article may provide an answer:

    http://www.contactmusic.com/news.nsf/story/japanese-court-rules-pre-1953-movies-in-public-domain_1002318

    >>Paramount Pictures – Japanese Court Rules Pre-1953 Movies In Public Domain
    12 July 2006

    A Japanese company that has released at bargain prices DVDs of movie classics produced prior to 1953 may continue to do so, a Japanese court ruled Tuesday. Kyodo News said that the Tokyo District Court rejected a request by Viacom’s Paramount Pictures that it order a halt to the sales, ruling that copyrights to the movies had expired and that they were now in the public domain. Paramount had argued that a 2004 law extended the copyrights by 20 years; however, the Japanese court said that the law could not be applied retroactively. The movies in question are being sold by First Trading Corp. in the DVD format for as low as $4.40, while the price for the Paramount-distributed copy of the same movie is about $36.70.<<

    • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

      Wow! I never saw that bit of information – and it may indeed explain how Disney is getting away with releasing MR. BUG in Japan.

      Gosh, perhaps we should convince Disney and Ghibli to release Gulliver Travels and restore the Color Classics, George Pal’s Puppetoons, and the pre-1950 Noveltoons!

      • Kristjan

        Or how about pretty Much everything pre-1950.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Assuming that the Noveltoons will follow Ghibli’s guidelines as a museum-worthy event!

      • David Mackenzie

        Yes, I remember hearing this in connection with Song of the South – apparently in Japan, the film is in the public domain. Disney still handled the release there though, I think.

  • DB

    I’m glad that in Japan they have the proper respect for this great film – but it makes me feel kind of weird because I am not generally a fan of Japanese animation. There just seems like something organically wrong to me about the process where the movie is animated first and then actors dub in the voices later – it’s like watching a live-action movie where all the actors are wearing masks with a hole cut out for the mouths.

    I also am not a big fan of “Gulliver’s Travels” – I can’t get past the annoying rotoscoping. One of the many great things about Mr. Bug is how the Fleishers seem to have realized the annoying eeriness of the rotoscoping in their prior effort and used it brilliantly to reflect the bug’s perception of the humans (with thankfully, no faces ever seen).

    Mr. Bug is an example of a film that is in part great as a whole because it knows its limits and stays perfectly within them. Classic Disney animated features may have far more brilliantly done elements, but most are painfully uneven.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      The post-syncing of dialogue is certainly one of the more harder things for some viewers to get use to at all since they never really grasp the need for animating proper lip syncing in Japanese cartoons at all. You could argue saving a step helped speed the production process along better, but at the cost of a sort of synchronicity we take for granted far more here. Seeing the few CGI stuff coming out of Japan, it’s going to be a little hard for me getting use to it if they continue to go that direction in 3D than it was to handle it with hand-drawn characters.

  • http://www.classicparamountcartoons.blogspot.com ParamountCartoons

    I really wish Paramount would have branded and merchandised all of the Fleischer/Famous characters they owned instead of SELLING THESE CARTOONS TO DIFFERENT COMPANIES.

    The Warner executives didn’t care about Looney Tunes yet they gave them the Disney treatment and made Bugs Bunny their mascot.

    And now, you (Paramount Pictures) shelve ‘em so much you sub-licensed the video rights to Lionsgate, and have SUPER-STUBBORN PARAMOUNT-CARTOON-HATING-LIONSGATE executives not putting them on DVD.

    Forget the Terrytoons. Forget the Nicktoon Movies. Forget the original Charolette’s Web. Forget The Two Peanuts Movies They Did. AND FORGET WHAT JUNK THEY PUT FOR KIDS ON VIDEO AND DVD (sans the Bakshi MIGHTY MOUSE dvd).

    The cartoons (and the two latter Fleischer features) from 1929-1967 are the blood, sweat and tears of Paramount’s animation department, and should have been released on home video by Paramount Home Video, back in the VHS/Betamax days and onto right now – with DVD and Blu-ray, plus digital downloads and official streams.

    Paramount’s cartoons should have been copyrighted and not sold to TV distrubutors (the TV titles so misleading, I used to think “Christmas Comes But Once A Year” aired on TV in 1936 – but AMERICA DIDN’T HAVE TV ON A REGULAR BASIS BACK THEN)!

    And also, many Paramount cartoons with their original titles are in the public domain. Makes me think- ARE WE INFRIGNING the trademark of the star-crested Majestic Mountain of Paramount?

    Even though Japan’s case rules that Paramount’s films are in the public domain there – does not make a company named after a guy who gets all the credit for all the things Max Fleischer did first – especially sound cartoons.

    And speaking of Ko-Ko’s Song Cartunes, wouldn’t the bouncing ball have the patent renewed by Paramount even when Max got bankrupt and sold his inital studio to Paramount?

    AS WITH ALL THE CHARACTERS he gave?

  • merlinjones

    Hard to say — here’s a later update on Japan copyright law from Variety Sep. 16, 2007:

    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117972062?refCatId=19

    >>Tokyo court clarifies copyright law…

    …In two separate cases, Tokyo District Court on Friday ordered a DVD maker to cease production and sales of DVDs of 10 pics by Akira Kurosawa.

    The cease-and-desist suits were filed by Toho, which owns rights to eight pics Kurosawa made between 1943 and 1952, and Kadokawa Pictures, which holds rights to two pics made between 1949 and 1950. The defendant, Cosmo Coordinate, was selling DVDs of the pics for 1,000 yen ($8.70) per unit — and claiming that it was entitled to do so under Japan’s copyright laws.

    According to the copyright law in effect until 1970, copyright protection is extended until 38 years after the original copyright holder’s death. In 1971, however, the law was changed to extend copyright protection until 50 years and, later, 70 years after a work’s release.

    Toho and Kadokawa argued that the older law should apply to pics released before the law was changed, while the defense argued that the production companies, not Kurosawa, were the true rights holders and that the newer, 50-year, rights protection should apply. Judge Masami Ichikawa ruled that Kurosawa, as the primary creator of the pics, was the original copyright holder and that protection of the pics should therefore extend to 2036.

    The ruling could have a large impact on the video software biz in Japan, which has been operating on the assumption that the date of release, not the death of the pic’s helmer, should define the limit of copyright protection.<>…Japanese copyright law does not mention public domain. As a result, even when some substances are considered to be “in potential fans and patrons domain” there will be some employ restrictions. In this case, the term copyright-free is sometimes used alternatively. Many pre-1953 together Japanese along with non-Japanese films are accepted as in potential fans and patrons domain inside Japan….<<

  • Steve Menke

    Lionsgate seems to be the new Miramax, taking on more titles than they can properly service (as witness the Studio Canal films yanked by the dozens from Criterion and Anchor Bay, whereas Lionsgate’s only reissued a handful). Not coincidentally, they’ll also now have the Miramax back catalogue vying for attention. Anyone know how long their deal with Paramount’s in effect?

    Paramount, meanwhile, ended their longtime embargo of licensing to Criterion, and have some little-seen back titles released quietly by Olive Films. Let’s hope those routes eventually become available to the former NTA/Republic collection (dare we even dream of a Criterion “Mr Bug”?).

  • Gray64

    I think I recall seeing this film on Nickelodeon way back in the early eighties…I remember Nick specifically showing “Gulliver’s Travels” several times, and I think they showed “Mr.Bug” too…does it have a character named Mr.Bumble who is briefly captured, then released, by a human woman?

    • dbenson

      You’re remembering a scene involving the lovable old father of Honey Bee, the heroine.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        I wouldn’t be surprised if Nick got their films from NTA themselves back then, I can’t recall when it was the first time I saw Gulliver’s Travels on TV myself, it’s all a blur for me since I would’ve been like 4 or 5 at the time. I remember eventually getting a videotape of it around ’85 from a “Congress Video Group” that was pretty substandard quality taken from someone’s 16mm print.

  • dbenson

    Forget “Song of the South” for a while. I want a legit “Mr. Bug”, the complete “The King and the Mockingbird,” Mr. Magoo’s “1001 Arabian Nights,” GOOD copies of “The Snow Queen” and “Hansel and Gretel”, the Karel Zehman fantasies, and the animated “Ruddigore. ” Plus “I Go Pogo” (okay, I’m a completist).

    Is that so unreasonable?

    • Chris Sobieniak

      It would never seem unreasonable to ‘us’.

      • dbenson

        In that case, add “Thief and the Cobbler” director’s cut, Jiri Trnka’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” plus his folk tales, “Rock Odyssey”, “Flash Gordon” (the Filmation FEATURE version), “Willie McBean and his Magic Machine”, a complete box of “Saturday Superstar Movie” (I told you I’m a completist) and all the old Spike & Mike and Tournee of Animation collections that now exist only on VHS.

        Oh, and Format Films’ “Lone Ranger” series.

  • http://www.ghiblicon.blogspot.com Daniel Thomas MacInnes

    Mr. Bug was released under the Ghibli Museum label. This is the label used by the studio to bring famous animated films from around the world to Japan. Each movie is given a limited theatrical release, a release on DVD, and often an exhibit at the museum.

    I’m not sure what input Disney has in any of the Ghibli DVDs in Japan. It’s a cordial relationship, but I think Ghibli is pretty much in control. I also believe Isao Takahata is involved in these movies being selected for the Ghibli Museum library (but I could be mistaken on this point). Last year, he released a theatrical version of episodes 1-4 of his 1979 television production of Anne of Green Gables.

    If you visit Ghibli’s website, you can see all of the movies included in the Ghibli Museum collection. It’s a veritable who’s-who of the world’s great animation. What a refreshing alternative to Hollywood greed! Ghibli isn’t out to sell billions in crappy merchandise. This is a labor of love.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      It is! It’s also interesting to see how varied the list really is, from old and new.

  • http://www.segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    If you can stand the less than pristine transfer (but not as terrible as the one star reviews would lead to to think) and the redone titles, the film is available for less then $10 from Amazon under the title Bugville.

    http://www.amazon.com/Bugville/dp/B001BSBBPS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1309723075&sr=8-1

  • paolo

    Actually the film is also available in dvd in France. I do not know which kind of copy, I haven’t watched it yet.
    But am I wrong, or the Popeye collection (3 boxes of all the cartoons from 1933 to 1942) is produced by Warner home video? Does that means that Warner has teh rights to these cartoons?

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Not really. WB only has the rights to the Popeye’s they received after merging with Turner Entertainment (who themselves had it from UA previous) as well as the Fleischer Superman shorts. Jerry Beck has the full story anyway so I don’t have to run that through further.

  • tum j

    man, criterion should really consider acquiring some terrific prints of animated films and run with it. this being one of them. i was living in philly (a short, cheap bus ride to new york) and kicked myself for missing a screening of a beautiful, beautiful print of this film.

  • Andy

    I have always loved this movie.

  • Andy

    I think Universal owns everything Paramount pre 1953. Ask the late Lew Wasserman and his army of lawyers.

  • Jim Dringus

    I wonder if this incredibly offensive and extremely unnecessary scene will make it into the final cut over there… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoZB_8nY2hs#t=4m08s

  • Rick Nodal

    What scene would that be…it’s been removed from YouTube. I’ll tell you if it’s there.

    • Jim Dringus

      The “ching chong hokomakachowa, Rice” scene…

      • Rick Nodal

        It’s there…with and without Japanese subtitles.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        At least they appreciate good films (not that it needed to be spoiled by a disclaimer indicating the film’s content and history like everything else we’ve got over here).

  • DB

    Just read on Deadline Hollywood that Paramount has announced a new animation division today (July 6) – that might make it awkward to let another studio release an animated film the Paramount name attached to it.

  • Scarlett

    Hey thanks for this :)
    Can you tell me if it’s worth importing this for the picture quality in comparison to the UK/US releases? Or would it be worth waiting a bit longer?