I just finished reading the new Maurice Noble biography Stepping Into The Picture by Robert McKinnon and am working up a review of it. In the meantime, I thought it’d be worth posting the 1967 short The Bear That Wasn’t (1967), a film on which Noble receives co-direction and production design credit.
It’s based on a 1946 illustrated book by Frank Tashlin, and Tashlin detested the finished film, saying that, “[W]ith the exception maybe of your best girl friend running you over in your own car, that was just about the worst experience I ever had, the making of that cartoon.” He explains further in this interview with Mike Barrier why he hated the film.
Tashlin is right. It’s not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. Conceptual problems and weak animation aside though, I have to admit having a soft spot for Noble’s production design on the film. Even if in many ways the design is largely inappropriate to the tone of the story, it’s undeniably appealing, inventive and fun. Credit is also due the background painters Phil DeGuard and Don Morgan.
While The Bear That Wasn’t may not make anybody’s all-time greatest shorts list, it does show Noble at the height of his game, and a willingness to always push animation production design in new and exciting directions. This film has intriguing earmarks of a highly abstracted “pure” design approach that Noble was exploring in the mid-’60s, which become epecially evident when you place it alongide another film he worked on during that period, The Dot and the Line (1965). It’s a shame that Noble never had the luxury of letting this approach evolve over the course of multiple films, like his work on the earlier Warner shorts, because with appropriate stories and collaborators, I think he could have taken animated films in some fascinating directions in the 1960s.