The Bear That Wasn't
|The Bear That Wasn't|
Front and back cover of book
|Directed by||Chuck Jones|
Maurice Noble (co-director and production design)
|Produced by||Les Goldman (production supervisor)|
Frank Tashlin (Tashlin had no involvement)
|Story by||Frank Tashlin (also original book)|
Irv Spector (additional)
|Narrated by||Paul Frees|
|Music by||Dean Elliott|
|Animation by||Ben Washam (supervising)|
|December 31, 1967|
|10 minutes 21 seconds|
In 1967, Tashlin's former Termite Terrace colleague Chuck Jones directed an animated short film based upon the book for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Incidentally, The Bear That Wasn't was the final animated short subject made by MGM and the second-to-last animated project for MGM (The Phantom Tollbooth would be the last). This was also the last time that Tanner the Lion was used in a MGM logo. Despite being credited as a producer, Tashlin had no involvement in the short. Chuck Jones credited him as a producer, so if the film won the Oscar for Best Short, Tashlin would receive an Oscar (in those days, Oscars for Best Short were given to producers, not the director). Frank Tashlin was dissatisfied with this film adaptation of his own book, feeling that the film did not present its original message very well.
A bear settles down for his hibernation, and while he sleeps the progress of man continues. He wakes up to find himself in the middle of an industrial complex. He then gets mistaken by the foreman for a worker and is told to get to work. To this he responds, "But I'm not a man, I'm a bear". He is then taken to each of his successive bosses (general manager and the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st vice-presidents), all of whom tell him their own version of him being a "silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat", reaching all the way up to an elderly president (who in the animated version is depicted as a dwarf whose face is never seen) of the factory who concludes he cannot be a bear because "bears are only in a zoo or a circus; they're never inside a factory".
The bear is, by the president and his employees, taken to the zoo and hopes to gain support from his own species, but even the zoo bears claim that he is not a bear, because if he was "he would be inside the cage here with us" (in the animated version, a bear cub also repeats the exact same claim of the bear being a "silly man"). Eventually he concludes that he must be a "silly man", and works hard at the factory to the satisfaction of the foreman and the other bosses all of whom shake hands as the bear works. However, when winter comes again and he was freezing in the cold snow, he wishes that he was a bear, but in the end discards his human items and finds a cave and enters, feeling comfortable and bear-like once more. As the bear is sleeping, he reflects on the events of the year, as the narrator concludes that even though all the bosses and even the zoo bears disbelieved that he was a bear, "that did not make it so; the truth is he was not a silly man...and he was not a silly bear, either".
Though appearing as a children's book, this story takes a critical and satirical look at aspects of society. It revolves around the concept of people believing a repeated idea even though it may not be true. People have a tendency to shift their views if a concept is hammered into them over and over again, like the bear being told he is a "silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat". The bear eventually succumbs to this mistaken assumption, believing he is a man even though he had previously known otherwise, just as humans shift their views on a topic because of repetitive information, or because "they all say it is true, therefore it must be". Yet, in the end, the bear, who is cold in winter, reverts to what he really is – a bear – and finds shelter in a cave. This idea covers the concept of people never changing due to outside influence. Though a person may change for someone else, when placed in a difficult position, they revert to old habits – just like the bear hibernating. Whether something is fact or fiction, it is what it is and does not change – no matter how many people believe otherwise.
The book also presents a visual satire of corporate culture. Each time the bear appears before a higher-ranking man in the corporation, the offices get progressively more elaborate (for example, progressively more phones, more waste-baskets, more secretaries, all according to rank). There are also progressively more chins and less hair on each higher-ranking person as the bear ascends all the way to the president's office.
Tashlin's book inspired Swiss writer Jörg Steiner to create his children's book Der Bär, der ein Bär bleiben wollte (1976; German: "The Bear Who Wanted to Stay a Bear"), which was translated into English and published by Atheneum Books the next year as The Bear Who Wanted to Be a Bear, whose cover states "From an idea by Frank Tashlin".
A Belgian singer has also adopted the moniker "The Bear That Wasn't" for recording and released an album entitled And So It Is Morning Dew in 2010. The German book Der Bär, der ein Bär bleiben wollte on the other hand inspired German singer-songwriter Reinhard Mey to write a song of that name, appearing on his 1978 album Unterwegs.
- The Bear That Wasn't - 1947 - 78rpm Record-YouTube
- Michael Barrier interview with Frank Tashlin, 1971
- "The Bear That Wasn’t", New York Review Books
- "...political radicals of all stripes can identify with it...", February 27, 2010, npr.org
- Facing History and Ourselves