While watching Cars 3 last weekend, there was a moment that made me clutch the pearls and gasp. I turned to Fanboy next to me who was having a similar reaction. Was this really happening? Was Mater the tow truck really singing the "Humphrey Hop" with Materized lyrics? How did this happen?
To say that the "Humphrey Hop" is obscure in pop culture would be an understatement. Even amongst Disney fans, it's a rarity - the source material's only DVD release was literally on a Walt Disney Treasures collection called "Disney Rarities." But if the melody stands out to you, odds are you encountered the short at some point as a child.
The "Humphrey Hop" debuted in a 1956 animated short called In the Bag, the last of the short-lived Humphrey the Bear shorts series. In the infamous short, tourists have littered Brownstone National Park and the stout Ranger J. Audobon Woodlore has devised a way to trick Humphrey and the other bears into cleaning it for him with a catchy song and dance. The original version of the song was called "Put it in the Bag." You can relive the original in all its glory here:
While the hilarious Humphrey the Bear series ended too soon, the song became somewhat of a hit in the 1950's. A radio single was released by the Disney Studio Chorus with altered lyrics, this time known as the "Humphrey Hop." The song almost sounds at home on the soundtrack to the first Cars film and there's no doubt that Mater could have heard it at Flo's V8 Cafe. The lyrics in this version make no mention of the short's title and some of these lyrics are referenced in Mater's version.
For the true Disney dweeb, the song was also bizarrely featured in an episode of the Mickey Mouse Club. Look at that Humphrey costume and those smiley bears! I'm going to learn the choreography to have it in my arsenal in case I'm ever in a public space while this song plays. You know, for reasons.
That was weird! You can stop playing at 2:59 when the video switches to "Orange in the Orchard."
The song was written by Dawes Butler and George Bruns. Bruns' name should be recognizable to serious Disney music fans for his work in Disney films in the 1950's-1970's, including writing the melody for "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," the theme to "Zorro," and reworking the Tchaikovsky music from Sleeping Beauty to fit the Disney animated classic. Dawes Butler, on the other hand, was known more as a voice actor for non-Disney animated work and I'm sure there's a fascinating story behind how he came to write lyrics for a song in a Disney short.
An interesting aside, one of the famous characters Dawes Butler brought to life was Yogi Bear for Hanna-Barbera. The character debuted in 1958, just two years after Humphrey's career came to an end, and the similarities have always been called into question. While Humphrey occasionally troubled Donald Duck, he was primarily pitted against a bumbling park ranger and the bear's main quest in life was to steal food, including picnic baskets. Draw whatever conclusions you will from the similarities. Could Dawes Butler be the missing link?
When I was given the opportunity to share the air with some of the cast and creative team behind Cars 3, I had to ask how this happened. My initial assumption was that perhaps Larry the Cable Guy ad-libbed this song in a recording session and they just went with it. However, the real credit for plucking the "Humphrey Hop" out of obscurity goes to the film's director.
“I watched a lot of TV as a kid, Disney Channel," recalls Brian Fee. "My parents had cable very early on and the ‘Humphrey Hop’… it’s one of those songs that... I’m 43-years-old and still a week doesn’t go by that I’m not singing that tune in my head. It’s just ingrained, it’s a childhood favorite and we wrote the lyrics for that song. It’s one of those moments where you realize, well, ‘I’m directing the movie, I can do whatever I want, I want the “Humphrey Hop” in there.’ I’m glad somebody else recognized it and got something out of it because I thought that was just for me.”
I can certainly say it wasn't just for Brian Fee. For diehard Disney fans everywhere, get excited for Cars 3 and the amazing Disney fan service moment that will make you, too, clutch the imaginary pearls and squeal in delight. You can see Cars 3 in theaters on June 16th. For more info, be sure to check out the full review.