Back in the nineties our little artistic group was tasked with a special assignment. Create a program that would focus on the environment and use the Disney characters to sell the idea. Naturally, this program would utilize multiple mediums and would be adaptable for film, print and other mediums. It was a pretty big deal so no expense was spared and our team spent nearly six months developing the program. What characters would we use, we wondered? One of our clever team members came up with a brilliant suggestion. Why not go back to the forties and use a Disney character most people had forgotten ever existed. Plus, the organic nature of the cartoon world would fit perfectly into our environmental theme. Perhaps you Disney geeks have already guessed that character was, “Bucky Bug.”
I remember reading Bucky Bug as a child and being continually delighted with the cute bug characters and the wonderful miniature world in which they lived. The Bucky Bug stories appeared in the Dell publication, Walt Disney Comics and Stories. This was a monthly comic book that was required reading for kids like me who were infatuated with all things Disney. The cartoonists and comic book writers took advantage of the wonderful bug environment that utilized cast offs from the human world as well as items from their natural surroundings. Rather than appearing gross and icky, these bug characters were perfect Disney character designs that were delightfully charming and cute. This is something I consider critical when telling stories about a bug world. Perhaps I should explain this idea further. Back in the day, when old timers like myself sat in meetings with Walt Disney, there was one thing the Old Maestro continued to emphasize. Though story was important — the characters were critical. Should our characters fail to resonate with the audience there was no way the story was going to save our bacon. Therefore, Walt disney hammered into us the importance of having appealing characters if our movie or print story was going to be successful.
Naturally, this brings to mind two animated films that were produced some years ago and the fact that both motion pictures only enjoyed moderate success. What was the weakness, you ask? Both films were well written and produced and both had well developed characters. However, both animated films had bugs as protagonists and unfortunately bugs aren’t all that appealing. The Disney writers and artists knew this as far back as the forties and that explains why Walt Disney’s “Bucky Bug” had that corny, sweet Disney design. That design sensibility does more than simply make Bucky Bug a Disney character. The design makes him appealing. And when it comes to character design, appeal is everything. With all due respect, I found the characters in DreamWorks “Antz” and Pixar Animation Studios “A Bug’s Life” somewhat icky. I would venture to guess the audience had the same reaction. After all, both animated films are well made and should have had more box office success. Heck, the Pixar film was totally charming at times, and the movie should have entranced audiences. I remember the film being in production when I arrived at Pixar Animation Studios in the late nineties and since that time it’s my least watched Pixar movie. Why was that, I wondered? Oh, yeah. The main characters are insects and insects just ain’t that loveable. “Ant Bully,” anyone?
Sometimes the answer is staring us right in the face and we simply don’t see it. I used to chat late weekend evenings with Disney Legend, Ward Kimball about the wonderful Disney character, he designed for Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio.” Ward said the design answer was to make the bug look nothing like a bug. Jiminy Cricket is still adored today and it’s easy to see the reason why. That’s why I regret the Walt Disney Company decided to pass on our environmental program back in the nineties. We were eager to bring back Bucky Bug because we knew audiences would fall in love with the little critter all over again. We were anticipating a Toy bug’s world and other spin offs from the Disney comic book stories. After all, Bucky was a delightful Disney character that would have easily resonated with today’s audiences as much as he did in the forties. It was an important lesson the veteran Disney artists learned decades ago. If you’re going to draw a bug cartoon character — make sure he doesn’t look like a bug.