film 103 of 103

The “Teddy” Bears

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 28, 2015

“Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is here combined with that little anecdote about Teddy Roosevelt and the bear cub, plus maybe a bit of Little Red RH thrown in. So it’s a hybrid production, and that very early in the film-industrial game. Pathé, and some of those mid-teens features (the 1916 Snow White), and Disney and Reiniger and the Ub Iwerks cartoons will take small liberties with moments or motivations, but they’ll basically play these traditional narrative properties straight. That was probably for profit, and to avoid alienating the audiences that came looking for the familiar. It’s not until the Warner Brother cartoons (followed by Jay Ward and Jim Henson) that the fracturing really starts. (Though this idea totally leaves aside the estimable Frank Stockton, not to mention a lot of H.C. Andersen. We’re talking about movies, I guess…) So it’s very interesting that here, not long after the invention of the medium, and right at or near the beginning of folk/fairy adaptation, these producers take such liberties. You suspect that no one is doing anything consciously Bakhtinian, but rather that the field just hasn’t been surveyed.

It’s a good try. The bear costumes, and the settings generally, are pretty theatrical. There is a nice ¾ angle on the first interior, and that stairway set is terrifically strong, visually. It gives a really nice sense of the liminal (in-between) spaces, too. The celebrated bear animation—G-locks looking through a keyhole—is very good, and a little awkward in the integration sense. You wouldn’t dream of blaming anyone for it. You know how the original story is rhythmical/musical, meant to be almost sung? The too-hot/too-cold parts, with the girls and the bears, are quite nicely choreographed, so that that quality, which really suggests the presence of the reader and the listener, is successfully maintained. The blocking in the discovery and running away shot is really nice.

From the theatrical house we now go to the real, wintery outside. It’s a terrific setting, in which Porter and McCutcheon indulge in some of those same, already criticized as tiresome back to front chase shots. This isn’t duration, or Kiarostami modernism, or anything like it. It’s simply a grammatical snag, or bit of primitivism. We need an evolutionary advance! Of course the main audience interest here is how our protagonist gets out of this dilemma. Their solution is surprising. Some hero steps up and shoots the bear parents! It had to have occurred to someone in 1906 how potentially dubious this is. Who invaded whose house? Who took/took advantage without any consultation or consideration? How colonial!

How conservational as well—sparing a cub for the sake of captivity, or in order to leave it to die in the wild, suddenly doesn’t seem so shining after all. Apropos, there’s something slightly horror film—identify with baby bear for a minute—about the conclusion, in which they barge back into this defiled domestic space, and then emerge with the orphan in chains! Look at old films in something of the spirit with which they were made. But our modern awareness and sensibilities can also, always, be really helpful too.