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The Playful Polar Bears (1938)

A joyfully contented group of polar bears encounter danger when hunters arrive.


Dave Fleischer


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Uncredited cast:
Jack Mercer ... Papa Polar Bear (voice) (uncredited)
Mae Questel ... Baby Polar Bear (voice) (uncredited)


A joyfully contented group of polar bears encounter danger when hunters arrive.

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color classic | See All (1) »


Animation | Short


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A heartfelt Fleischer cartoon about bears in the Arctic
1 February 2009 | by BrianDanaCampSee all my reviews

"The Playful Polar Bears" (1938) is a Technicolor cartoon from the Color Classic series, the Fleischer Bros.' counterpart to Disney's Silly Symphonies and Warner Bros.' Merrie Melodies. This one's among the more serious cartoons of the era and focuses on a family of polar bears cavorting on icy terrain in the Arctic and a near-tragedy that strikes. The early focus is on the antics of a curious younger cub and his efforts to break away from his mom and siblings to explore a nearby ice hole and the leaping fish inside. When a ship lands and humans with guns start firing, the young cub is left behind after the bears flee en masse. The mother bear goes back to search for him only to find him motionless after being hit by a bullet. The hunters are driven off by a snow storm and the bears begin an elaborate grieving ritual, having given up the cub for dead.

The model for this is clearly the Fleischers' earlier Color Classic, "Song of the Birds" (1935), in which a little boy shoots a bird with his BB gun and watches in anguish as the birds all gather to mourn over the unmoving little bird, adding to his burgeoning guilty conscience, until the bird's unexpected revival and a happy ending for all. "The Playful Polar Bears" is a bit more understated, but also a little harsher in the lack of any remorse by the hunters.

The bears are anthropomorphized in time-honored cartoon fashion, especially when they cry over the cub, but in general they look a heck of a lot more like real polar bears than you'd find in any similarly-themed Warner or Disney cartoon of the time. It's strictly an animal world here, in a natural setting without the little houses with picket fences that constituted animal homes in other cartoons. The closest thing to a human-style accoutrement is found in the cartoon's only real gag: a bit where the mother bear fashions a bed out of snow, complete with rolled-back covers, and then tucks her three cubs in it.

The artwork is quite vivid in its depiction of the arctic setting, the design and animation of the polar bears, and the scenes of the ship landing and then setting sail. Some shots boast the quality of adventure story picture book illustration.

The sex of the single bear parent may be in question. The IMDb cast list identifies the parent as "Papa Polar Bear," voiced by Jack "Popeye" Mercer. While the voice used to make the bear sounds certainly has male inflections, I had assumed from its role in caring for the cubs that the character was a mother bear. I'm sure there's a National Geographic documentary out there that could clear this up for us.

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Release Date:

28 October 1938 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Fleischer Studios See more »
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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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