The ‘Teddy’ Bears (1907)
Director: Wallace McCutcheon, Edwin S. Porter
Synopsis: Seven toy teddy bears of varying sizes suddenly come to life, getting in all sorts of merry misadventures.
This is a bizarre one. The ‘Teddy Bears’ begins as a straightforward, if slightly eccentric, retelling of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears fairy tale, takes a brief, whimsical diversion into stop-motion animation territory, and then suddenly grows fangs and completely subverts the message of the fairy tale on which it’s based. It was apparently something of a political satire directed at Theodore Roosevelt, a lookalike of whom makes an appearance in the final sequence.
After establishing what an ordinary family the Bear family is — apart from their tendency towards naturism when at home, that is — the film shows Goldilocks chancing upon their cottage deep in the forest while they are away. As we all know, Goldie lets herself into the Bears’ home and helps herself to their breakfasts before taking a nap in Little Bear’s bed. Before catching forty winks, however, she first peers through a hole in a door to witness a group of small bears performing acrobatic tricks. The bears are animated by stop motion, and really have no part to play in the movie other than to provide an amusing diversion and to pad out the running time a bit. It’s certainly an effective, strangely dreamlike, sequence, and the stop-motion photography is particularly impressive when we see one bear lying on its back and rolling a smaller bear in the air on the soles of his feet.
Anyway, while Goldie sleeps, the bears return home to discover that ‘someone’s been eating my porridge’ etc, and find the small girl fast asleep in Little Bear’s bed. She flees upon awakening, but is chased by the parent bears for what seems an interminable age before the girl comes across that Teddy Roosevelt lookalike I mentioned earlier. I shan’t spoil the film by revealing what happens next, but let’s just say the words ‘bath’ and ‘blood’ aren’t far wide of the mark.
That ending really is the damnedest thing. Up until the moment when Teddy makes his appearance, The ‘Teddy’ Bears would have been suitable entertainment for little turn-of-the-twentieth-century kids, but beyond that point the already slightly cockeyed tone of the movie takes on an altogether darker hue which would probably give some of those kiddies nightmares for weeks.
(Reviewed 10th October 2014)