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Animation Oddities: Rupert And The Frog Song

Welcome to Animation Oddities, where we look at some of animation's lesser known, forgotten or often overlooked films, series or shorts.

In the league table of wholesome fictional British Bears Rupert Bear, definitely lags behind Paddington and Winnie The Pooh in terms of global fame. But he actually predates the other two, his comic stories first appearing in the pages of The Daily Express over a hundred years ago. He was created by Herbert Tourtel and illustrated by his wife Mary Tourtel. But in a reverse of how these things tend to go, it is Mary who is most often given the credit.

Perhaps the reason for Rupert's relative obscurity is that it took until the 1990's for him to get a fully animated series. He had appeared in a puppet show as well as a narrated series featuring still imagery, but it wasn't until the UK/Canadian/French series that his adventures would fully come to screen.

The series (which was simply titled Rupert and ran from 1991-97) wasn't his first appearance in animation, however. Forty years ago, he appeared in an animated short, that would involve an ex-Beatle, a respected British animator and a heck of a lot of frogs. This is the story of Rupert and The Frog Song.

Music legend Paul McCartney is a life long Rupert fan, and he noticed that his children were fans too. He was impressed by this cross-generational appeal and decided that the scarf-wearing bear was deserving of an animated film. And so he purchased the rights to the series- legend has it the day immediately after The Beatles broke up.

McCartney spent a lot of time developing the feature and teamed up with British-Argentine animator Oscar Grillo. The film was unfortunately shelved (likely due to not being able to raise the required budget)., but McCartney composed and recorded a full set of songs, the most of which have never seen the light of day.

Instead, McCartney decided to produce a short animated film, based on what would have been the climax of the full movie. Macca partnered with British animator Geoff Dunbar, with production taking place between 1981 and 1983.

The story saw Rupert exploring the hills near his home in the fictional village on Nutwood. Slipping behind a waterfall and past an ominous "Frogs only beyond this point" sign, he finds himself witness to a once-in-a-century spectacle: The Frog Song. Featuring countless amphibians singing, dancing and putting on quite the spectacle, it's like nothing Rupert has seen before

The Frog Song itself was originally written by McCartney for the shelved feature. McCartney also provided the voices of Rupert and two of his friends. British comedy legends Windsor Davies and June Whitfield appeared as his parents.

The short was initially released alongside Paul McCartney's feature film Give my Regards to Broad Street. And although it has sometimes (perhaps unfairly) been labelled as a nadir of his career it was extremely popular. We All Stand Together, the frog song itself, reached number 3 in the UK music charts, and the Frog Song was the best selling VHS of 1984 in the UK. The video was accompanied by two other animated shorts, based on music written by Linda McCartney. The short was awarded the BAFTA award for Best British Animated Short, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Music Video-Short Form.

With the video long out of print (and the format dead) the film was unavailable for some time. It was included in the 2004 Paul McCartney – Music & Animation Collection, which is now pretty hard to get hold of. It's never made it to Blu-Ray or 4K either, but luckily it's available to watch online for free (and completely legitimately). You can also find out more about the film via its official website.

It's a shame we'll never get to see what that Rupert feature film would have been. But as consolations go, Rupert And The Frog Song ain't half bad..