Retro Recaps: The Story of Anyburg USA
Retro Recaps is where we will look back at old television episodes from the past, and analyze their story, content, and much more.
Ever since the first previews rolled for PIXAR’s 2006 release Cars, there has been a great cry of foul regarding the company’s adventures making a world of living vehicles populating a landscape that looks largely comprised of human-built things.
What I find funny is that the film’s director, John Lasseter, borrowed his concept of window-eyed vehicles from several of the animated shorts made by the Walt Disney Company. Notable among them was Suzie, the Little Blue Coupe, a short that I loved for its vehicular depictions, so one can say I was instantly sold on John’s concept.
In the mid-50’s, the animation division of Disney was starting to wind down regarding short animation productions.Quality began to be scaled back from the previous decade, and quite a lot of the non-film animation output, was used towards educational purposes instead. One of these was 1957’s The Story of Anyburg, USA. It’s title is rather vague, notably in regards to the opening title card which shows a courtroom. So what’s the news out of Anyburg? Let’s find out.
As our short opens, a narrator tells that our story is about to take place “within the borders of a great, enlightened, and civilized country.” We then see an overhead view of the United States, that quickly dissolves into one with white lines representing roadways, and numerous little rectangles representing vehicles. However, the movement of the vehicles is more chaotic than orderly.
We then find ourselves viewing the (now-small) town of Anyburg. I say town, because according to its local signage, its population has decreased from that of a small city (30,000), to a small town (500). The narrator then goes on to say that while ‘homicide on the highway’ was not that different from other places within the United States, the local citizens were getting fed up with their traffic situation. One example is seen below:
Eventually, the citizens of Anyburg decide to place the blame for these troubles upon the automobile, and a trial begins.
With a grumpy judge presiding over the trial, we are then introduced to an ‘angular’ prosecuting attorney (voiced by Hans Conried),
and a ‘well-rounded’ defense attorney (voiced by Bill Thompson).
The prosecuting attorney starts off the trial by bringing three automobiles to the stand. Unlike “Suzie the Little Blue Coupe,” the vehicles and humans can communicate with each other.
The first car on the stand is a green coupe, who is intimidated by the prosecutor. He is accused of speeding and crashing into a restaurant, before driving away from the scene. The car sheepishly confesses to this.
The next car is a red sports car, who is accused of ‘guzzling alcohol,’ and speeding. When questioned if the accusations are true, the sports car casually agrees.
The third car is an older vehicle, who’s ‘crime’ is being unsafe. With only one eye (or windshield) intact, a rattling frame, and non-safe tires, the prosecutor plays to the jury, claiming the vehicle is the kind “every safety test shuns!”
After each car is cross-examined by the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney is given a chance to do so as well, but he busily scribbles away on some papers and replies, “no questions.”
The prosecutor then plays testimony from those in the automobile industry. They hear from vehicle builders, and persons working to increase safety in vehicles. However, they also say that though there is a great deal of investment to improve automobile safety, accident rates continue to rise.
Testimony is also given by a man who designs super-highways. He speak passionately of the hours of work put into his job, and the lane lines and safety signs added, but breaks down in tears, feeling that the automobiles have made a mess of his work. The prosecuting attorney also says that automobiles see these highways as playgrounds where they could disobey rules.
“There’s only one end to this tale of woe,” says the prosecuting attorney, gesturing wildly to the jury, “The automobile, has GOT to GO!!!”
With this line, the prosecutor rests his case, and gives the floor to the defense.
The defense attorney then pulls down a screen, and shows a speeding car. However, he then tells the viewer to take away the vehicle, and we are left with a speeding man.
As we watch, the speeding man attempts to race a train to a crossing, but he ends up being hit, sustaining heavy injuries, and ending up in a body cast.
The next thing we see, is a weaving, ‘drunk’ car. Like the last example, the car is removed, and we see its drunken passengers are responsible for its weaving motions. The defense attorney is heard to say that drinking-and-driving is wrong, and to prove this, we then see the men and the vehicle crash into a telephone pole.
The next section is quite interesting. We see a police line-up and three people standing before it. The defense attorney claims that they are all ‘ordinary citizens.’
However, the defense attorney tells how each of these innocent people can be dangerous. Each of them has been found guilty of such crimes as reckless driving, hit-and-run, and speeding. In a Jekyl-and-Hyde type transformation, we see each of them go from an ordinary citizen, into a crazed lunatic. One example is a woman who was charged with hit-and-run. Below, you can see the before-and-after results:
“I think we all know who the criminal in this case really is,” the defense attorney says as the lights in the courtroom come up, “”It’s you. And you. And it’s me too!”
It is then that the attorney realizes, that everyone in the courtroom has left! However, there are three notes left in crucial areas. In the jury box hangs a paper that says “Not Guilty.” On the judge’s bench, rests a paper that says “Case Dismissed.” Even the prosecuting attorney was kind enough to leave a paper behind saying, “You win!”
The attorney and the cars celebrate their win, and the end results cause many people to look in the mirror for whom to blame.
The narrator returns, saying that the end results of the trial seemed to work, as common courtesy on the highway seemed to return. We see the defense attorney stopping at a cross-walk to let a woman and several children pass. What’s interesting to note is his automobile, which has eyes in its headlights, not its windshield.
We then get another view of Anyburg, with cars yielding the right-of-way, and the world seeming to have learned its lesson.
But, as can be expected with human beings, the peace and tranquility is fleeting, and within a matter of seconds on-screen, traffic patterns return to the following:
“Well, it was a nice try,” says the narrator, as we return to an overhead map of the United States, and its ‘highways of death’. “And where there’s light, there’s hope…let’s hope.”
And that was The Story of Anyburg, USA. From the information above, it doesn’t sound quite as happy-go-lucky as a Mickey Mouse cartoon, but I love it for the fact that it shows often how frivolous some lawsuits and court cases can be. And of course nowadays, we see plenty of idiotic trials brought to life that we often say, “if you just did this or that, you wouldn’t need to have a trial!”
The story of Anyburg was written by Disney Studios veteran, Dick Huemer. Working with the studio for over 30 years into the 1960’s, he worked everywhere from short cartoons, to the studio’s animated features like Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. Huemer’s hand was in several other educational shorts from the studio in the 1950’s. These included the shorts on music titled Melody, and Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom.
The short’s director was Clyde Geronimi, also a seasoned veteran of the studio. Though starting off as an animator, Clyde eventually spent over 20 years directing shorts and films for The Walt Disney Studios. Also of note, was that he was the director for Suzie the Little Blue Coupe.
Of course, automobiles would continue to figure into many of the studio’s productions, and I often loved watching them. From Mr Toad and his mad obsession with motorcars, to Goofy in 1950’s Motor Mania. Motor Mania could almost be seen as a precursor for Anyburg, as it also deals with courtesy and reckless driving. And in 1965, Goofy would also star in two driving education shorts, titled Freewayphobia, and Freeway Troubles.
The Story of Anyburg USA was only released once on DVD, in the now-defunct Walt Disney Treasures set titled, Disney Rarities. The set includes shorts from 40 years of the studio’s libraries, and is pretty easy to find on the secondary market.