Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hit n' Run Speedy Gonzales Comment

After watching some of the cartoons on the Speedy Gonzales DVD: Does anybody agree that Sylvester was a poor choice as an adversary for Speedy?

It seems like when Friz Freleng picked up the Speedy character and turned him into a viable series character, it almost seems like he picked Sylvester out of habit, because that's the cat character he always used. (Jones and McKimson would alternate between using Sylvester and other, original cats, but Freleng brought in Sylvester any time he needed a cat, in almost any context.) But there were still some cartoons after that where Speedy went up against new adversaries, and these are almost always better: the big Mexican cat in "Tabasco Road" (McKimson), the vulture in "Tortilla Flaps" (McKimson again) and Jose and Manuel in "Mexicali Schmoes" (Freleng recycling his "Two Crows From Tacos" characters, whom he would eventually turn into the Tijuana toads). These characters actually add to the humor with their fractured Pepe Le Pew-ish English and their exchanges with Speedy; by comparison, Sylvester seems out of place in the Mexican setting and not very funny.

And yet after "Mexicali Schmoes" Sylvester was more or less Speedy's permanent adversary until they replaced him with the even-more-inappropriate Daffy Duck. (As usual, McKimson appears to have started out doing something different and finally going along with what Freleng was doing; McKimson didn't make a Speedy-vs-Sylvester cartoon for several years.) Speedy was never a great character, but pairing him up with a villain with whom he has nothing in common and no real chemistry -- whether it's Sylvester or Daffy -- makes his cartoons much duller than they might have been.

On the other hand, the choice of the "gringo pussycat" as a villain may have contributed to the series' popularity in Mexico, since instead of a Mexican equivalent of the Pepe Le Pew cartoons, the series became the story of a heroic Mexican constantly defeating a villainous American. It probably helped deflect charges of racism and helps explain why the Speedy cartoons haven't been as controversial as other racial-stereotype cartoons (except for that period when Cartoon Network decided they needed to ban him).


Thad said...

Yeah, Sly never worked too well with Speedy.

There's actually an interesting comic book story in the only Dell Speedy Gonzales one-shot that shows Sylvester getting booted off a ship ported in Mexico... hoping to find lazy mice that are easier to catch!

Thad said...

I forgot to add: Speedy is an even bigger nonentity in his comic book stories than in his animated cartoons.

J Lee said...

Friz's comment about the Tweety-Sylvester series was that people would complement him about what Tweety had done, but the fun was actually in what Sylvester did and his reactions, which probably explains why Freleng chose to put the cat in the series with Speedy.

The problem is where Tweety was generally considered physically at a disadvantage to Sylvester, Speedy has his running ability, combined with his self-confident nature. Giving him both a "special power" and a wise-guy attitude against a character in Sylvester that the audience sympathizes with takes away some of the enjoyment of the cartoon in a way Speedy versus a one-shot villian(s) does not.

It's also why Jones' "Hare-Breath Hurry" is such a misfire. Giving Bugs super speed and boastful lines against a mute Coyote is just piling on, and makes the hero unsympathetic. And Friz's "Mexican Cat Dance" with a silent Sylvester vs. Speedy and the taunting crowd, is so unappealing it's the only pre-64 Gonzalez cartoon left off the Golden Collection so far.

Anonymous said...

Agreed with J Lee. "Mexican Cat Dance" made me feel sorry for Sylvester, which hurt a lot of the comedy in the short. Of course, it didn't help that that short also had bad comic timing and execution on the gags.

Even though I'm not a big fan of the Daffy/Speedy shorts, at least Daffy sort of deserves the crap Speedy dishes out to him. He acted like a jerk to him for no real reason most of the time, and he got his just desserts.

Andrew Leal said...

The gringo pussygato is exactly why Mexicans love him. I live in El Paso, and one of the Mexican stations used to run "Speedy Gonzales la Pelicula," a barely edited marathon of Speedy cartoons. Absolutely nobody of Hispanic descent in this region finds him offensive, and I don't personally.

On the other hand, Spanish stations would also show all of the controversial or racially stereotyped cartoons, including some of the "Censored 11," and a talk show for awhile, which began around 2003, was hosted by a man in full minstrel show blackface and frizzy wig. So racial/cultural sensitivity in general is a whole 'nother kettle of fish in Mexico.

neil said...

I'VE always thought Sylvester was a vastly underrated character, every inch on a par with Bugs or Daffy. Freleng really plugged into something when he worked with the character, and it's a sort of notion cropping up in the director's vehicles for this star that your sympathy's really supposed to rest with HIM. "Gonzales' Tamales" is so superbly timed, one of Freleng's finest efforts, with some of the most utterly painful gags ever in a Warner short. But with that said: it's quite evident that the Speedy series had its built-in limitations, and doesn't stand up to most of the other series.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Sylvester made more sense than Daffy as le adversary for Speedy [Pepe lePew steal there, on my part.].