A Year in Shorts Day 17: "Speedy Gonzales"
Here at The Great Oscar Baiter we’ve spent an unfortunate amount of time discussing racial stereotypes. That sort of thing is inevitable when discussing film history. But how do you discuss a stereotypical character when he’s so beloved by the culture he’s stereotyping? I don’t have the answer to that, but let’s discuss Speedy Gonzales anyway!
Directed by Friz Freleng, the 1955 short Merrie Melodies short Speedy Gonzales is generally considered to be the official debut of the titular character, although an early version of him appeared in Cat-Tails for Two two years earlier. That seemed to be something of a common thing with Warner Brothers characters. You can't rush perfection!
The plot is fairly simple stuff- a group of mice want some cheese, Sylvester the Cat will eat them if they try, so the mice hire Speedy Gonzales to steal the cheese for him. You don't come to these shorts for the story, you come for the gags, and I think the gags in this short are pretty solid. None of them are hilarious, but they're consistently funny, and there's a reason this formula was and is so popular.
For a short like this to work, all you need are some good gags, good animation and good characters. Sylvester is always a great comic foil, and it's unfortunate that he's too often saddled with Tweety Bird to work against. Speedy Gonzales is a much better protagonist, and that makes for a much more fun short.
Allegedly, Warner Brothers stopped airing Speedy Gonzales shorts at the beginning of the 21st century out of fear of them being seen as offensive, and only put them back on TV when Speedy's Latin fanbase campaigned in his favor. It seems odd, but at the same time it makes sense. Compared to a lot of stereotypes used in early cartoons, Speedy Gonzales isn't the butt of the joke. Speedy is an aspirational figure, striking a blow for the common man and always getting the upper hand with his quick feet and quick wits.
Is Speedy Gonzales a great short? No, but it's a pretty good one, and it marks a solid debut for a fun and beloved character.
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