A Year in Shorts Day 86: "Sandy Claws"
It’s finally come to this. After nearly three months of looking at short films from across Oscar history, it’s time to face my sworn enemy head on. Oh sure, I’ve taken a few pot shots at him from time to time. My feelings towards the man are certainly no secret. But never before have I confronted him directly. But that ends today. Today, dear readers, The Great Oscar Baiter is taking a look at the 1954 short Sandy Claws. Today, we’re talking about Tweety Bird.
Directed by animation legend Friz Freleng, Sandy Claws is one in a long series of shorts pitting Sylvester (who is funny) against Tweety (who is not). These shorts are all variations on the same basic cat-and-mouse formula (or, in this case, cat-and-bird). Sylvester and Tweety always struck me as the poor man's Coyote and Road Runner, who were already the poor man's Tom and Jerry. And Sandy Claws does nothing to change my mind on that.
I suppose, as far as Tweety shorts go, there's nothing wrong with Sandy Claws per se. The premise is simple but promising- Granny goes to the beach, brings Tweety along, Sylvester tries to eat Tweety while Granny's distracted. Obviously Sylvester can not succeed, obviously he will cause himself great physical pain and distress along the way, obviously Tweety will speak in that obnoxious voice that makes us desperately wish Sylvester would eat him. Typical Sunday morning stuff and a perfectly decent way to kill a couple of minutes.
But honestly, why settle for perfectly decent? I suppose in the 1950s the answer was, "Well, that was the cartoon they played in front of the movie I was watching so what else was I supposed to do?" But we're in the 21st century now, and there really is no excuse for wasting your time watching a substandard product. Err... unless you're writing about it for a blog of course. That's a perfectly valid waste of time.
This goes out to all of you who ever wanted to see Granny in a swimsuit, and also to help increase the chances that someone might click on this site by mistake when they Google the words "Granny in a swimsuit".
Setting aside my contempt for Tweety Bird (who, again, deserves every ounce of scorn heaped upon his insufferably doe-eyed head), Sandy Claws just isn't a very good short. Lord knows I love me some classic cartoon violence, but this short is just lame. I think part of the problem might be that Tweety is such a passive protagonist; he spends the entire short under the impression that Sylvester is trying to save him, so he never defends himself. All of Sylvester's injuries are the result of misfortunate instead of active malice, which just isn't very funny.
And as much as I like Sylvester, he is a little hard to root for. The secret ingredient to making a short like this work is that you have to make the audience want the bad guy to win. We want Tom to catch Jerry because Jerry's a dick. We want Wile E. Coyote to eat the Road Runner because the Coyote is starving. Now consciously we know this will never happen, and we know that we probably shouldn't be rooting for them, but we do anyway. That's where the comic tension comes from.
Now, do I want Sylvester to eat Tweety? Yes. But that's mostly because I find Tweety annoying. And the only time I'm truly invested in the bad guy trying to eat someone because they're annoying is when I'm watching an episode of Hannibal. Sylvester might be a funny bully but he is, at the end of the day, a bully. He lacks the pathetic desperation that makes Tom or Wile E. Coyote so easy to root for.
Of course there are exceptions to this formula- sometimes you want the hero to win. Speedy Gonzales is a great example of this; no one wants a cat to eat him. But that's because Speedy Gonzales is easy like. Speedy is funny, charismatic and a total badass. And while the bad guys in his shorts are always outclassed by him, we still want to see them fail because Speedy doesn't instigate conflicts, he resolves them. Speedy Gonzales is a champion for the common mouse, and that's what makes him fun to watch.
But Tweety Bird is no Speedy Gonzales. He is not funny, he has no charisma, and no one could ever mistake him for a badass. In fact, he is specifically designed not to be a badass. Tweety is meant to look cute and innocent, which is ostensibly supposed to make us care about him, but really just makes me hate him more. And as for being a champion of anything, forget about it. Tweety Bird values nothing aside from his own survival. He is a bird without a cause, and I have no respect for him.
And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the Tweety Birds that Warner Brothers ever animated, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of easily marketable cuteness.
(via Wikipedia- and with apologies to Werner Herzog)
I uh... I think I may have lost the plot for a minute or two back there. But the point stands- with Sylvester and Tweety shorts, it's impossible to get invested because there's no one to side with. I suppose you could argue that that's perfectly fine; you don't need to side with anyone as long as the gags are funny. And I guess I agree on principle.
But luckily I don't have to put those principles to the test, because the gags in Sandy Claws are fairly mediocre. They're not offensively bad, but they never rise above the level of mildly amusing. The best cartoons like this thrive on anarchy and mayhem, throwing all logic to the wind in pursuit of a laugh. But Sandy Claws consistently plays it safe (at least by Looney Tunes standards), and safe is the last thing you want in a cartoon.
Is Sandy Claws the worst short we've covered? Judging by the amount of time I've dedicated to discussing it, you would think so! But no, it's not. Honestly, it's not even that bad all things considered. The animation is pleasant to look at, it doesn't overstay its welcome and it's not even a little bit racist. Compared to a lot of the cartoons we've looked at, that's pretty damn good!
But compared to a lot of other cartoons we've looked at, it's pretty lousy. And when you look at some of the Looney Tunes being produced in the 1950s- including such classics as Duck Amuck, What's Opera, Doc? and Rabbit of Seville- it looks even worse by comparison. None of those shorts I mentioned were nominated for an Oscar. And yet, Sandy Claws was, along with several other Sylvester and Tweety shorts. And for the life of me, I can't see why. Well, at least Sandy Claws didn't win that year. No, much like Crazy Mixed-Up Pup, it lost to When Magoo Flew. And much like I said when we talked about that short- I'm certainly glad it did!
Keep up with the Oscar Baiting here on Letterboxd!
"Sandy Claws" is available to watch on HBO Max
The Great Oscar Baiter is a not-for-profit work of criticism. All images herein are property of their respective owners and are protected under Fair Use.