A Year in Shorts Day 257: "Mouse and Garden"
Regular readers of this blog are well aware by now that I have a particularly deep hatred for Tweety Bird, but a fond respect for his archnemesis, Sylvester. While that yellow bastard is the bane of my existence (at least when I’m watching a Looney Tunes short), Sylvester always brings me some relief. Still, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression- Sylvester is perfectly capable of starring in some stinkers of his own without Tweety’s assistance. Especially when fellow felines like Sam Cat are involved. Case in point- the 1960 short, Mouse and Garden.
Mouse and Garden was directed by Friz Freleng, who definitely has directed great Looney Tunes shorts, even if the Academy didn't recognize any of those ones. Instead they decided to nominate THIS nonsense. But I suppose we have to talk about it, so let's just get it over with. Mouse and Garden follows Sylvester (expertly voiced as always by Mel Blanc) and his friend Sam (voiced obnoxiously by Hanna-Barbera regular Daws Butler) as they scrounge through garbage for food. Presumably by this point in Looney Tunes canon, Granny has either kicked Sylvester out for his constant attempts to eat her pet bird or has, in fact, died, and Sylvester has turned to scavenging after gaining what little sustenance he could from eating her corpse. (Cats aren't loyal!) But their tenuous alliance is put to the test when Sylvester discovers a mouse, and the two begin to fight over who gets to eat it. What follows is a fairly unengaging battle of what qualifies for wits with these two as they try (and fail) to keep the mouse for themselves.
The big problem with Mouse and Garden is that it's not funny. Oh sure, there's a bit of business involving dynamite that's amusing. But that's hardly fair, dynamite is always funny. As for the rest of the humor in the short, it's pretty uninspired, even if I do get some unintentional (?) enjoyment out of the various homoerotic situations Sam and Sylvester find themselves in. (Sylvester ties Sam to the bed at one point, giving us a much more intimate glimpse into his sexual preferences than I'm sure we ever needed.) But whatever mild bits of fun can be found here are let down by the short's characters. Oh sure, Sylvester is always fun, but Sam is just obnoxious. Granted, he's supposed to be obnoxious, but that hardly excuses it. And the mouse has almost no character to speak of. It's hard to get invested in his survival when he's such a blank slate. Sylvester is a funny character, but he's at his best when he's playing foil to someone else. He's not really designed to carry a whole short on his shoulders, and Mouse and Garden demonstrates that perfectly.
It's not a total loss, I guess. The animation is pretty good, as one would expect from a Looney Tunes cartoon. Tom O'Loughlin's backgrounds are especially nice, even if the character animation is a bit of a step down from the shorts from the previous decades. But pretty good animation is more or less the baseline from a Warner Bros. short, isn't it? You don't get extra credit for doing what we expect. Really the most interesting thing about Mouse and Garden is trying to understand why the Academy decided it was worth nominating. That seems to be a common theme with MOST Looney Tunes shorts we talk about here. Considering all the classic cartoons in the series which weren't nominated for Oscars, what made shorts like Mouse and Garden stand out? We'll probably never know the answer. Probably for the best, really. I think knowing would just make us angrier.
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