A Year in Shorts Day 283: "Birds Anonymous"
I don’t think I’d be ruffling any feathers to say that Mel Blanc is probably the greatest voice actor of all time. How could he not be? He brought the Looney Tunes to life after all. And while directors like Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Friz Freleng (director of today’s short) play a large part in that, Mel Blanc was really the secret ingredient that made them all come together. Nowadays it takes dozens of actors to do what he could by himself (and nowhere nearly as well). And out of all the shorts he provided voices for, one stood above the rest as his favorite- 1957’s Birds Anonymous.
The premise of Birds Anonymous is pretty self-explanatory I think. As Sylvester tries to eat Tweety one day, he is stopped by a soft-spoken orange cat who convinces him to join the titular Birds Anonymous, a support group for cats who want to give up on eating birds. Of course Sylvester being Sylvester, he has a particularly hard time quitting cold turkey, and soon takes drastic measures to keep himself from doing the world a favor and eating that yellow bastard. That's not a bad premise for a short, although I suppose you could argue that it's in somewhat bad taste. (Although it's certainly not the most fucked up Sylvester short we've covered.) And for the most part, the film doesn't squander its considerable potential. It certainly helps that Tweety Bird barely plays a part in this; he's more of a plot point than an opponent for Sylvester this time around, and has blessedly little dialogue throughout the short. No, most of the film's runtime is instead taken up by Sylvester's slow descent into madness, which is fairly entertaining. And as we've seen before, that's not so easy to do. There's a fine line between delightfully dark comedy and just plain fucking wrong, but Birds Anonymous toes it pretty carefully. It's not hard to see why Mel Blanc had such a fun time voicing this cartoon; he's really allowed to let loose in this one! Aided by some great animation, filled with bright colors and dynamic angles, and you've got the recipe for a pretty good short.
But is it a great short? Well no. While the film is certainly funny, I feel like it stops before it really gets the chance to get going. Sylvester's antics are amusing, but they don't reach the over-the-top heights that we come to expect from our Looney Tunes. (Granted, this is technically a Merrie Melodies short; maybe those were a little more low key.) But failing that, is it at least one worthy of an Oscar? Well that's a little trickier to answer. On the one hand, the lineup for Best Animated Short at the 30th Academy Awards was not exactly stellar. Compared to a short like Trees and Jamaica Daddy (which I swear to God is a real short that actually got nominated for an Oscar), Birds Anonymous looks like a masterpiece. And even though my pick from the nominees would be Disney's The Truth About Mother Goose, I admit that I might be biased due to my love for 50s Disney animation and my hatred for Tweety Bird. So it's hard to begrudge Birds Anonymous the win. But when you look outside that year's nominees, it becomes a little harder to justify. Granted, 1957 didn't produce a whole lot of iconic Looney Tunes shorts. But one did come out that year which you may be familiar with...
I have long since given up on trying to understand exactly what Chuck Jones did to the Academy during the 1950s for them to ignore his most iconic shorts the way they did. It had to have been something pretty heinous to justify such flagrant disrespect. Either way, What's Opera Doc's failure to secure an Oscar nomination puts Birds Anonymous' win in a much different perspective. While Birds Anonymous may be a better than average Sylvester and Tweety short, it is still, at the end of the day, a Sylvester and Tweety short. It didn't reinvent the medium, push the boundaries of what a cartoon could be or contain some of the most strikingly beautiful images put to film, animated or otherwise. It's just a variation on a formula. And, unlike with a Tom and Jerry or Bugs and Elmer short, it wasn't a particularly fruitful formula to begin with. Birds Anonymous may be a good short, but it doesn't hold a candle to What's Opera, Doc? Frankly, none of that year's nominees do. (Especially, and I can not stress this enough, Trees and Jamaica Daddy, a film which offends me not only with its undeserved status as an Oscar nominee but also the simple fact of its mere existence.)
Of course, it is a little unfair to compare Birds Anonymous to What's Opera, Doc? It's unfair to compare pretty much any film to What's Opera, Doc? So as much as I'd love to, I'm not going to hold Birds Anonymous' Oscar win against it. It's blatantly undeserved, but so what? There are a lot of undeserving Oscar winners out there, and a lot of them are a lot worse than this film. And really, if you can get me to say mostly nice things about a short starring Tweety Bird, I suppose you must be doing something right. Even if the Academy was doing something horribly, horribly wrong.
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"Birds Anonymous" is available to watch on HBO Max.
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