As I noted yesterday in my round-up of the animated short Oscar shortlist, Warner Bros. is pushing hard for a nomination for their new Sylvester and Tweety short. I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat, which is playing in front of Happy Feet Two, would be the first Looney Tunes to go to the Academy Awards since 1963’s Now Hear This. Sylvester and Tweety themselves were nominated four times in the ’40s and ’50s, winning twice. I haven’t yet seen the new short, so I have no idea if it lives up to the extraordinary legacy of Warner Bros. cartoons at the Oscars, but I’m eager to find out.
In the meantime, let’s take a look back at the last time these two rambunctious pets made it to the podium. 1957’s Birds Anonymous would mark the fourth Oscar victory for the Looney Tunes series, and the second for a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon. It’s a wonderfully light-hearted spoof of the dark and often heavy-handed melodramas of the time, influenced by the growth and success of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s also one of the most successful films Friz Freleng directed before Warner Bros. closed their animation studio in 1963, causing him to then start his own production company (DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, which would create The Pink Panther).
But that’s another story, however exciting it might be. The creative genius of Freleng is only one component of the great success of Birds Anonymous, the other being the great voice acting of Mel Blanc. The diversity of vocal styles just in this single short is extraordinary, all supplied by that singular voice actor. There’s a reason that Blanc, despite having died in 1989, seems to be a central point made by the FYC campaign for I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat.Voicing the distinct personalities of Sylvester and Tweety is one thing, but in Birds Anonymous Blanc lends his unique skill to a range of feather-chasing felines. I’m sure that in 1957 no kid in the audience would have had any idea these cats were all voiced by the same man.
As for the story and the overall style of the film, Birds Anonymous is just an all-around winner. The dark angles of the opening scene, setting up Sylvester’s absolute dedication to capturing his prey, work perfectly to create a clever tongue-in-cheek satire. The characterization of addiction manages to be funny without excessively trivializing the real Alcoholics Anonymous, and the portrayal of these redemption-seeking felines manages to balance warmth and sharp humor. It’s hilarious, it’s well-animated, and it’s a nice reminder of the heyday of American theatrical cartoons.