Here Today, Gone Tamale: A tribute history of Speedy Gonzales
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Here Today, Gone Tamale:

A tribute history of Speedy Gonzales

-by Matthew Hunter


Perhaps one of Warner Brother's most enduring characters was that of Speedy Gonzales, the fastest mouse in all Mexico. Yes, the concept seems farfetched, but it worked perfectly for nearly 20 years, garnering one Academy Award and several nominations. Speedy showed cats, crows, banditos and greedy ducks what cartoons were all about-laughter. The Speedy cartoons took no prisoners. Mexican stereotypes were everywhere, and they were wonderful fun. Many people in today's world choose to look at the stereotypes in a negative light, but the more one pays attention and watches each of the Speedy films, it becomes evident that only the villains are portrayed as 'stereotyped' or 'racist', and even these are quite tame. In fact, Speedy is actually a virtuous, caring and heroic character, a mouse superhero of sorts who uses his speed to help others. Perhaps he was even ahead of his time. Speedy himself is never seen smoking, and only two cartoons show characters consuming alcohol, and in both of these Speedy cuts them off and, in one, the Academy Award-nominated Robert McKimson classic, "Tabasco Road", escorts them home.

When I grew up watching "Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon", Speedy was one of the main characters shown . I always enjoyed him. I hope that future generations will have the opportunity to do the same. Anyhow, the character has an interesting history:
Beginning with a cartoon entitled "Cat-Tails for Two," (directed by Robert McKimson, 1953) Speedy Gonzales was always a target of cats. Of course, the cats did not seem to realize that Speedy had supersonic speed. This Speedy prototype looked quite different from the Speedy we recognize today. He had big, buck teeth and a gold tooth in front, with a very stereotypical Mexican look to him. But the character was in there. With his trademark call of "Arriba! Arriba! Andale! Andale! YEEHAH!" the little rodent ran circles around the two cats of the cartoon (caricatures of George and Lennie from Steinbeck's "Of Mice And Men.")
Below: Speedy's business card and Speedy from "Cat Tails for Two"(1953.) Note the early design and name: Speedy would later be redesigned, given a big sombrero, and a slight tweak to the last name: "Gonzalez" would become "Gonzales". Whether or not the name edit was a continuity error on Freleng's part, it is now the official title, "Speedy Gonzales".

cat1.jpg (19783 bytes)cat2.jpg (20793 bytes)
The main chaser of Speedy throughout his "classic" career was Sylvester, the "Greengo Poosygato." Sylvester was already enjoying fame in the WB studio, chasing Tweety and Hippety Hopper. In 1955, Friz Freleng directed an Academy Award winning cartoon called "Speedy Gonzales", and the formula stayed the same for 10 years. Sylvester would find various methods of mouse catching, and all would fail. Many of these cartoons mark some of Sylvester's best appearances, including "Gonzales'Tamales" (1957) and "The Pied Piper of Guadelupe" (1961).

The Speedy cartoons were directed exclusively by Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson until 1965 (when Friz Freleng and David H. Depatie began producing Looney Tunes from a new studio, and commissioning several Speedy and Roadrunner shorts from Rudy Larriva at Format Films). with each director a new aspect of Speedy was added and used. Several gags were used over and over. One such gag, used at least three times over a span of 42 Speedy shorts, was that of the summoning of Speedy for help. (usually at defeating Sylvester):
mexican mouse #1: You know Speedy Gonzales?! Weel You get Heem?!
mouse #2 "si, I weel get heem. Speedy Gonzales, in love weeth my seester."
mouse #3 "Speedy Gonzales...een love weeth EVERYBODY'S SEESTER!
Speedy also developed a memorable cast of other costars, including his cousin Slowpoke Rodriguez, the slowest mouse in all Mexico,("Mexicali Schmoes" (1959) and "Mexican Boarders"(1962)) a Buzzard named "El Vulturo the Bandito Bird"("Tortilla Flaps"(1958)) and a 3-cartoon series that spun off from the cartoon "Mexicali Schmoes." In "Schmoes", the two stupid cats chasing Speedy were developed into their own series, only as crows, that is, the "Mexicali Crows." Friz Freleng directed the first two, "Two Crows From Tacos" (1956) and "Crow's Feat"(1962), in which the two crow amigos Jose and Manuel are stupid enough to be outwitted by a grasshopper and even Elmer Fudd (in a silent and final appearance)

. 2crows.jpg (32846 bytes)

In "Chili Corn Corny"(1965) Robert McKimson used the character design for one of Freleng's Two Crows and simply called him "Loco Crow", Speedy's corn-starved fair-weather friend, voiced not by Mel Blanc but a voice actor named Gonzales Gonzales. (below.)

In fact, McKimson would redesign the Speedy character himself by 1965, making him cuter-looking and in a way reminescent of what Chuck Jones was doing for Jerry the mouse at MGM during the same period . Though different from the recognizable Friz Freleng/Hawley Pratt design of the 1950's and early 1960's, this made Speedy more expressive in a limited-animation setting, so that he could get a message accross more quickly. (Below: from "Feather Finger" (1966))


S
peedy's successful Afterlife

Speedy made a perfect character, even after the original closing of the Warner Brothers cartoon studio around 1965. Beginning with 1964's "Pancho's Hideaway", a solo Speedy cartoon in which a Yosemite Sam-like bandito is robbing Speedy's village , a whole new Speedy series began. When the post-64 studio opened, it was produced by Friz Freleng and David DePatie, who were then directing and producing the "Pink Panther" cartoons. Freleng directed several Speedy cartoons, many of which featured Sylvester. The most notable was Freleng's only cartoon to ever feature the Coyote and Roadrunner. "The Wild Chase:" featured Speedy and Roadrunner in a race. Wile E. Coyote and Sylvester team up to catch them, only to win the race themselves!
However, this era and the later Bill Hendricks-produced studio cartoons introduced a series considered one of the worst in animation history: the Daffy Duck/Speedy Gonzales team-ups. Daffy and Speedy were then the studio's most popular stars, second only to Bugs Bunny, who never appeared in a post-64 short. So, naturally, the two were teamed up. Mostly directed by Robert McKimson and later Alex Lovy, these cartoons featured a Daffy Duck with an anger problem. It wasn't the same Daffy Duck the WB studio had been using in the 1950's, a character with a much more pleasant disposition. Not that Daffy was particularly happy or optimistic in the 1950's, it's just that the Daffy/Speedy cartoons brought about a mercilously greedy and mean Duck with no heart at all. In one film, "Assault and Peppered" (1965), Daffy actually declares war on the starving Mexican mice on his property, because they "lower the value". Still, these cartoons do have their merits, many are enjoyable and well drawn with good storylines. Because of their less fluid animation, they are often looked down upon, but they are truly better than some critics would lead one to believe, and Daffy and Speedy, when used correctly, make an okay team.
Below: from "Assault and Peppered"(1965): Daffy declares war on the starving mice on his ranch, and when Speedy Gonzales ("just a myth" as far as Daffy's concerned) defends them, the two decide to settle the argument one-on-one. Daffy is not above spying on Speedy's strategies, either.

Some of Speedy's later cartoons were actually directed and animated at another studio called "Format Films", (most likely due to cheapness.) The director of these cartoons was the highly talented Rudy Larriva, who had close ties to Warner animation, since he animated for Chuck Jones in the 1940's. He also directed some Road Runner films as well as the Speedy films. Larriva's Speedy cartoons all starred Daffy Duck, but they were considered some of the best of the bunch, with a much nicer Daffy .

Speedy's questionable future
It is not officially known, but a good speculation that Speedy Gonzales will not be heard from as much in years to come. In the 1980's, Speedy was just as enduring as Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck when it came to television and video. He proved himself as popular as the rest, and was shown just as often. Nickelodeon cable network, the station know best known for their original "Nicktoons" series, has always been the best place to see Speedy Gonzales cartoons from all eras of WB animation, since they once had the rights to virtually all of them.
But in September of 1999, Nickelodeon dropped their showings of all Warner Brothers cartoons and sent them to Cartoon Network, and a year later ABC network did the same, making Cartoon Network the only television channel to show Warner Brothers classic cartoons on TV. Cartoon Network has been a fairly good place to see the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. However, Cartoon Network's owner at the time, Ted Turner, supposedly asked the programmers to stop airing Speedy cartoons due to their content. This was evidently done at about the time Turner and Warner Brothers merged companies, and for the reason that with so many international venues, the content that in any way ridiculed foreigners might be offensive to some viewers. This has since started proving itself wrong, fans (me included) have emailed and written asking about their favorite cartoons disappearing, even sending a 1600-plus signature petition headed up by me in 2002. The last time Speedy Gonzales was seen on the network was during late-night and Saturday morning showings in the fall of 2000, but then only a few cartoons appeared and only once. Three, "Cat Tails for two", "The Wild Chase" and "The Chocolate Chase", actually made the Saturday morning lineup in 2001 once or twice, then vanished again. The official word of the Cartoon Network now is that the Speedy cartoons are being considered, and that they were not "banned", just never aired due to ratings considerations. (They were under the (incorrect, IMHO) impression that kids don't like Speedy.) It had also been mentioned by the Network's publicity department that Speedy smokes and drinks in the cartoons and serves as a poor role model. I have only ever seen two cartoons in which alcohol is consumed, never by Speedy himself. I've seen all of them, nearly 40 films, and I can assure readers to this page that Speedy has never smoked either. Hispanics, judging by the major support of my petition by http://www.hispaniconline.com/ and the huge number of Hispanic signees, love Speedy and are not offended in the least...but appear rather angry that Speedy is no longer shown. According to Cartoon Network as of April 2002, the Cartoon Network is now considering returning Speedy to the rotation. As Dave Barry would say: "No, I'm NOT making this up!) They are now working on finding a spot for Speedy on the channel, and if not there, perhaps its spinoff channel Boomerang. It may take a while to fully re-introduce them, and many favorites may still get the axe.

-Matthew Hunter

Article © Matthew Hunter. Speedy Gonzales: © AOL/Time Warner Inc.

Filmography:
1953: 
Cat Tails For Two
1955: 
Speedy Gonzales
1957:
Tabasco Road
Gonzales' Tamales
1958:
Tortilla Flaps
1959:
Mexicali Shmoes
Here Today, Gone Tamale
1960:
West of the Pesos
1961:
Cannery Woe
The Pied Piper Guadalupe
1962:
Mexican Boarders
1963:
Mexican Cat Dance
1964:
A Message to Gracias
Nuts and Volts
Pancho's Hideaway
Road to Andalay
1965:
It's Nice to Have a Mouse Around the House
Cats and Bruises
The Wild Chase
Moby Duck
Assault and Peppered
Well Worn Daffy
Chili Corn Corny
Go Go Amigo
1966:
The Astroduck
Muchos Locos
Mexican Mouse-Piece
Daffy Rents
A-Haunting We Will Go
Snow Excuse
A Squeak in the Deep
Feather Finger
Swing Ding Amigo
A Taste of Catnip
1967:
Daffy's Diner
Quacker Tracker
The Music Mice-Tro
The Spy Swatter
Speedy Ghost to Town
Rodent to Stardom
Go Away Stowaway
Fiesta Fiasco
1968
Skyscraper Caper
1980:
The Chocolate Chase