Tweety's High-Flying Adventure

Directors: James T. Walker, Karl Toerge, Charles Visser

I have always loved the members of the Looney Tunes gang and their antics. Bugs Bunny can kick Mickey Mouse's ass any day in not just the humor department, but also in acting. I think it's safe to say that I'm not the only one who has these feelings about those beloved characters. The reason I think they have been so popular for all these decades is that deep down we emphasize with their actions and their feelings. We've all had times when we've tried so many times unsuccessfully to get something we want badly, so we know what Wile E. Coyote is feeling in his relentless pursuit of the Road Runner. And though most of us follow an honest and moral path, we all have a little part deep within us that is greedy and selfish, so we smile when we see Daffy Duck going after fame or fortune without any thought to anyone else's feelings.

Most of the gang that gave us these classic cartoons is gone. So when I saw Tweety's High-Flying Adventure in the video store, I was a little hesitant at first. This movie was created by a new generation of animators - could they possibly recapture the magic of the golden years? Still, it seemed that I should give it a chance - after all, Warner Brothers over the past few years has made great animated products like Animaniacs, Batman, and The Iron Giant. Plus, the great thing about renting even brand new family movies from your video store is that many times you can rent them cheaply (in my case, 99 cents.) It's fortunate that I didn't have to fork over too much, because this resurrection of the gang is overall quite a disappointment, though at least it's not a complete waste.

In London, Granny (trivia: her last name is "Webster") takes Tweety and Sylvester with her to The Looney Club for a nice game of whist. Of course, poor old Sly is still trying unsuccessfully to get that blasted yellow canary, and the Tweetster is still managing to outfox him. At the club, Colonel Rimfire declares to the other club members that he has decided to quit his pursuit of Cool Cat (yeah, I never saw those particular Warner Brothers cartoons as well), declaring that no intelligence can be more cunning than that of a feline. Granny, having earlier seen that the local children's park is to be closed in 80 days due to an unpaid municipal debt (?), decides to save the park by making a wager with the Colonel. She bets her savings that Tweety is smarter than any feline, and will circle the globe in 80 days, collecting the pawprints of 80 cats in the process. The Colonel agrees, and Tweety sets off on a race against time, prompting Sylvester to spit, "Those foreign pussycats gonna nab my lunch?" and start a personal global pursuit for canary cuisine.

Tweety is the starring player in this feature-length cartoon, and that is a serious flaw. Why? Okay, think back to all of those Tweety cartoons you've seen. In them, who did the work? Who gave us the laughs? That's right - almost all of the time, it was Sylvester. Tweety was the McGuffin, the reason why Sylvester was doing all of the work. Sure, occasionally Tweety would do something that would result in Sylvester getting inflicted with pain, but most of the time it was Sylvester's ineptness or another outside force (like Hector the bulldog) that would result in that delivery of comic pain. Mostly Tweety just stayed in his nest or his cage, watching Sylvester trying to get at him. In Tweety's High-Flying Adventure, Sylvester, despite being placed in a secondary role, still manages to show that despite several decades in the business, he can still get abused in ways that will make us laugh. He's still a good actor, though his "voice coach" of Joe Alaskey gets him spraying too much, unlike what his formcr coach Mel Blanc managed to accomplish. *

Tweety, however, has never been leading man material. He's too bland, too one-note to be a leading character, let alone one for a feature-length cartoon, which is the biggest problem with this movie. It's frequently quite exasperating to see him at length, and I believe the writers realized this, which explains another big problem the production has. The writers, in not just a bid to liven Tweety up but to possibly "contemporize" him, have him doing and saying things that are way out of character. We see Tweety giving out smart-alec grins (yes, he all of a sudden has teeth), laughing uproariously and mockingly at Sylvester and the other feline pursuers, and doing things like whipping a crowbar from behind him to furiously pry away Sylvester's claws as he hangs over the edge of a ship. Not only does Tweety come off as somewhat sadistic, he's at times quite unlikable.

Also, when Tweety does something like calling someone, "Bub", it's quite jarring to hear. The sight of him, Sylvester and the other Warner Brothers characters (who make cameos) doing contemporary things most of the time just doesn't feel right. I could accept Foghorn Leghorn and some of the other bird characters working a large computer at Floyd's Of London, but to see Bugs Bunny wearing cool winter clothes and hot-dogging down a mountain on a snowboard... the Tasmanian Devil on a mountain bike... Sylvester drinking cappuccino (while grumbling, "A pussycat can't live on decaf cappuccino trail mix cafe au lait!"), Tweety on a skateboard... well, it was weird to see. There are a couple of times when this contemporary attitude goes a little to far for a family cartoon, unless your kids have already guessed that Pepe Le Pew is bisexual, or could find Tweety sodomizing a cat with a stick hilarious.

Though it's fun to see (most of) our favorite characters making those cameos, there is sometimes a problem when two or more characters are placed together in a scene. Some characters just don't belong together. The Tazmanian Devil, a stupid creature with pure animal instincts, works best with a particularly intelligent foe (Bugs Bunny) who can manipulate him easily. Here we get Taz teamed up with Sylvester for a short sequence, and it just doesn't work. Sylvester finds himself helpless with this character, and can't do anything but hold onto the ride. The same feelings of awkwardness and pointlessness also comes when Sylvester and Yosemite Sam are placed together in another sequence.

A few positive things can be said about this movie; in fact, there is probably enough here to entertain younger children, who'll be less discriminating, since the movie is fairly brisk in its pace, and the many different settings and situations won't have them bored. Older viewers will eventually get bored, though there is occasionally a gag that will make them laugh. They will welcome the three musical numbers, which is surprising, because usually in these kind of movies, the song numbers are usually the worst attribute. However, the songs, "Around The World In Eighty Puddy Tats" and "Tweety Don't Stand A Chance" have been given some cute lyrics, and are very catchy. Tweety's solo number, "The Best Thing You Can Win Is A Friend" is surprisingly touching, as well as being pleasant to the ear.

Actually, children may not appreciate one of the movie's other merits: the art design. The cel animation is serviceable, even excellent at times, though the outlines of the characters occasionally look hazy, an unfortunate result of using computers to color the characters. But what is really outstanding about the art are the backgrounds, drawn in an amazing number of styles. In London, watercolors are used. The Paris backdrop is influenced by UPA, while the Alps are out of an early 1950s W.B. cartoon. The African jungle uses bizarre and surreal color schemes and patterns, while the Las Vegas cityscape seems to have been drawn with pastels. While it doesn't always mix with the art style of the drawn characters, each background style is bright and worth a freeze-frame just so you can study it more deeply.

It's also worth your time to freeze-frame some parts, because the artists occasionally threw in some amusing background jokes that you may miss otherwise (study the sandwich board man carefully.) I can see why it took three directors to put all of this art and detail on the screen, but it did result in a few more problems creeping in. With three directors working at once, there seems to have been some communication problems. I don't know if that's what happened, but it would explain why, for instance, Tweety starts the race without a homing beacon but suddenly has one as soon as he leaves London, a bomb with a fuse that Sylvester eats unknowingly ticking in his belly, and Foghorn Leghorn proclaiming that Tweety is in Italy while a computer map clearly shows he's in Greece. One animation goof involving a skillet may have been caught at the last minute, because a line of explanation in the scene seems to have been hastily dubbed in.

Since I love the Warner Brothers characters, I still had some affection for Tweety's High-Flying Adventure, even though it was badly conceived and haphazardly executed. It was good to see the characters at work again, even if the material didn't deserve their talent. Plus, I saw that it could have been much worse - the Disney gang could have been doing all of this stuff.

(Note: Tweety's High-Flying Adventure introduces a new character, Awooga, who plays Tweety's girlfriend. She shows some promise, with an attitude that could have been used by the writers and directors of the Looney Tunes cartoons made during the golden years. My advice for her: For your next project, wait until you're given a better script.)

UPDATE: I got this e-mail from B. Chin:

"Hello: I just happen to be searching the internet when your review of this cartoon movie shows up. In your review, you noticed the background design...which pleased me, because I was the background designer. You "got" what we were trying to accomplish. Thank you."

* Alaskey and the other voice coaches try, but generally don't quite manage to get their clients to sound the same way they did several decades ago. One exception is June Foray, who returned to coach Granny

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See also: Barefoot Gen, The Last Unicorn, Willy McBean And His Magic Machine