Review by KC Carlson
Did the world really need a cartoon version of Murder, She Wrote? Probably not, but that didn’t stop The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries from becoming a hit, despite its odd origins. The show originally aired on Kids’ WB from 1995 to 2001, for a total of 53 episodes (13 of them on this first season set). The series starred the famous cat-and-bird team, as well as Granny and Hector the bulldog (slightly redesigned here to look more like the more familiar Marc Anthony.)
The episodes themselves are wildly schizophrenic. Granny is left to solve the mystery of the week, while Tweety, Sylvester, and Hector largely fall back into the classic cat-eats-bird and dog-pummels-cat formula of the original cartoons. The real fun is in the details, however, as in typical Warner fashion, each cartoon is highly pop-culture savvy, with various episodes based loosely on such classics as The Man Who Knew Too Much, It’s A Wonderful Life, and The Love Boat (captained by a crazed James T. Kirk-like figure). I’m not mystery-savvy enough to catch all the references to classic whodunnits, but even I can recognize The Maltese Falcon and a locked room mystery with the likes of Miss Marbles, Charlie Smith (Charlie Chan), Lojack (Kojak), Sherlock Holmes (he’s public domain!), and, for some reason, Elmer Fudd playing a Sam Spade type. And Granny has mysteries revealed about her own past sprinkled throughout the episodes. Besides being a master detective, Granny is an Olympic-level diver, has a brother we never knew about, and apparently was romanced in the past by Elmer Fudd. What a wevolting welationship!
The sewies is a weal… ahem, real feast for the Warner cartoon aficionado, as there are guest appearances by mousies Hubie and Bertie, inept criminals Rocky and Mugsy, and Gossamer, the giant orange shag rug of a monster that wears tennis shoes. Even more obscure than that are appearances by Nasty Canasta; Red, the loudmouthed character from Little Red Riding Rabbit; and even the Mynah Bird from the little-seen Inky series of cartoons. And every so often there is an odd cameo — like Michigan J. Frog on the cover of Amphibian Monthly magazine. Plus, super-obscure 1960s Warner character Cool Cat makes some sort of an appearance in the background of most episodes (in paintings, on a band-aid, or walking through a scene).
There is also the occasional shout-out to an Animation Great. When Granny is introduced to a character named Dawes the Butler, she responds “your voice sounds awfully familiar.” “I do a little voice over work when I’m not buttling,” he responds, in a voice not unlike that of Yogi Bear — referring, of course to voice actor Daws Butler, the voice of Yogi Bear, as well as Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and many, many others. Another classic animation voice, June Foray, appears in every episode of the series as Granny, continuing the role from many classic Tweety and Sylvester cartoons. And the entire first season is dedicated to Isadore “Friz” Freleng, the legendary Warners director who was behind the vast majority of the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons and who had passed away shortly before the series began airing.
The show looks pretty good for cheaply produced TV animation, but the frantic pace and admittedly funny violence of the original shorts have been watered down for the Saturday morning crowd. (Sylvester routinely receives his beatings from Hector off-screen.) The lack of subplots tends to drag out the episode-length cartoons, a problem fixed in the rest of the series, as beginning in the second season there are two cartoons per episode. All in all, The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries is a better show than I realized — great fun for the little ones and lots of enjoyment for the adult Warner fan who loves their shows packed with Warner cameos, trivia, and ephemera. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)