Warner Bros. intellectual properties (or, rather, the corporate management thereof) are big news right now, in the wake of the theatrical release of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and the studio’s plan to move forward with additional installments in its DC Extended Universe, as it’s known. The DCEU has been a long time in the making, while the studio has another long-enduring property that it has been seeking to bring back in full force: the Looney Tunes and its many animated characters, whose last feature-film appearance in the Joe Dante-directed Looney Tunes: Back in Action was a box-office disappointment in 2003.
Rumors of a sequel to the Looney Tunes-starring 1996 live-action/animated hit Space Jam were cut down two years ago, though progress reportedly continues to be made on an Acme feature under WB’s watch. Now, the studio is reportedly looking to roll the dice on a new feature film starring one of the Looney Tunes’ most popular but often controversial characters: Speedy Gonzales.
Created in 1955 by WB animation legends Friz Freleng and Hawley Pratt (based partially on an earlier prototype character by Robert McKimson), Speedy Gonzales was one of the first (and still few) Looney Tunes characters to have been conceived with a distinct non-white ethnic identity in mind. Though the “canon” of early WB animated shorts is loosely defined, the character – a exuberant Mexican mouse capable of moving at superhuman speed a’la The Flash – was originally depicted in the self-titled short “Speedy Gonzales” as a folk hero who aids impoverished Mexican mice in infiltrating a cheese factory on the U.S./Mexico border guarded by Sylvester the cat. In subsequent shorts he would battle Sylvester again under similar circumstances, throughout many more shorts and gain a new nemesis in Daffy Duck in the mid-1960s.
The character has been continually popular since, but has also been the subject of controversy as many modern critics have accused the shorts of maintaining dated ethnic stereotypes, i.e. it’s meant to be “funny” that Speedy is fast because Mexicans being slow/lazy was the ugly (but common) stereotype in U.S. movies/culture at the time. In 1999, Cartoon Network took the Speedy shorts out of regular rotation over such concerns (they were restored in 2002 after years of fan complaints.) Ironically, such concerns were mainly confined to the U.S.; as the character and his cartoons have remained hugely popular throughout Mexico and Latin America.
As explained by acclaimed Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez, who has been signed to voice the character in the upcoming Speedy Gonzales animated movie, to Deadline:
“In Mexico we grew up watching Speedy Gonzalez. He was like a superhero to us, or maybe more like a revolutionario like Simon Bolivar or Pacho Villa. He watched out for the little people but with a lot of bravado and a weakness for the ladies. I’m really excited to be bringing this character to the big screen. And besides being Mexican— my full name is Eugenio Derbez Gonzalez and I have big ears. The casting couldn’t be better.”
Derbez, an actor/director/screenwriter and Formula Three racing driver, is one of the most popular stars in Mexico as creator/star of television series like Al Derecho y Al Derbez , Derbez en cuando, XHDRBZ, Vecinos, and La familia P. Luche and star of the international comedy hit Instructions Not Included; along with performing the Spanish-language voice of Donkey in the Shrek films – a performance credited with increasing the franchise’s popularity in Spanish-speaking countries by adding familiar colloquialisms to the dialogue. His presence indicates that Warner Bros (who had previously attempted to launch this project with comedian George Lopez in 2010) is serious about reviving Speedy as a global franchise with international appeal – a potentially smart move in an increasingly global film marketplace where Western studios have struggled to create characters that appeal to other cultures.
The film’s premise (Dylan Sellers’ Rivers Edge Films will produce alongside Derbez and Ben Odell’s 3pas Studios with Saving Silverman’s Hank Nelken scripting the story) sounds vaugely like a feature-length reworking of the aforementioned original Speedy/Sylvester short (which won an Academy Award in 1955), a “heist caper” which will also function as a new origin story for a contemporary conception of Speedy – who, according to Sellers, is seen as being very much a necessary presence in the modern world:
“We see this as an origin story of the great master, like a Robin Hood character, who ultimately ends up taking from the rich and giving to the poor. In a time when Donald Trump is gaining momentum, the world needs Speedy more than ever.”
We’ll bring you more information on the Speedy Gonzales animated movie as it becomes available.