Monday, June 28, 2010


The cat and mouse that defied studio convention and gave Disney animation a run for its money in the mid-1940s, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's Tom & Jerry (1940-1958) forever defined and endeared the eternal struggle between polar opposites.

Determined to compete in the increasingly popular realm of cartoon shorts, MGM commissioned their own cartoon shorts in the mid-1930s through their Rudolf Isling unit where Hanna and Barbera worked. Joe Barbera, a story man with a passion for character design pitched the concept of a cantankerous cat and mischievous mouse to William Hanna over lunch in the MGM commissary. The rest, as they say, is history - although it was history that almost didn't get made.

Despite the successful debut of Puss Gets The Boot in 1939, studio response to Hanna and Barbera's clever comedy was tepid at best. In fact, the studio discouraged the duo from producing more Tom & Jerry shorts until overwhelmingly enthusiastic inquiries from major theatre distributors began pouring in. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was equally infatuated, nominating 'Puss' for Best Short Subject; an honor it lost to another Isling cartoon - The Milky Way in 1941. In all, Tom & Jerry would receive 13 Oscar nominations and win 7 throughout their nearly 20 year career; effectively ending Disney's exclusivity in the marketplace.

The die was cast. Recognizing a good thing, animation producer Fred Quimby commissioned Hanna and Barbera to rechristen the their cat and mouse duo (in Puss Gets the Boot, Tom is named Jasper and Jerry has no name at all) and make more Tom & Jerry cartoons. While Jerry's physicality remained relatively unchanged throughout the series, Tom's appearance went through several major overhauls to streamline his look and make him easier to animate.
Over the next decade Tom & Jerry reigned supreme at MGM, winning an unprecedented four consecutive Oscars. By the mid-1940s, Tex Avery's inimitable brand of sight gags made the series one of the most celebrated and most violent, even eclipsing Warner Bros. Looney Tunes for sheer mayhem. The duo became so popular in fact that MGM afforded them cameo appearances in two of their major musicals; Anchors Aweigh (1945) and Dangerous When Wet (1953).

With the advent of television and more stringent economical concerns throughout the mid-1950s, MGM decided to close its animation division when they realized they could simply recycle old Tom & Jerry shorts in theatres and achieve the same box office response. Although the studio would eventually farm out the franchise, first to Rembrandt Films in 1960 and then to Chuck Jones' Sib-Tower 12 Productions in 1963, the golden age of the cat and mouse effectively ended after 114 shorts in 1957 and 'Tot Watchers' - the last of the original Hanna and Barbera comedy capers.

Viewed today, Tom & Jerry contains its share of racism - most commonplace in its stereotype of the mammy and several brief off handed references to the then popularized artistic expression known as 'black-face'. To their credit Warner Bros., the studio currently in charge of redistributing these classic cartoons on home video, has seen fit to reissue them with their original content unedited, choosing instead to tag the series with a disclaimer that neither promotes nor endorses the stereotypes featured within.

Warner Home Video's latest trip down the mouse hole; Tom & Jerry: The Deluxe Anniversary 2 disc set is not nearly as 'deluxe' as one might expect. In fact, it's rather scant when compared to the studio's previously issued 'Spotlight Collections' Vol. 1 and 2. On this outing we get 20 vintage cartoons from the Hanna/Barbera tenure coupled with 3 shorts from Chuck Jones' tenure and some television episodes after the series went cheap and easy in the late 1970s.

The classic shorts have been given a modest upgrade in their video masters but continue to exhibit a considerable litany of age related artifacts; including scratches and color fading to varying degrees. Several shorts are plagued by an overwhelming amount of edge enhancement - particularly in their title sequences.

Aside: by this late stage in DVD authoring edge enhancements ought to have been made obsolete from all home video mastering technologies! That these shorts continue to exhibit this distracting anomaly is regrettable and, at least by this reviewer's ideals, unacceptable!

The audio on all shorts is mono as originally recorded and adequately represented herein. Extras include a brief featurette retrospective on the evolution of the series, as well the animated sequences from Anchors Aweigh and Dangerous When Wet.

If you already own Vol. 1 and 2 of the Spotlight Collections you may want to overlook this latest Tom & Jerry incarnation. It brings nothing fresh or new to one's overall enjoyment of this loveable cat and mouse.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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