Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection
May 21, 2005
The first Tom and Jerry animated short appeared on February 10, 1940 with “Puss Gets the Boot.” At the time, Tom was known as Jasper and animation legends, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera directed the cartoon. Under producer Fred Quimby’s guidance Tom and Jerry became a hit and has endured for over six decades. Warner Brothers has released 40 of their classic short films on a 2-DVD set with a nice collection of supplemental material.
Tom and Jerry features the eternal struggle between a cat and a mouse. Tom, the cat, is always trying to get Jerry, the mouse, or is doing something that disturbs him and as a result he puts the cat in his place, ending up triumphant by the conclusion of the story. And this simple concept is employed in every short with endless variations that hold up even today.
Some of my favourites from the collection include the classic “The Zoot Cat” (1944), that features Tom dressing up like a zoot suited hipster to impress a female cat. This is a real product of its time as the female feline uses hipster slang to rebuff Tom’s advances. Of course, he and Jerry feud, including a memorable moment where the mouse puts out a cigarette on Tom’s nose. This cartoon is a great time capsule piece, showcasing the popularity of the jazz era at the time—a genre that would be revisited again.
“Tee for Two” (1945) is Tom and Jerry’s take on golf as a frustrated Tom destroys part of the course trying to make that crucial first tee off. Naturally, he cheats and disturbs Jerry in the process. In their ensuing battle, Tom uses Jerry as a tee and then proceeds to put him through a ball cleaner. One of the controversies Tom and Jerry ran into over the years was the issue of violence. This short is certainly a good example of the cartoonish violence that some people had with problems with, but by today’s standards is pretty tame.
“Quiet Please!” (1945) features Tom chasing Jerry around with a number of items (amazingly he goes from a frying pan to a shotgun) while Spike the dog is trying to take a nap. After being awakened by all the cacophony, he threatens Tom to keep it down or else. Jerry, of course, uses this to his advantage and antagonizes Tom in revenge, trying to make noise and wake up the dog. This is one of the classic shorts with Spike the dog (who would go on to appear in countless other Tom and Jerry cartoons) and is a great example of his antagonistic relationship with Tom (and his alliance with Jerry).
There is more hipster speak in the classic “Solid Serenade” (1946) as Tom woos another female cat, this time by playing that classic jazz tune, “Is You Is.” Tom’s music wakes up Jerry who decides to put a stop to it. Spike the dog makes another appearance and helps Jerry out. This is a wonderful cartoon that evokes an older, simpler time. The use of music is excellent and the hip lingo is a hoot to hear now.
“Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl” (1950) sees Tom conducting an all cat orchestra to the overture to “Die Fledermaus” with Jerry trying to get in on the act as well. There are some vintage moments in this cartoon as Jerry serenades an unwitting Tom into the strings section. Tom retaliates by slamming Jerry around and throwing him into a tuba. The stakes are raised, culminating in Jerry cutting out whole sections of the orchestra, forcing Tom to play every instrument!
“Cue Ball Cat” (1950) features a pool hall setting as Tom plays on a table that also doubles as Jerry’s home. Tom ends up using Jerry as a pool cue and literally puts him behind the eightball. Jerry retaliates by hitting the balls thrown at him like a Major League slugger with a pool stick. He ends up replacing the cat’s eyes with pool balls and even forces him to eat all eight balls.
“Designs on Jerry” (1955) has Tom designing the ultimate mousetrap to catch Jerry. He goes to bed and his designs come to life with the stick drawings of the cat and mouse helping their real life counterparts. This is a very clever cartoon that features a drawing within a drawing idea that must’ve seemed quite ambitious at the time.
On disc one, author and animation historian, Jerry Beck contributes three audio commentaries to “The Zoot Cat”, “Kitty Foiled” and “Heavenly Puss.” For the most part they are informative tracks, although, there is a little too much dead air on “Zoot Cat.” Beck warms up on “Kitty Foiled” which he proclaims as his favourite Tom and Jerry cartoon. He points out that it is one of the few that has no story, just pure Tom chasing Jerry—which became the stereotype of their legacy.
“How Bill and Joe Met Tom and Jerry” is an excellent 27-minute featurette on the origins of Tom and Jerry and how Hanna and Barbera met. When MGM started up their own animation division (to compete with Warner Brothers), Hanna was an early hire with Barbera following shortly. The backstory to both these legendary artists is provided, illustrating how they were innovative pioneers in the field of animation.
“Jerry Dances with Gene Kelly” is an eight minute short that reinterprets The Wizard of Oz (1939) with legendary dancer, Kelly, falling through a hole into a world populated by animated animals, including Jerry. They dance together in an interactive way that anticipated Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) by several decades.
The second disc features “Behind the Tunes: The MGM Orchestra,” a 17-minute featurette on the music, by Scott Bradley, that ranged from classical tunes to popular jazz/swing songs in a matter of seconds. It shows how Bradley got his start in the business and his process. He would often record his soundtracks before the animation was complete—a practice not commonly done at the time. He offers thoughtful analysis of his music with clips from Tom and Jerry to illustrate his points.
Finally, there is “Tom and Jerry Swim with Esther Williams,” another eight minute short film that has Williams drifting off to sleep next to a Tom and Jerry comic. She dreams of swimming underwater with the cat and mouse in a beautiful ballet. The mix of live action and animation is even more impressive and ambitious than the Gene Kelly short.
Since the release of this set there has been some controversy amongst animation buffs. It has been noted that not only are not all of the episodes remastered, as stated, but in fact, three cartoons were edited. Jerry Beck had this to say on the matter: “The company is taking immediate steps to correct the situation. The proper digital masters of all three cartoons have been located and are being prepared now for replication. It may take as long as six to eight weeks to have a corrected disc ready for replacement. From what I’ve been able to gather, the intention is for fans to be able to replace Disc 1 at no charge to them.”