Tom and Jerry Is the Best Cartoon Series Ever!
These classic cartoons have entertained for generations
Hollywood-based, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced perhaps the finest cartoon series of all time. Directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Tom and Jerry cartoons have delighted millions from the 1940s to the present. In the 1960s, directors Gene Deitch and Chuck Jones (who also produced) churned out episodes, and Warner Brothers produced in 2005 the most recent installment, The Karate Guard. The series, a total of 161 cartoons, has won seven Academy Awards for short subjects in cartoons, starting in 1943 with a cartoon entitled, The Yankee Doodle Mouse.
In the beginning, Tom and Jerry was first produced as competition for Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, first introduced in 1928. The title of the series refers to the phrase “Tom and Jerry,” that is fighting, drinking and causing trouble, as shown in Pierce Egan’s book, Life in London, published in 1920. Of course, Tom and Jerry, a cat and mouse, aren’t people who drink and cause trouble, but the title, too good to pass up, remained with the series even after an initial lack of success with human figures instead of a cat and mouse.
According to the Web site for the Cartoon Network, which currently shows Tom and Jerry cartoons, “Tom is a cat whose life revolves around napping, eating and chasing Jerry. Tom is always coming up with plans to catch Jerry, but that clever little mouse is always one step ahead.”
Fred Quimby produced the series for 18 years, until the end of the “Golden Age of Hollywood,” in the early 1950s more or less, when television began keeping people at home rather than going to the movies. Then the Tom and Jerry crew went widescreen with CinemaScope in 1954, producing Pet Peeve, and then, using Perspecta Stereo as well in 1956, making Barbecue Brawl.
Along the way, cartoonist Tex Avery produced some Tom and Jerry tribute cartoons entitled The House of Tomorrow (1949) and The Car of Tomorrow (1951). Avery also worked in MGM’s animation department, and these works are considered exemplary within the Tom and Jerry oeuvre.
However, to save money, limited animation was borne and the results were like the difference between the art of Leonardo Da Vinci and Andy Warhol. The lush, ornate cartoons of the 1940s and early 1950s, considered works of art to cartoon purists, were replaced with episodes of static figures and sketchy, minimalistic backgrounds. Instead of seeing facial transition while the figure talked, you’d only see the lips move!
Then, in 1961, Gene Deitch signed a contract to produce 13 Tom and Jerry shorts. Using Czechoslovakian animators, the results were somewhat disappointing: Tom and Jerry didn’t resemble the old lovable Tom and Jerry of year’s past; their charm, individuality and irrepressible qualities had been lost in the ink, if you will. Nevertheless, although the animation certainly wasn’t the best in the series, Deitch’s stories were very amusing, particularly in the one entitled, Carmen Get It.
Next, legendary cartoon animator Chuck Jones took over the helm in 1963. Jones, formerly of Warner Brothers (introducing the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, among other feats), changed the look of Tom, making him appear a little like a cross between Boris Karloff and Bugs Bunny, and Jerry now resembled Speedy Gonzales minus the moustache. The Tom and Jerry logo was also given a new look, with Tom meowing peevishly after MGM’s roaring lion makes its usual appearance.
After producing 34 cartoons, Jones was let go in 1967, then he moved on to television, because MGM thought the market for theatrical cartoons had disappeared like a cartoon ghost - poof!
After that, in 1975, Hanna-Barbera resurrected Tom and Jerry for a new Saturday morning cartoon show but, to appease studio execs, Tom and Jerry’s characters had to be revamped and the violence toned down. Now Tom and Jerry were pals who took adventures and solved crimes.
In 1989, Hanna-Barbera produced Tom and Jerry Kids, offering the cat and mouse as children.
Lastly, in 2005, Warner Brothers produced The Karate Guard, produced by Joseph Barbera and Spike Brandt. The cartoon shows obvious references to the movie, The Karate Kid. Happily, this episode is like a product of the old days. Hurray! But if the series would continue, it would have to without William Hannah, Joseph Barbera and Chuck Jones, as they are all deceased.
Perhaps two of the best Tom and Jerry cartoons are The Two Mouseketeers (1952) and Mouse in Manhattan (1945), both of which from the “Golden Age” of Tom and Jerry cartoons – 1940 to 1958. The animation in each is flawless and the background artwork is like the best glass paintings in those high-production CinemaScope movies of the era. And the Gershwin-esque music in Manhattan is redolent of the jazz age.
If you’re getting up there in years, perhaps you should watch more cartoons, particularly ones showing that lovable cat and mouse team of Tom and Jerry. Recapturing the magic of one’s childhood ain’t such a bad idea! And if you happen to be young, then pull up a chair and prepare to watch the best cartoons ever.
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© 2010 Kelley Marks