Everybody remembers Tom & Jerry from Saturday morning (or sometimes weekday afternoon) cartoons, right? All they ever really did was chase and beat the crap out of each other, but they still had distinctive personalities that occasionally extended beyond their basic roles. And of course, their relationship inspired many others in the animation canon, from Bugs Bunny & Elmer Fudd to the Road Runner & Wile. E Coyote to Itchy & Scratchy. The chase is the simplest of comedy tropes, and for animated characters, these two perfected it.
|Tom & Jerry during the H-B years|
I liked T&J, though I had no great affinity for them; they were one more in a vast stream of animated childhood entertainment. I never understood, though, the rules for when T&J could speak: sometimes they spoke, but most of the time, they didn't - but other characters could. It never seemed consistent, and I never understood that, though it didn't bother me that much.
Favorite moments would include the one where Tom sings "Is you is or is you ain't my baby" to that girl cat (not sure if that's the actual title); the one where Jerry tries to convince a duckling that he's not as ugly as he thinks he is (the poor duckling keeps trying to kill himself!); and the Three Musketeers-type setting with Jerry's little friend Nibbles ("Touche, pussycat!").
|Tom & Jerry under Gene Deitch|
T&J cartoons have been made by several different studios over the years, but they were created by another dynamic duo, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera at MGM. The two were thrown together in 1939 to revive a flagging cartoon division at MGM. Their initial cat-and-mouse duo was named Jasper and Jinx, who appeared in a 1940 short called "Puss Gets the Boot." (The name Jinx isn't mentioned, but history records that as the mouse's name.)
After a slow start, it caught on with theater owners, and eventually it received an Oscar nomination in the Best Short Subject: Cartoons category. A series featuring the cat and mouse was commissioned by MGM animation studio head Fred Quimby, and it was fellow MGM animator John Carr who re-named them Tom and Jerry. (Fun fact: "tom and jerry" is British slang for rambunctious kids' behavior.) T&J would go on to achieve twelve more Oscar nominations under MGM, winning seven times, still a record for character-based theatrical animated series. Hanna-Barbera made 114 T&J shorts in all.
|Tom and Jerry, the Chuck Jones version|
In 1963 Chuck Jones, with his Sib Tower 12 Productions studio, took over T&J with his partner Les Goldman, and they made 34 more shorts until 1967, when MGM ended production. Among the voice actors used during this run included the legendary Mel Blanc and June Foray. In 1965, the H-B shorts began making their way onto television... but that's another story.
Of course, no discussion of T&J in the movies is complete without a mention of their appearances in live-action MGM musicals. In the 1945 film Anchors Aweigh, T&J appear in a dream sequence and Jerry gets to dance with Gene Kelly. The synchronization of Kelly's moves with Jerry's is seamless and looks completely natural. Also, in 1953, T&J appear in Dangerous When Wet, featuring the late Esther Williams, in another dream sequence. They get to swim with her underwater. (They were supposed to be in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but Steven Spielberg couldn't get the rights.)
So now they wanna revive T&J again. I imagine it'll probably be hard to make them seem fresh since, like I said at the top, they inspired so many other similar cartoons, but who knows? Maybe they can catch lightning in a bottle again. Still, it's a bit disappointing that this revival will be for TV and not for the movies. Imagine how cool it would be to see a T&J short in front of, say, Man of Steel or Pacific Rim or the next Hobbit movie (Warner Brothers is producing these new T&J shorts) on through the rest of the year and then releasing them on Blu-Ray in time for Christmas. That's what I would've done, anyway.