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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Boomerang's Finest: Tom and Jerry

I'm going to start a series of posts about some of Boomerang's best cartoons and my personal favorites. First entry is about Tom and Jerry, Boomerang and Hanna Barbera's best known cartoon characters.

 Tom and Jerry have stood the test of time and continue to be one of the most beloved cartoon characters, among children but also with parents who grew up watching them. So many generations grew up watching this cat and mouse team that it's no wonder they are still as famous as ever. It all started in late 30s when William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were working for MGM's animation unit, in Rudolf Ising's department. In 1939 they made a short called Puss Gets the Boot, a cat and mouse cartoon they didn't expect to do a lot. But it became very popular in theaters and was even nominated for an Oscar. Even though it didn't win, it gave Hanna & Barbera a chance to get their own animation department within MGM that would work exclusively on Tom and Jerry shorts for the next 17 years. An interesting piece of trivia is that in this, what is today considered first Tom & Jerry short, cat is actually called Jasper. It's only after the short was released that they named the characters Tom and Jerry.

During these 17 years, both Tom and Jerry's appearance changed. At the beginning they were both chubbier and more round, the animation was softer and the same style as other theatrical shorts during this golden age of Hollywood animation. It's a style that's today related to Disney and it is fair to say that Disney shorts in the 1930s made it popular. Later on, both Tom and Jerry looked thinner, leaner, lines were sharper and cleaner, animation more simple. In the early 50s, just like with the movies, MGM also started releasing its cartoon shorts in widescreen, CinemaScope format. This was an attempt to make movies and cartoons more attractive, to the audience that was watching television more and more. Sadly, in 1957 MGM decided to close down it's animation studio. This was caused by losses most studios suffered in the 1950s and since they already had thousands of cartoon shorts that made money after being re-released, there was no need to make new ones. The final Tom and Jerry short that was made is Tot Watchers, the one where they have to babysit. After this Hanna-Barbera started their own studio that would produce dozens of cartoons in the next several decades, many of which became as iconic as Tom and Jerry.

Overall, during their original 17 year run (1940 - 1957), Tom and Jerry won 7 Oscars, the same number as Disney's Silly Symphonies. The shorts that won are : The Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943); Mouse Trouble (1944); Quiet Please! (1945); The Cat Concerto (1946); The Little Orphan (1949); The Two Mouseketeers (1952) and Johann Mouse (1953).

Tom and Jerry were so popular that they even made appearance in real movies, 2 MGM musicals. First, in 1945, Jerry danced along side one of the biggest musicals star Gene Kelly, in Anchors Aweigh. 8 years later, in 1953, both Tom and Jerry appeared in a see sequence with musical/swimming sensation Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet.

Even though MGM closed down it's animation unit in 1957, they decided to give another chance to the cat and mouse duo in 1960.They hired a European animation unit, headed by Prague based animator Gene Deitch to make 13 new shorts. These shorts are specific and not very popular among the viewers nor critics. They were all made outside of Hollywood, in the then communist Czechoslovakia. They look very different compared to the original HB shorts, the animation is very poor, sound effects, voices and plots bizarre and strange. Even though they are not my favorites either, I do find them quite funny cause of the whole bizarre look and feel they have. I guess that makes them special and unique and they are still played often on Boomerang CEE and Cartoon Network RSEE that I get.

After that, came the last era of Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts. In 1963 Chuck Jones who was just fired from Warner Bros, started his own animation studio Sib Towe 12 Production. MGM contracted them to make 34 more T&J shorts which they did up until 1967. These shorts had mixed reaction as well. The characters looked different and had elements of Jones' old Looney Tunes creations. Their behavior was feminine and for me, these shorts are as bizarre as Deitch's. In fact I think I actually prefer Deitch's cause they are more funny in an unintentional way I guess. Needless to say none of the Deitch nor Jones' shorts were nominated for an Academy Award.

After Jones' era finished in 1967, Tom and Jerry ended their theatrical run and in the future will only be shown on television. Hanna Barbera returned to the characters that made them famous in 1975 with a Saturday morning show that paired them with some other, new HB characters. The show was called The Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape Show and The Tom and Jerry/Mumbly Show. They aired until 1977 and in them Tom and Jerry were actual friends. Rules about children programming have become stricter at this point so HB had to change the format and adapt. I watched these as a kid a lot and really liked them. They are different to the originals of course but they are good in their own, special way.

In 1980 Filmation Studios did their take on Tom and Jerry with The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show which returned to the original chase formula but didn't have much success. I've never seen these. Late 80s brought a new trend in animation world - babyfication of old, classic cartoon stars.Hanna Barbera accepted this trend and made baby version of their biggest hits like The Flintstone Kids and A Pup Named Scooby Doo. So it made sense that they would do the same with their first superstars. Tom and Jerry Kids debuted in 1990 and went on for 4 years. Also, in 1992 Tom and Jerry: The Movie was released into the theaters but to little success.

In the 2000s Tom and Jerry saw several direct to video movies released and even a new, special, theatrical short made in 2005 which featured Jo Barbera work on it. Then in 2006 Warner Brothers started a new series called Tom and Jerry Tales which went on for 2 years and is still aired on Boomerang and Cartoon Network channels around the world. This year, Cartoon Network also announced a new version that will debut later in year.

Despite many incarnations throughout the decades, it's the original Hanna-Barbera MGM shorts that remain the best, most popular and what we all think of when T&J were made. It's no surprise since they were made during the most creative period of animation history and will surely remain a classic for many years. This is where Boomerang and Cartoon Network have an important role, to keep showing them and make them available to future generations.

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