Friday, July 3, 2009

DVD Review: Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection - Part Two: The Cartoons.

Here’s Part Two of my DVD review of Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection, dealing strictly with the cartoons – which I’d put decidedly under the “PRO” category. Let’s find out why…

The Cartoons: (And, that’s why we’re here, after all!) Notables include:
"Pent-House Mouse" The series opens with high-rise hi-jinks atop both a penthouse rooftop and adjoining skyscraper construction site. A nice “traditional”, yet modern, table-setter for what is to come!
"The Cat Above, The Mouse Below" No one does “Opera Cartoons” better than Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese – and here’s the Tom and Jerry version of their Bugs Bunny laugh-fest “Long-Haired Hare”. Celebrity tenor Tom gives a concert, while Jerry tries to sleep below the stage. Jerry would probably be more sympathetic if he didn’t expect peace and quiet while making his home directly beneath the stage of an opera house – but we still laugh at all the “frenetic Figaro-foolishness”, as Jerry sabotages Tom’s performance again and again!

To digress, Hanna and Barbera’s “Saturday Evening Puss” (seen on the Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume Two) presented a better “Jerry’s sleep is disturbed by Tom’s loud music” scenario (because it’s NOT set in an opera house!) but, for the pure “operatic over-the-top-ishness” of it all, you can’t beat Jones and Maltese!

The tenor’s voice, familiar from some of Jones’ previous WB cartoons, is credited as “Terence Monck”, and when Jerry sings opera (sped-up for effect) at the end, it’s a hoot and a half.

"Snowbody Loves Me" Jerry trudges through the European bitter cold and snow and takes refuge in a cheese shop guarded by Tom. Jerry literally moves into a wheel of cheese, making a home out of it by carving out rooms, hallways, and furniture by eating his way around. Naturally, Tom tries to expel him until they find some common cultural ground to share. At a time when they averaged “six-and-change”, this short clocks in at a whopping 7:52 running time!

It is a lavishly designed and animated cartoon! Certainly one of the best of its time! As Jerry rolls (in a snowball) down into the village below, it looks as if he’s making a sharp descent into “Who-ville”, of the Jones-produced “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”! Maybe this was a preliminary exercise in potential designs for “Grinch”.

Bad Day at Cat Rock Jones writing solo, without Maltese, gives us a highly stylized Road Runner cartoon performed by Tom and Jerry. Echoing the classic “catapult series gags” of Jones’ Road Runner days, Tom repeatedly attempts to launch himself skyward (and up to Jerry) by standing on one end of a girder and dropping a boulder on the other end. The physics of this endeavor fail in every bizarre way that Jones can come up with. During the series of gags, Jerry becomes bored and walks off to paint a sign. Finally, as Tom STILL struggles with steel and stone, Jerry reveals that the sign he has painted says “THE END”! …And so it is!

"Of Feline Bondage" Animator Don Towsley co-writes this weird cartoon with Jones. After the usual harassing by Tom, Jerry drinks an invisibility potion provided by his Fairy Godmother (!) Why didn’t he just “invent” it, as he would have in “the old days”? The invisible mouse chases Tom around the house with a pair of scissors, until he finally catches the cat and shears his fur off down to the “undershirt”. Then, Jerry becomes VISABLE again! In retaliation, Tom shears the fur off of Jerry, leaving just enough to make him look like he has a female hair-do, bra, and panties! Tom laughs with glee… and so does Jerry, who gets a look at himself in a mirror! The two spend the remainder of this 6:18 cartoon (from 5:44 to 6:12) LAUGHING AT THEMSELVES AND EACH OTHER, until we fade out! Yes, really!
"Duel Personality Written by Jones and Maltese, this is one of the best of the series! Jerry pauses their typically spirited chase to challenge Tom to a duel. And, so they meet on the field of honor, dueling by pistol, sword, bow and arrow, huge cannon, and finally the slingshot – and each time inflicting equal but inconclusive damage upon one another, punctuated by lots of stylized “pain-stars” and graphically depicted sound effects – until they finally conclude their duel to be a “no win” situation and resume the chase. The key to this cartoon’s success, in my view, is that BOTH Tom and Jerry get their share of pain and suffering and the cartoon tilts in no one’s favor. Dean Elliot’s “semi-serious” music score also helps to set the atmosphere for the duel.
"Jerry, Jerry, Quite Contrary" Clearly repressed while awake, a sleepwalking Jerry inflicts continued violence upon Tom! The abuse escalates until a wonderful scene where sleepwalking Jerry is advancing on sleeping and unaware Tom with a butcher knife (!) until he sneezes himself awake! Aghast, he awkwardly gathers the knife and slinks back to his mouse hole. Now, he tries to keep himself perpetually awake, to no avail. A solo script by Jones, who at this point, is certainly not above trying new things!
"Filet Meow Veteran animation and comic book writer Bob Ogle takes over the writing. In both this and his previous short “Puss in Boats”, Ogle opts for a more traditional take on Tom and Jerry – and a departure from the experimentation of the earlier Jones efforts. Here, a chivalrous Jerry protects a cute female goldfish from being eaten by Tom. This is what I’d imagine a classic Tom and Jerry cartoon would look like in 1966.
Tom suffers the most painfully violent bit since the Hanna and Barbera days, when Jerry, armed with a long, sharp hat pin, routs Tom with (pardon) a massive prick (not Tom!) – propelling the cat through a door, across an entire room, and out a picture window! Jerry finally rids himself and “Goldie” of Tom for good by introducing a huge, hungry shark (previously seen in Ogle’s “Puss in Boats”) into Tom’s plans. All seems to end well for the mouse, who appears rather fond of the goldfish in perhaps more than a protective sense, until the shark muscles in to become “Goldie’s” NEW guardian, sending Jerry running for the hills.

"Matinee Mouse" Did I say the “traditional” Tom and Jerry were making a comeback? Well, they do LITERALLY in this short, with so much stock footage from the Hanna-Barbera days that Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera are CREDITED as the DIRECTORS – and their cast of 1940s-1950s animators is credited as well! In fact, the name of Chuck Jones is NOWHERE TO BE FOUND on this cartoon. Tom Ray is listed as “supervisor”.

We open with a series of random chase clips from the H-B days (but with new, non-Scott Bradley music and new sound effects), culminating in a snippet of new footage of T&J offering each other a truce. They stroll downtown to a movie theatre, where a bunch of Tom and Jerry cartoons are playing, opening the door for still more H-B stock footage!

While watching the old H-B film clips, each laughs hysterically when he gets the upper hand over the other – with each becoming increasingly annoyed at the other’s glee. Finally, the “real” Tom and Jerry end their truce and begin fighting in the theatre, as the “animated” Tom, Jerry, and Spike the Bulldog on the big screen pause their own antics to laugh at the angry and spirited brawling of the “real ones”.

Stock footage “clip” cartoons have long been a standard of the theatrical milieu – but there is entirely too much of it here. A more effective use would have been to have the “movie footage” STRICTLY consist of old Hanna-Barbera footage – and keep the “real” T&J animated in the current style. As it was, the transition from H-B stock to “new” was needlessly jarring, and undermined the cleverness of the cartoon as a whole. Oh, and DROOPY makes his final big screen appearance on a movie poster in the theater!

"Cat And Dupli-Cat" Written by Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese. Co-directed by Jones and Maurice Noble. Music by Eugene Poddany. After a two average and unspectacular cartoons (one written by Bob Ogle, the other by John Dunn) both directed by Abe Levitow , this short returns to the highly stylized fun seen in the earlier entries of the series. Plot: Tom vs. a scruffy orange cat for Jerry. We’ve seen it before in many WB and MGM cartoons, but how many times does it begin with T&J paddling along the (Italian?) waterfront, each singing Santa Lucia? Jones, Maltese, Noble, and Poddany deliver a gem, just as the series needed it most!

"O-Solar-Meow" Written by Dunn and directed by Levitow. Produced by Jones and designs by Noble. Another of those “average and unspectacular cartoons” the series had begun churning out. Noteworthy only because it would be the second science fiction oriented outing for Tom and Jerry. (Gene Deitch did one first in his own... um, "unique" style.) On a space station resembling a giant roulette wheel, Tom vs. Jerry with gadgets galore: Robots, lasers, jet packs and the like. But, it’s all high-tech ho-hum! Given Jones and Noble’s historic successes with sci-fi cartoons at Warners (“Duck Dodgers”, “Hare Way to the Stars”), I expected much more and didn’t get it. What can you say when the TITLE is the most clever aspect of a cartoon?
"Guided Mouse-ille" So, how do you follow something like "O-Solar-Meow"? By doing the exact same thing, of course! Yes, the same crew gives us MORE of T&J fighting each other with futuristic gadgets, including the SAME CAT AND MOUSE ROBOTS from the previous cartoon. At least here, the gags are a notch funnier overall with a much better ending. No doubt about it, Tom and Jerry have entered The Space Age… again!
"The Mouse From H.U.N.G.E.R." leads off a pair of very good cartoons by Ogle and Levitow. This is a clever, though now dated, tribute to mid-sixties TV phenomenon THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. with Jerry as a “secret agent”, trying to liberate a massive storehouse of cheese from “Tom Thrush” (THRUSH – no periods – was the evil counterpart to U.N.C.L.E.). Oddly, in his standard issue agent’s hat and trench coat, Jerry looks almost exactly like Hanna and Barbera’s BLABBER of the TV detective duo of Snooper and Blabber!

The parody is so dead on, with Jerry’s convoluted entrance trail to his headquarters echoing Napoleon Solo’s entrance to U.N.C.L.E. HQ through a certain “changing booth” in Del Floria’s Tailor Shop – and the short’s title card rendered as a perfect send-up of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. logo, that this cartoon became an “Extra Feature” of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Complete Series DVD Box Set of 2008.

"Surf-Bored Cat" Ogle and Levitow deliver another goodie! Tom becomes obsessed with surfing, only to have his plans complicated by Ogle’s SHARK from “Puss in Boats” and "Filet Meow” and a little red octopus – who has attached itself to Tom’s head! The physical comedy here is superior to most entries of the series – especially at this late date – such as when Tom tries to launch himself and his surfboard from the deck of a ship, and fails in FOUR RAPID FIRE SUCCESSIVE TRIES to hit the water! Tom eventually gets to surf… just not in the way he intended. His contented resignation turning to enthusiasm in the final shot sells the ending effectively! This is the best cartoon of the later grouping, by far!

"Shutter Bugged Cat" trots out the same blatant use of old Hanna-Barbera footage as "Matinee Mouse", but far less cleverly and coherently – as Tom studies old movie footage of the pair in action to help him construct a trap… that doesn’t work. Just like this cartoon! As before, no credit for Jones… just as well!
"Advance And Be Mechanized" Would you believe they resort to the old “Battle-with-Robot-Cat-and-Robot-Mouse” thing AGAIN?! Only, this time, on a planet of CHEESE! Chuck Jones will always be remembered for the “Duck Season / Rabbit Season Trilogy”…but did he have to follow it up with a “Robot Cat / Robot Mouse Trilogy”?!
"Purr-Chance To Dream" ends the series by reviving the teeny-tiny powerhouse of a bulldog seen in an earlier cartoon. Cute and entertaining but nothing special.
In the final analysis TOM AND JERRY, under the stewardship of Charles M. (“Chuck”) Jones, is a mixed bag that was great and unusually innovative at its beginning – but, unfortunately, began to peter-out as Jones stepped further and further away from it.The best entries were where Jones, Michael Maltese, Maurice Noble and Eugene Poddany came together as a fine creative force, experimenting all the way – and the lesser entries occurred when they did not. Though Bob Ogle contributed some worthy exceptions to this rule throughout the run.

As a DVD collection, the cartoons in this set are well worth multiple viewings and will provide many hours of enjoyment. (I watched "Surf-Bored Cat" four times in one day!) Even the lesser efforts were among the best (…if not ACTUALLY the best) theatrical animated shorts of their time.

Keeping it in THAT perspective, I recommend this set to anyone with an interest in Chuck Jones, Tom and Jerry, and the animated shorts of the sixties. If you enjoy some good old (stylized) fun in your cartoons, this is for you!

…Even the Cat and Mouse Robots can grow on you, eventually!


ramapith said...

As a kid, as a rule, I preferred the Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry efforts to the Jones entries in the series... with one exception: the CAT AND MOUSE ROBOTS!

If I saw Tom meowing in the MGM logo at the start, I usually knew I was in for something short of Tom and Jerry's best (however good it may have been on its own terms); but I would always hope against hope that... you know, the ROBOTS... would appear!

I didn't just enjoy them, I wanted to BUILD MY OWN android cats and mice! (Be grateful I didn't succeed... I might not have survived their battle to write this! Where's SAM SIMIAN when you need him?)

Ah, and today you view these episodes as something less than stellar. I guess that means I'd better watch them again, myself, over the next few days to see how my opinion has changed in the last fifteen years, because I don't think I've seen them since then.

(...And funny, I only remembered TWO variants on the theme! There was a third? They were more repetitious than I knew!)

Joe Torcivia said...

David writes:

“If I saw Tom meowing in the MGM logo at the start, I usually knew I was in for something short of Tom and Jerry's best (however good it may have been on its own terms); but I would always hope against hope that... you know, the ROBOTS... would appear!”

Well, David, with a “3 in 34 chance”, the odds were reasonably good that you’d get one!

And, if I view them as “something less than stellar”, it’s because (A) by 1967 the territory of “Robot Surrogates” had been well-covered by THE JETSONS, (B) they resorted to it THREE TIMES within a span of EIGHT CARTOONS – with the first two back-to-back, and (C) at times they recycled THEIR OWN stock footage – which is even less forgivable than using Hanna and Barbera’s!

Truth to tell, I hadn’t realized that there were THREE OF THEM until I watched the DVD. I seemed to remember only one – but that might be because they all “ran together” in my mind, without my knowing it.

And, they aren’t as bad as all that. They’re just diminished by the reasons listed above. In fact, if there were only one, I would probably have filed it under the “Innovative” category! …Or, at least given points for effort.


Chris Barat said...


I looked up several of these on Youtube and elsewhere, to refresh my memories... here are my comments:

1. "Snowbody" really IS cute. One of the few times that "T&J end up as pals (or at least in a truce)" really worked. Notice that after the cheese wheel explodes, Jerry winds up in a cheese tutu -- and no hysterical laughter anywhere in evidence. :-)
This also had some good classical riffs, so Jones was still scratching that classical music itch.

2. The Jones "posing" fetish got a little too ripe in too many of these cartoons. The cartoons as a whole were too self-aware.

3. Tom definitely channels the Grinch in many reaction shots. This would have been OK if it hadn't been used so often.

4. "Matinee Mouse" was REALLY put together sloppily, and the new sound effects and music tracks made me want to stick marshmallows in my ears. I knew that one was weird when I first saw it on TV, but it wasn't just a blunder, it was a crime (against the old H-B T&J's, that is).

5. Aside from the use of the robots in the "futuristic trilogy" being repetitive, some of the gags were just plain mean-spirited. E.g. Jerry's use of the electromagnet to smash Tom's head again and again. No humor at all, just damn painful to watch. :-0

These cartoons are good on the whole, but H&B understood working with these characters in a way that Jones, for all his gifts, never really did.


Joe Torcivia said...

Chris writes:

“These cartoons are good on the whole, but H&B understood working with these characters in a way that Jones, for all his gifts, never really did.”

I pretty much agree with your assessment of the cartoons – and your statement reflects the prevailing wisdom of animation fans.

But, I tend to think that Chuck Jones made “Chuck Jones Cartoons” that just happened to star Tom and Jerry. Just as Jones made a “Chuck Jones Cartoon” starring Dr. Seuss’ Grinch. And, as in comic books, when Vic Lockman would write “Vic Lockman Stories” that just happened to star Donald Duck, Goofy, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, etc.

Sometimes, an individual style can dominate regardless of character. Chuck Jones developed a certain way of posing characters and executing gags with increasing stylization that was probably as tough to break with for him as the loopiness and alliteration was for Lockman in the later Gold Key and Whitman comic books.

Hanna and Barbera’s Tom and Jerry was chock full of violent laughs – and they were winners all the way. But, I enjoyed Jones’ Tom and Jerry for what it was, especially when the “innovation factor” was running high.

To digress, even Gene Deitch did some clever stuff during his stint with T&J – albeit in a very strange and singular style! Especially so, in some of the later ones like “Tall in the Trap”, “Sorry Safari” (where, for a moment, I ACTUALLY THOUGHT the sound was malfunctioning on my TV – but it was all in service to a standout gag!), and the wonderfully weird “The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit”!

But, were they good “Tom and Jerry Cartoons”? That’s for all of us to decide on our own!


Sávio Christi said...

Well, why the WB don’t release also a collection named “Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection”?

But Deitch don’t knew many thing about the Hanna-Barbera original Tom and Jerry, and Jones has used him own style in excess; then both has conditions for make of Best mode the 1060′s shorts of Tom and Jerry.

5 good facts about Deitch era: Tom is a little most explored, Jerry is a little most intelligent, few changes in the Tom and Jerry apparency and personality, a Ancient Greek short, and a musical short.

5 bad facts about Deitch era: Tom don’t is a great menace for Jerry, his new owner is many rigid and severe, Tom don’t finish officially victorious in any short, the format and plot are bizarres and surrealists in excess, and Tom and Jerry never speaks without simple vocal effects.

5 good facts about Jones era: Tom and Jerry are great rivals in most shorts, Jerry don’t defeat Tom in all shorts, and have 2 homages to Hanna and Barbera era, 3 Futuristic Space shorts, and 3 musical shorts.

5 bad facts about Jones era: Tom and Jerry chanced many things in apparency and personality, don’t have a recurrent house owner, the production economize speaks and texts in excess, have many absurds and ridiculous lies in various shorts, and Tom and Jerry never speaks without simple vocal effects.

And finally: see that both productions staffs have various merits and demerits.

Well, that’s it this same!

Joe Torcivia said...

Always good to see someone take both sides of an argument!

Anonymous said...

If I could create a Tom & Jerry channel, there would be a 2-1 ratio between Hanna-Barbera and Chuck Jones toons.
For example- for every 6 shorts there would be 4 Hanna-Barbera's and two Chuck Jones'.

Btw, I also like the late 70's Tom & Jerry show where they always were buddies.