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“Tom & Jerry: Deluxe Anniversary Collection”
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Warner
Genre:
TV-Series
Release Date:
6/22/10
Special Features:

“Much Ado About Tom & Jerry”, trailers for other cartoon DVD sets

Review:

Tom & Jerry must have charmed the Academy or else there were a lot of folks working at MGM when these were originally released; how else to explain all the Academy Awards that William Hanna and Joseph Barbera won making these shorts? While many of them are indeed funny they pale in comparison to the work that was being done at Warner Brothers during the same time frame. ***

That’s not to suggest that the Tom & Jerry cartoons that they made weren’t enjoyable; they were but they lacked the brilliance, scope and ambition of the Warner cartoons which more often than not achieved their difficult and absurd goals. Part of that was due to the story men that worked with the directors at Warner such as Michael Maltese and Ted Pierce—they truly didn’t have any peers at MGM except perhaps those that worked with director Tex Avery. The truth though is that Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett (and, to a lesser extent, Bob McKimson) had their routine cartoons as well but allowing each director to work with the entire stable of Warner characters allowed a lot of variety in tone, characterization, design and story that H&B couldn’t have matched simply because they were working with the same characters day in and day out. Nevertheless, they are IMPORTANT cartoons because they influenced an entire era of animators and comedy pushing the boundary for slapstick humor. ***

Still, many of these cartoons are quite funny (and violent sometimes more so than the Warner cartoons because there was plenty of clever and witty dialogue that punctuated the scenes of mayhem in those cartoons). It’s with a touch of irony that MGM is currently released under the Warner banner AND getting plenty of attention with this well done “Anniversary Edition” of top notch Tom & Jerry cartoons. ***

We get 20 classic cartoons spread on the first disc (many of these if not all featuring the same transfers that appeared on the Spotlight Collections). Unfortunately, many of these cartoons are edited for politically correct reasons (interesting to note that Warner DIDN’T do this for some of their rare cartoons in any of the Warner Brothers boxed sets—they just had a warning about the cartoons being “products of their time”, etc.). Since Warner STILL gives us a warning that THIS set is for the “adult” cartoon fan, it’s absurd that the studio would resort to using edited and redubbed versions of these cartoons. The least that Warner could do is give us the original unedited cartoons in all of their politically incorrect glory. What’s frustrating is the INCONSISTENCY with one cartoon being censored while the other is presented in its full original glory. It’s an example of careless work on the part of the producer of this DVD NOT to have done the research to make sure that they present the original uncut cartoons. ***

If the Warner cartoons were the Marx Brothers then Tom & Jerry were The Three Stooges in the cartoon world. They featured different types of humor just as the MGM and Disney shorts focused on different elements to make their shorts memorable. Hanna and Barbera eschewed the Disney influenced character driven approach that Rudolph Ising often used in his cartoons in favor the nonstop mayhem of the Tom & Jerry world at the insistence of their producer Fred Quimby. You can see the Tom & Jerry influence in characters like “Itchy and Scratchy” on the TV show “The Simpsons”. ***

Disc 2 gives us an opportunity to see how the characters were adapted to the times. We get an excerpt from the film “Anchors Aweigh” where Jerry dances with Gene Kelly, “Dangerous When Wet” as both Tom and Jerry swim with Esther Williams. More importantly we get a selection of Chuck Jones’ Tom & Jerry cartoons which demonstrated that as brilliant as Jones was working with the Warner characters he had no feel for working with the MGM ones. In many respects Jones refashions Tom & Jerry into a variation on his Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons that were so popular at Warner. They are always humorous but lack the inventiveness of Hanna and Barbera who had a better understanding of the cat and mouse. Often co-directed with Jones’ long time layout artist Maurice Noble, his Tom & Jerry cartoons focus more on black out gags, character moments ignoring the strength of the characters established so well in the Hanna-Barbera shorts. The three Jones cartoons are enjoyable. ***

We also get “Karate Guard” the last Tom & Jerry cartoon to be directed by Joseph Barbera with Spike Brandt and released in 2005 demonstrated that he still had a feel for the characters even if it wasn’t his best work. ***

Included are a variety of “newer” cartoons produced for TV which often were pale and poor imitations of the original cartoons that H&B directed. While there may have been a sameness to the plot of the Tom & Jerry cartoons, H&B managed to make that a virtue much like Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese did with the Road Runner cartoons spinning things out in often absurd but very funny directions. ***

These include “Cosmic cat and Meteor Mouse” from the 1975 TV show “The New Tom and Jerry Show”, “Jerry’s Country Cousin” from the 1980 “The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show”, “Flippin’ Fido” from yet another variation entitled “The Tom and Jerry Kids Show”) and “A Game of Mouse and Cat” from 2006’s “Tom and Jerry Tales”. At least the last title featured a return to the more “classic” look of the characters and returned to the type of violence driven stories that worked so well for Hanna and Barbera during their prime at MGM. ***

None of these have been released before and there’s good reason—they’re BAD. They get increasingly bad with each decade but the threshold for bad is reached with the last two which have none of the spirit, inventiveness, humor or violence that made the classic Hanna-Barbera era, Chuck Jones-Maurice Nobleera or even the Gene Deitch era of Tom & Jerry cartoons so memorable. It should be noted that none of the Gene Deitch directed cartoons which were made with the Czech based company Rembrandt Films are included in the set here. Deitch’s cartoons were produced on a tighter budget than the Jones cartoons and the director often brought a bizarre, off-beat sense of humor to the cartoons. They often zoomed into weird directions with often strange looking (inconsistent , limited animation and occasionally sloppy draftsmanship) animation that added to the surreal quality of the shorts. One of the disadvantages of course is the fact that Dietch and producer William Snyder worked with a budget of around $10,000 per short forcing them to produce animation that featured choppy, disjointed action. While many of these cartoons lack the finesse and quality animation/storylines of classic H & B cartoons or even the character experimentation of Jones’ work, they deserve better than to be forgotten and very few of them have appeared on DVD. ---

Image & Sound:

The transfers look quite nice with the bold colors characteristic of the time. Detail is quite sharp throughout for the most part and while there are some minor analog defects that crop up from time to time the overall presentation is quite pleasing. ***

Warner has wisely chosen NOT to enhance these for widescreen TVs sticking with the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio for the early cartoons. For the widescreen cartoons the aspect ratio jumps around inconsistently sometimes in the same cartoon with titles presented in one aspect ratio and the cartoon itself in another clearly matted for a different widescreen presentation. This is a bit frustrating. ***

Overall, the cartoons look good but could have been cleaned up and restored a bit more. ***

Audio sounds solid and all cartoons are presented in mono. ---

Special Features:

We get trailers for a variety of other DVD cartoon sets. We do get one extra—“Much Ado About Tom & Jerry” that gives us a brief history of the characters, how their characters “changed” with each director and the featurette even gives a tip of the hat to Gene Deitch showing clips from his cartoons.

Final Words:

A two disc set of classic Hanna-Barbera Tom & Jerry cartoons would have been a really good idea if Warner hadn’t been so sloppy putting together this set; aspect ratios change within cartoons, an entire era of Tom & Jerry cartoons are ignored while we get some of the worst that were produced for TV because they haven’t been on DVD before. ***

Quite honestly whomever was in charge of putting this set together should be ashamed of the sloppy research and minimal effort at making sure that these were uncut and historically accurate. I understand that might have taken a bit of work but if you’re not going to put the effort into a set like this for fans than why bother? I’m disappointed that Warner continues to treat the MGM legacy of Tom & Jerry as disliked step children when the cartoons were an important artifact of the era they were produced in and, at their best, could rival the Warner cartoons for humor. This set is puzzling and I have to say I have no idea who they produced it for—true Tom & Jerry fans would have gotten the Spotlight Collections. Even those original releases often had the same mistakes seen here, Warner DID rectify the situation replacing discs that included the uncut cartoons where possible. It’s like whomever put this set together just went to the original archived digital masters for the Spotlight Collection, selected some without understanding the disaster those sets were at first and carelessly slapped them together for this set. I’m very very disappointed that Warner didn’t do the right thing here and whatever team worked on putting this set together needs to be hit by a frying pan by Jerry the Mouse.

 

 
 
 
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