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DVD Review: Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection

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I’ve always felt somewhat bad for Tom. As one half of the incessantly chasing-and-racing cat and mouse tag team created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, his struggles with that smug little sneak Jerry were hilarious and surprisingly clever.

The rationale for Tom’s pursuit of Jerry was generally ambiguous, although there were a few hints in certain episodes. Sometimes it seemed as though Jerry had bothered Tom with some amount of racket or calamity, so Tom naturally must get even. Other times it seemed as though Tom was hungry, although Jerry was rarely the target for mealtime.

Perhaps it’s just destiny, this eternal chase of theirs.

Some have categorized the Tom and Jerry relationship as traditional love-hate stuff, with the their smiling faces staring out from the title placards as a way of suggesting that things are as they should be. Whatever the philosophical rationale, it’s safe to say that it’s almost always fun to watch the blue-grey pampered cat chase the brown mouse.

The original Hanna-Barbera era of Tom and Jerry is the most revered. With a one-reel animated short called Puss Gets the Boot, the famed cat and mouse were born. At the time, the cat was Jasper and the mouse was Jinx. There was no intention of creating any spectacular follow-ups to Puss; it was just a one-shot deal.

The short was nominated for an Academy Award, however, and MGM animation studio boss Fred Quimby soon tapped Hanna and Barbera for more of this playful cat and mouse pair. For the rest of their tenure at MGM, Hanna and Barbera rarely worked on anything else but the newly renamed Tom and Jerry cartoons.

The Tom and Jerry shorts were popular, but budget constraints during the '50s began to produce problems. MGM closed down their animation studios after realizing that the re-releases of their animation shorts could generate just as much cash, so Hanna and Barbera struck out on their own to create their Hanna-Barbera Productions.

In 1960, MGM decided to produce new Tom and Jerry shorts and Czech-based animator Gene Deitch was brought in. Many consider the Deitch era to be rather bizarre, with the eccentric but creative animator coming up with a total of 13 shorts.

The end of the Deitch era brought about the beginning of the Chuck Jones era and once again another animator was handling the characters created by Hanna and Barbera. Jones, recently fired by the Warner Bros. cartoon studio after over 30 years, took the helm with partner Les Goldman and put his own spin on the characters.

Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection, recently released on DVD by Warner, highlights Jones’ work by featuring all 34 of his theatrical shorts.

One of the first things Jones did when putting his own spin on Tom and Jerry was to augment their appearances somewhat. Tom was given thick eyebrows, kind of like Jones’ Grinch, and his cheeks became furrier. Jerry was given a facelift as well, with larger eyes and ears part of the makeover package.

A lot of the work featured in The Chuck Jones Collection seems reminiscent of his work with his own created chase team of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner.

“Pent-House Mouse” is a tale of the high life, with Tom living in a penthouse suite while Jerry goes hungry on a construction site. Jerry eventually ends up swallowing an ice cube and relaxing after a series of elaborate chases that actually includes an attempt by Tom to eat Jerry in sandwich form.

Other shorts in the collection include “Is There a Doctor in the Mouse?” and “Of Feline Bondage,” a funny tale that ends with the duo sharing a laugh.

There are plenty of laughs to be had with this set. While the quality of the cartoons doesn’t quite reflect what many may have come to expect from those classic Hanna-Barbera years, Chuck Jones still does an admirable job at setting up two characters that aren’t his own creations. Plus the title cards, featuring Tom hissing at the MGM lion, are classic.

The DVD set also features a pair of special features.

Chuck Jones: Memories of a Childhood is probably the better of the two features. Directed by Peggy Stern for TCM, it showcases Jones’ imagination and how his creative mind blossomed throughout his early life. The other feature, Tom and Jerry…and Chuck, is an older piece that discusses how Jones came to take over the Tom and Jerry legacy and his thoughts on it.

Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection is a unique look at yet another era of the classic cat and mouse chase team. There are a lot of laughs with each cartoon and, while the impact of the cartoon violence doesn’t seem as far-reaching or essential, these 34 shorts pack a frying-pan-to-the-face-sized whack of good humour and fun.

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