Want surprises and dramatic tension? Judge Clark Douglas recommends this cat-and-mouse suspense collection.
More terrific teamwork from one of animation's most delightful duos!
Opening Statement, Ridiculously Reminiscent Version: When I was just a young child, I used to watch Tom and Jerry with a good deal of regularity. During the darkest hours of my youth, I would constantly find comfort and solace in watching the amusingly violent adventures of a big gray cat and a little brown mouse. The troubled 'toons reflected troubled times, and the turbulence of my younger years was so tenderly captured in these escapades. Would a return to the furry heroes of my childhood be as wonderful as I hoped it would be?
Opening Statement, Ridiculously Pretentious Version: Considered by some critics to be the ultimate examination of the class struggle between cat and mouse in mid-20th Century America, the Tom and Jerry cartoons are oft-forgotten national treasures. Though filmmakers like John Ford and Orson Welles repeatedly stated that it was impossible to try and capture the complexities of these two characters in the simple medium of cinema, many cartoonists tried their hand at it, anyway. Though the two characters were often forced to compromise their values at the expense of box-office receipts, the liberal social issues so very dear to Tom's heart were almost always reflected without fail. Jerry has grown bitter in recent years, complaining that the mystery of the cat/mouse relationship was defused by the literal-minded images of cat chasing mouse. However, he does admit that there is a certain honest quality to many of the features that undoubtedly served as a great influence on the likes of Ingmar Bergman and John Cassavettes. Tom and Jerry: Spotlight Collection Volume 3 is proud to present one of the most important chapters in the book entitled "Great Moments in American Art."
Opening Statement, Honest Version: It's a bunch of goofy cartoons about a cat chasing a mouse. What more do you want?
Facts of the Case
There are thirty-five animated shorts presented here, spread across two discs.
Disc Two (all remastered in Cinemascope Widescreen)
I've been pondering something. Does the same cartoon cat play Tom in each of these shorts? Because, you see, Tom doesn't seem to be very consistent in terms of what he wants. Sometimes, Tom will want to eat Jerry, much like Sylvester wants to eat Tweety. Other times, Tom simply wants to torture Jerry and make his life miserable. On a few rare occasions, Tom seems content to make peace with Jerry. Even more bizarre is the fact that every once in a while, Tom will actually get the last laugh (and possibly an off-screen meal). Who is this gray feline?
Well, never mind all of that. I suppose what matters most is that the cartoons are entertaining and occasionally unpredictable, and these fit the bill. Unlike the Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner or Sylvester/Tweety cartoons, the Tom and Jerry shorts don't take the same path the majority of the time. Sure, there's a chunky amount of standard cat-chasing-mouse shorts, but the creators always seem to manage to pull out one or two interesting or surprising moments.
For instance, on a few occasions, Tom and Jerry are actually working together for the greater good. In the solid "Busy Buddies," Tom and Jerry must work together to protect a baby from certain death. This short may very well have been the inspiration for the cartoon that appears at the beginning of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Tom and Jerry are also quite out of character when they visit Italy in "Neapolitan Mouse" and are met by some adoring fans of their cartoons. In another short, Tom gets angry when Jerry writes a tell-all book called Life with Tom, but is quickly appeased by a fat royalty check courtesy of his little friend.
The set could very well be called Tom and Jerry (and Spike, too!), because a certain gruff bulldog manages to get in on the action quite a lot. Most of the Spike-centered shorts focus on the same standard situation. Tom does something to bother Spike, the bulldog demands that Tom stop doing it, and Tom keeps accidentally doing it. Tom keeps taking Spike's bone ("The Framed Cat"), Tom keeps tearing up Spike's dog house ("The Dog House"), Tom keeps insulting Spike's puppy ("That's My Pup!"), Tom keeps waking up Spike's puppy ("Hic-cup Pup"), Tom keeps ruining Spike's BBQ ("Barbecue Brawl")…you get the idea. These episodes also feature quite a lot of dialogue, as the Jimmy Durante-like Spike talks endlessly (as opposed to Tom and Jerry, who almost never speak).
Another key supporting character in this collection is an incredibly hilarious little duckling, aptly called "Duckling." The voice is a shameless Donald Duck rip-off, but the confused, often bewildered little duck is just so funny that he's easily my favorite character. One of the best shorts on the disc is "Downhearted Duckling," in which the incredibly depressed Duckling is convinced that he is horribly ugly. This has Duckling so miserable that he asks Tom to eat him…feline-assisted suicide. Tom cheerfully agrees, but Jerry valiantly attempts to intervene time after time as the fluffy little yellow fellow keeps trying to waddle down Tom's throat. "Southbound Duckling" is another amusing one, as the very land-bound young Duckling attempts to fly south for the winter to no avail. The most strangely wonderful one is "That's My Mommy," in which Duckling becomes convinced that Tom is his mother. Tom responds by trying to eat Duckling, and Duckling is surprisingly cool with it. "If mommy wants boiled duck, mommy's gonna get boiled duck," he declares before leaping into the pot. Once again, it's up to the increasingly exasperated Jerry to try and set the matter straight.
There aren't many extras included in this collection, but the main one here is quite good. "Cat and Mouse: The Tale of Tom and Jerry" is an excellent 35-minute documentary about the making of the cartoons, featuring interviews with the likes of Leonard Maltin and Joseph Barbara. The doc shares some very interesting stories (apparently the animation studio was nearly as cartoonishly violent as these shorts), and also digs into some of the more controversial elements (more on those in a moment). More disappointing is the 2005 animated short "The Karate Guard," which marked Joseph Barbara's only return to the series as a writer/director in his later years. The animation is terrific, but in general, the whole things seem very lazy and uninspired. It's essentially a martial-arts remake of "Fit to be Tied," which is included in this set. Also, Tom laughs like Pee-Wee Herman, which is quite unnerving.
The shorts look quite good for the most part, if perhaps not quite as pristine as the restored Looney Tunes. The Cinemascope Widescreen shorts seem to be in slightly better condition than the full-frame shorts, but not by a very wide margin. Audio is very solid for cartoons as old as these, particularly when it comes to Scott Bradley's slightly jazzy scores, which generally seem to have held up a lot better than Carl Stalling's brilliant Looney Tunes efforts.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The back of the packaging makes the emphatic note that this collection "is intended for the adult collector and may not be suitable for children." Sadly, quite a few of these shorts suffer from having unfortunate ethnic stereotypes hanging around the edges. The most blatantly offensive is the Robinson Crusoe spoof "His Mouse Friday," which indulges in presenting some bloodthirsty African natives. Even worse, the natives are given very stereotypical voice work ("Oh Lordy, I'm gonna have me some cat fo' supper!") Elsewhere, Tom and Jerry can be seen dressing in blackface and making simple-minded mockery of other cultures. Also, an African-American "mammy" stereotype (voiced by Lillian Randolph, who was quite popular at the time) shows up in several cartoons as a housekeeper. Though Maltin and others sternly point out that these cartoons are not intended for children, I doubt many children (or their parents) are going to realize that when they see this on a store shelf. "Cat chasing mouse cartoons = kid's stuff," is the common thinking.
Also, on a less important note, you may not quite be getting your money's worth if you expect thirty-five original cartoons. Three of the widescreen efforts on the second disc are very blatant remakes of three of the 'toons from the first disc. The documentary makes a note of the fact that the remakes were essentially what killed the Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts, as people didn't want rehashed versions of what they had all ready seen. While I suppose these might be fine for a completist, they're not too interesting for the average viewer.
Fans of animation may very well enjoy this respectable set of Tom and Jerry shorts. I can't recommend the set to parents thinking about getting it for their kids, as there are simply too many negative stereotypical elements here to brush aside. However, Warner Brothers is to be commended for keeping these shorts intact for the sake of historical perspective (something they haven't entirely done on the two previous spotlight collections). Add in an insightful documentary and some solid restoration work and this one comes recommended, as the box says, for the adult collector.
Well, the evidence doesn't seem to support it, but the jury has insisted that Tom is absolutely guilty. Hey, why is that mouse whispering to all the jurors? Order! Order, I tell you! Tom, stop that! Order!
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