When engaged in a game of cat and mouse, Judge Clark Douglas is always the mouse.
Up until now, the manner in which the Tom and Jerry cartoons have been released on DVD has been fairly frustrating. The Tom and Jerry: The Spotlight Collection releases came under criticism from fans, as they offered censored/altered versions of certain shorts which had included some controversial content (largely the appearances of the stereotypical "Mammy-Two-Shoes" character). Meanwhile, quite a few of the smaller, less comprehensive releases have recycled a great deal of previously released content, continued to censor controversial material and thrown in such unwanted items as the ungainly Tom and Jerry Tales shorts. Thankfully, we now have the Tom & Jerry: Golden Collection, Volume One (Blu-ray), which is far and away the finest home video release the esteemed cat and mouse team has received to date.
The first attribute is the chronological structure, which I imagine many fans (myself included) will be thrilled about. The first 37 Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts (beginning with their 1940 debut "Puss Gets the Boot" and continuing through the 1948 installment "Professor Tom") are presented in order over two Blu-ray discs, and it finally gives us an easy way to observe the subtle evolution of the characters over the years. The first impression one gets from watching these early Hanna-Barbera installments is that the famously antagonistic dynamic between the characters was firmly in place from the very beginning; there aren't any of those odd early shorts in which the characters feel like mere shadows of the icons they would eventually become (despite the fact that Tom looks a little strange and is named "Jasper" in his very first outing).
Breezing through this collection was easily the most satisfying Tom and Jerry viewing experience I've had, as the cartoons seem to flow in an exceptionally satisfying manner. There's a subtle sense of the current of history running through these shorts, as we see small ways in which the shorts react to the trends and events of the era (in the midst of WWII, we get a cheekily symbolic short that employs a boatload of war-themed imagery). Additionally, it's fun to see the way the series establishes its conventions and then frequently finds ways to defy or subvert them: Tom and Jerry establish a truce for the holidays in "The Night Before Christmas," are forced to team up to fight a larger threat in "Dog Trouble," Jerry wanders off for an adventure of his own in "Mouse in Manhattan" and so on. One occasional trend which almost never works: having Tom speak. Nearly every instance of this is ill-advised, but it seems there were a few occasions in which the animators just couldn't resist allowing the character to spew out a one-liner.
It's easy to think of Tom and Jerry as one-dimensional creations who participate in the same sort of story over and over again, but watching a marathon of the shorts, one begins to appreciate the work Hanna and Barbera put into keeping the series fresh. While there were some unfortunate instances of blatant recycling during the Cinemascope era, for the most part the series worked to bring something new to the table each time. It might be a distinctive location, or a new plot gimmick, or a change-of-pace brought about by a supporting player, but this series doesn't fall into the dreaded, "If you've seen one, you've seen 'em all" trap that many animated characters did. The slapstick is consistently amusing, the animation enjoyably fluid and the plotting often demonstrating considerable bursts of invention.
Animation purists will be pleased to note that this collection has indeed preserved the shorts as they were originally released, meaning that some of them do indeed contain moments of racial insensitivity. It's a little startling to see occasional gags with the characters in blackface or moments in which cheap shots are taken at other cultures, but as the disclaimer at the beginning of the disc notes, to remove these moments would be the same as pretending they never existed. They also serve as a valuable peek into the era in which the shorts were made; a snapshot of societal norms which we have thankfully put behind us. Parents may want to use discretion before showing some of these shorts to their kids (at the very least, some of this material might serve as a valuable discussion-starter), but it's for the best that these shorts have been preserved in their original form.
Still, the most exciting thing about this set is that we finally have the opportunity to watch these shorts in hi-def. While there are admittedly shorts which look a little soft, dingy or weathered, there's no doubt that these remastered shorts look dramatically better than ever before. The level of detail is superb throughout; one can fully appreciate the busier moments of animation. Colors have a lot of pop, and blacks are deep and inky. It's such a pleasure to see these 'toons looking so terrific. Audio is also strong, with the energetic Scott Bradley scores holding up rather well after all these years and blending nicely with the chaotic sound effects thrown into the mix. Supplements are generous, kicking off with nine audio commentaries featuring assorted animation experts. You also get the previously released featurettes "How Bill and Joe Met Tom and Jerry" and "The Comedy Stylings of Tom and Jerry," plus the new featurette "Vaudeville, Slapstick and Tom and Jerry." Finally, you get the dance sequence featuring Jerry and Gene Kelly from Anchors Away and a "The Midnight Snack" pencil test.
Viewing Tom & Jerry: Golden Collection, Volume One (Blu-ray) was an exceptionally pleasant experience; one which has me greatly anticipating future volumes. I can't wait until we get to dig into the Cinemascope and Chuck Jones material. In the meantime, every animation buff should grab this appealing, affordable Blu-ray collection.
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