Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Tiger Suit

I've slowly been catching up with "Tale Spin" again - and I have to admit, Shere Khan does look dapper in a suit =)

But unlike the actual TV Series, I've tried to bring him closer to Milt Khal's original look and design from the Disney movie. It always bugged me that they never thought of keeping his whiskers nor tail when "Tale Spin" was first designed...

Saturday, 28 May 2011


Koala + Rattlesnake...equals...
T'was a toughie to design, mind.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Riding the Rails with Chuggington

Although I'll always be fond of the classic stuff - be they shows from the 80's, 90's or even way back in the 40's - I'll admit that there are still some present-day shows that manage to grab my attention, and NOT for the wrong reasons. Such as the 2010 Jungle Book series or the recent new episodes of Grizzly Tales, both which have proven fantastic in my eyes.

So here's something a little different, as today I'll be reviewing a pre-school series. Now this is a somewhat difficult area for anyone in the media biz to handle: certain TV Companies require a series that will help educate youngsters under 10 while, at the same time, making it entertaining enough for the long-suffering parents who are forced to watch them.

And depending on which business an animation studio is commissioned by, most of today's preschool shows usually become littered with soulless, samey characters who always, somehow, have to "learn" a lesson, which they bluntly state to the "audience" instead of it being discreetly weaved within the story. And because certain companies fear the wrath of Soccer Moms from producing anything that may prove to be too "violent" or "scary" for the kiddies, scripting for most preschool shows wind up watered down and stripped of any imagination given.

Not all kids shows were like this. Back then anyone could watch The Herbs, The Magic Roundabout, Charlie Chalk and Mr. Benn without a word of complaint - each were made mainly to entertain rather than educate.

But if the scripting doesn't suffer, then the animation does. Usually done "on the cheap" by some outsourced studio to get said number of episodes out ASAP, thus making a great story fall flat due to dreadful visual quality.

It's the same old ouroboros: poor writing / good animation, or poor animation / good writing, something else which I have covered long, long ago...


There comes a time when a preschool series manages to achieve in both animation AND writing, and here's where things finally get kick-started.

Chuggington was produced back in 2008 by Ludorum plc, set in a fictional railway/railroad world where "trains talk, think and don't need drivers." It follows the adventures of three young "trainee" locomotives (Wilson, Brewster and Koko), who learn the importance of teamwork, friendship and railway practices with the guidance of their experienced "Chugger" elders.

Ludorum was formed in 2006 by former Learning Curve chairman Dick Rothkopf and former HIT Entertainment executives Charlie Caminada and Rob Lawes. Their other properties include the latest Dennis and Gnasher animated series for the BBC and an unreleased series called Marvo the Wonder Chicken (based on a comic strip series from The Dandy).

What makes Chuggington stand out is that this series was made in CGI-animation compared to the slick 2D animation from the other two. The animation itself was made by Motion Magic studios in Shanghai, China, and the characters and sets designed by Don Toht.
Now looking at these, you may well be put off by their toy-like appearance and their cartoony movements when the "chuggers" are in motion, literally jumping off the rails and "swaggering" along with barely any humans present - so was I, TBH, being a true-at-heart railway enthusiast. Naturally, when one of the producers is from a company who specialises in making children's toys, that area is understandable, especially when merchandise is at hand later on.

But a friend finally convinced me to give the series a try - and I went ahead fearing the worse....where several episodes later, I was proven wrong. VERY wrong.

I feel it is best to give grateful thanks to head writer, producer and director Sarah Ball (Bob the Builder) that this series exceeds in animation and writing. Writing comes first in my books, and I have to say I was gobsmacked at how much energy and action and actual character there was in each episode. Very impressive for a pre-school series.
There is always something happening on-screen, with plenty of humour to give kids and parents a worthy chuckle, made all the more interesting with sub-plots that tie in neatly with the main story and fills out each 10-minute run. The morals are present, but here the script writers are allowed to keep them hidden within the stories and let the characters drive it on, rather than the other way around.

The characters play off one another with fantastic dialogue that feels real, whether it's the "trainees" playing about with each other, the "chuggers" quietly musing of the old days or the two generations helping each other out, often with the odd squabble. But usually, it's the experience and wise words of the "chugger elders" that help the youngsters out of various scrapes and become useful indeed. And the best part is every character is given a turn in the spotlight, not just the three token characters you first see in the introduction sequence.

According to an interview from March 2010, Sarah Ball agrees on the importance of good characters and storytelling:

"...First and foremost the stories have to be entertaining and engaging, but our audience are very young and impressionable, so I feel we have a certain responsibility towards them.  We try to have a little lesson or moral in every story so the child watching can take something away.  It might be as simple as sleep is really important or that if you help each other out the work will get done faster..."

"...Our characters are very strongly defined and often knowing how they would react to a situation can spin off into a story. We also love our gadgets and rolling stock and these can often be a starting point too..."

What also appeals to me are the voice actors, who clearly seem to be having a lot of fun reading out as their characters. And an ideal choice for the producers to have the roles of the "trainees" played by actual children - including Wilson, Brewster and KoKo - with the elders played by adult actors. Both genes fit their respective roles like a hand in a glove. Not the first time child actors have been used if one remembers Molly's Gang, Tractor Tom (Season 2) and Peppa Pig =)

As for the animation, rail enthusiast I maybe, I knew this was one of those shows where you just have to escape from the harsh, difficult reality and enjoy what Chuggington has succeeded in doing: entertain. Very smooth and bouncy, adding a lot to the fast-paced storytelling and keeping one's attention from beginning to end.
And I've got to give props to Don Toht who's done a lovely job blending as many locomotive-design types as possible for the International market - a mixture of steam, diesel and electric, which has made it very popular in the UK, US, Australia, France and Germany. Keen eyes will note similar nods towards the Royal Gorge Diesels of Colorado, the Bullet Trains of Japan and the A4 Pacifics of Great Britain!

The biggest surprise of all has been the performance of the series since its launch. Compared to other successful shows in the same market, Chuggington has been faltering in DVD and merchandise sales, which is almost a shame since a lot of hard work has gone into making this series, especially into the writing with believable, likeable characters. And after the amount of episodes I've seen so far, I think maybe we've all underestimated this show purely by appearance rather than the content...which is a sad fact by most hidden gems in animation nowadays, whatever age group or market...

So if you know someone who is on the lookout for a decent modern-day preschool series to watch with their kids, forget Dora the Explorer and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse - Chuggington is one of the best "funducational" shows for children that delivers good morals and well-rounded characters with stories that will never leave you bored...although word of caution: it's not exactly 100% about how a real railway operates, whatever country it's broadcast in ;-)

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

"Gabby and Gator"

Just recently, I've come across this very charming graphic novel/picture book by illustrator and animator James Burks, who has been in the animation industry for yoinks working on various movies and shows from Warner Bros. to Disney to Nickelodeon.

It's a very sweet, surreal story about a hungry alligator and an environmentalist girl who both have something in common:

They're outcast "freaks" who simply want a friend.

And seeing how these two manage to cement a firm friendship despite their differences, with a funtastic graphic design to boot, makes this all the more charming. Well worth picking up if one is bored with Marvel Comics or Manga imports ;)

For more info, you can check out James's main page and his various blog posts reg; the development of this book!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

That Foxy ol' Tex Avery

I was reading the Metro Newspaper not long ago where I found this remarkable article of life imitating art - and it instantly brought to mind Tex Avery.


Because the photo itself reminded me a great deal of Tex Avery's 1940 Warner Bros cartoon "Of Foxes and Hounds", featuring a dim foxhound named Willoughby and a fox named George. And if you haven't studied English at school, you'll realise this is possibly the first stab at John Steinbeck's renowned novel Of Mice and Men in animation history, with the original George and Lonnie characters in mind - a concept that Tex would later adapt into his George and Junior series when making his name at MGM Studios.

Oh, and speaking of which, 9 years later at MGM Tex directed another, funnier fox hunt cartoon starring Droopy - Out-Foxed - and featuring one of Daws Butler's first-ever roles as a voice actor in animation.

Notice how this dog costume would later evolve into a bear...? ;-)

And here are the two cartoons below for you to enjoy =)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Zazzle Store!

Don't forget - there's still my Zazzle store if anyone wants to own a little of my artwork for your very own! Just sign up (it's free), order, (good price on all that's available) and presto - instant service!

So if you want to brighten up your room a bit or give someone a fun gift, just click away! Or send me suggestions of what else you'd like to see from me, merchandise or design-wise. I'm happy to listen =)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Mascot Designs

Just for practice and fun, I spent the day designing random advertising mascots for fictional businesses.

I'm still available for work, you know...!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tom and Jerry - Something Extra

Hopefully, this'll be the last of my Tom and Jerry-related blogs - I hope you've all enjoyed reading what I've posted and not be bored by it! ;)

But as a little something extra, here's a few more additional vids featuring T&J that I couldn't squeeze in with their history within and beyond MGM.

 Early in their theatrical careers, Tom and Jerry played their first big break in Gene Kelly's Anchors Away! (1945) - featuring the most memorable scene where Jerry (voiced here by Sara Berner, who went uncredited for various little guy/female roles, including Mama Buzzard, Sniffles Mouse and Chilly Willy) shares a dancing duet with Gene himself....and which was bastardised by Seth McFarlene and his crew much later on =P

Then they appeared in Esther William's 1953 movie Dangerous When Wet in a dream sequence, where they help protect her from an amorous octopus - which I've covered already in a previous blog post.

And since MGM's Cartoon Studio closed up shop, T&J were outsourced to various studios where, along the way, the original cartoons found their way to television; despite being edited by the Censor Police at most (either replacing Mammy Two-Shoes with an Irish Woman or cutting out violent/racial scenes), at least this way Hanna and Barbera's work were still recognised through various repeats and airings.

Not only that, but they were also featured in various adverts and commercials, most of which have been made or produced here in the United Kingdom, which is one of T&J's biggest European fan bases next to the US - whether it be for Colgate Toothpaste or the latest Ford Mondeo, before Spike and Tony came along, it's good to know that the directors of said adverts knew how to treat Tom and Jerry as they are, and not as a money-making feature-length which loses all their winning quality as a whole :P

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Life and Times of Tom and Jerry - Part 8

As mentioned in the previous blog, the last Tom and Jerry production to have been made by Warner Bros was in 2006, shortly after Joe Barbera passed away. And for a while, everything went quiet...

Again, it would have been realistic to close up shop with Tom and Jerry, especially with both Bill and Joe long gone to be inspired or guided by when handling their characters again. And with WB concentrating on their other product names - Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo, Batman and even Ben 10 - that seemed to have been the case.

But not so...

In 2010, Warner Bros surprised just about everyone by the announcement of a new Tom and Jerry Movie - crossing over with Sherlock Holmes. It has been the first direct-to-DVD feature to be produced without either of their original creations, and already there had been angry mob purists whining about how dreadful it'll be...

And despite my best efforts to quietly turn away and say nowt, I just couldn't help giving in to curiosity, so I bought the DVD to see for myself...

...and the shocking thing was, I enjoyed it - a LOT.
Yes, the idea of Tom and Jerry meeting Sherlock Holmes may sound mad to some, but it appears that WB have finally learnt their lesson in terms of choosing the right people who know how to handle these classic characters properly (at least where Tom and Jerry is concerned) and not cutting back on the production values either.

Everything about this feature just clicked - a very inventive, fast-paced story by legend writer Earl Kress that is faithful to both the MGM characters and those of Arthur Conan Doyle, beautifully crafted animation that holds a candle to the quality seen in A Nutcracker Tale and Tom and Jerry Tales (with the style being, IMO, notable nods to Mike Lah and Ed Love's work) and, best of all, making the use of almost every character involved, however large or small their part.

And I do mean every character - alongside Tom and Jerry, we also see father and son Spike and Tyke (voiced to my amazement by Phil LaMarr!), Tuffy (in a cute Irish accent by Kath Soucie), Tex Avery's Droopy, Butch, Wolf and Red (voiced lovingly by Jeff Bergman and Grey DeLeslie) and, to my surprise and delight, Barney Bear (YAY)!

Credit due, of course, to Michael York, John Rhys-Davies and Malcolm McDowell (Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Prof. Moriarty respectively) for their equally fitting performances. SO glad that they opted for proper English actors for these parts because they each play them so well...!

And also, thanks to Earl Kress, the Sherlock cast play off the MGM characters just as well too, with the right balance of humour and adventure that pleases fans of both worlds - which is almost reminiscent of Oscar Martin's T&J "adventure" storylines when he regularly breaks off from the chase format.

Michael Tavera's soundtrack seems to do the same; again balancing the T&J comedy with the Holmes sagaciousness that blends the two together, with producers Spike Brandt and Jeff Siergey keeping the animation as smooth and comical as possible (even as far as animating scenes themselves!)

Because this movie has put me in a surprisingly good mood, I'd just like to add a few more notes here:

  • The DVD of the movie has one sole special feature, which is pretty special when you've studied this much on T&J as I have - Spike Brandt himself demonstrating how to draw and animate Tom and Jerry. His natural, friendly demonstrations seem like WB's answer to Don Bluth!
  • Keep your eyes open for a few familiar faces in the pub scene - including the Tex Avery Cat, Simon Legree (from Tex Avery's Uncle Tom's Cabana) and Junior Pig (from One Ham's Family).
  • Since Tom & Jerry Tales, Spike's design and mannerisms have been based from his debut appearance in the 1942 short "Dog Trouble" - but this time round, Spike and Jeff have opted to go for his later 1950 design (the same time his son Tyke came along), which I much prefer =)
What I also loved about this feature was that they broke another bad habit. Ever since The Magic Ring, most T&J direct-to-DVD features fall into a similar pattern:

Movie starts with T&J chasing and causing chaos for the first 5 mins > the main plot eventually begins > Tom gets lots of lumps > T&J save the day > Tom is either chased in the distance or gets worst off even at the end.

THIS time around, they start the movie right off the bat. A thrilling introduction of Moriarty's Siamese Cats - Tim, Pan and Ali - stealing the jewels in true Sherlock-type style, then the lead characters are introduced naturally as if they had been there all along, with Jerry receiving equal lumps as Tom in terms of slapstick while still remaining relevant to the story! Of course, the movie still squeezes in a few mini-chase for old times sake ;-)

In short, it's on the same level as Shiver Me Whiskers with the right people filling the right shoes in terms of acting, animating, producing and directing to bring together a faithful Tom and Jerry movie with incredible quality, whether it be another 60-minute movie or another 6-minute cartoon for told time's sake, so long as the story is solid and there's literally a laugh-a-minute.

And yet, having that said, I do wonder what the future holds for these two - yes, WB have learnt what the T&J audience truly wants and delivers, but since they realised that the nostalgic market sells, perhaps it was this theory that brought forth the upcoming Wizard of Oz movie soon to be released this August...which has left me fearful.

Warner Bros probably would have never gotten this far with Tom and Jerry if it hadn't been for the proper dedication and care from Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone, who truly understand and care for all classic characters, giving what's best for each of them, Tom and Jerry or otherwise - yet I'm not so confident on the Oz movie as I had been with the Sherlock Holmes feature.

Is this what Tom and Jerry will be forced to do for the next few years, thrown into other popular works and/or movies just to boost sales for both markets? Will they ever get the chance to star in another original movie? Will the writing and animation better itself each time? And when T&J are eventually retired, when will it be? Will they be given a decent finale? Another theatrical 6-minute cartoon once again?

To answer all of these, I'm not sure. Granted, it is nice, I guess, that we've got people like Spike and Tony keeping these two in the public eye while still remaining faithful to Hanna and Barbera's original style and violent slapstick, but one does have to question how long can these two chase and smack one another before the barrel runs dry, and WB are brave enough to encourage original creations again from young cartoonists who want to work in the biz but can't - hopefully on the same quality wavelength as Spike and Tony.

That and news of this unnecessary hollywood flop begs the question of where all the original ideas have gone...there are many occasions when the first few movies/shows/revivals of any show deliver wonderfully but, over time, start to falter and fall flat completely thanks to neglectance in writing unique character-driven stories. Hearing the news of this, it returns to the one question that started this series of blogs in the first place:

WHY is it necessary? Why an "origin" story? Why CGI/live-action? More to the point: WHY Tom and Jerry???

So yes, while there may never will be another true Chuck Jones or John Hubely or another Hanna and Barbera duo, at least we do have creative people who actually give a damn for these "old friends" of ours and treat them with as much care and attention as possible. And until their suns do eventually set, all we can do is:

  • A) support and review the next feature/s to come, giving full praise and constructive criticism where needed; or;
  • B) slip on a classic Tom and Jerry cartoon, laugh and live longer. Life's too short to complain about everything.

Thanks for reading =)

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Life and Times of Tom and Jerry - Part 7

Although Tom and Jerry Tales was finished following the end of Kids WB!, someone at Warner Bros clearly must have decided that they couldn't rely forever on Looney Tunes, Scooby, Batman or any of the other productions/shows they currently own or are developing further at the time.

Between production of Season 2 of Tom & Jerry Tales, they released yet another direct-to-DVD movie, Shiver Me Whiskers - but this time round, Warner Bros. Animation and Toon City must have finally taken notes from their previous efforts (and mistakes) and picked the PERFECT team to match the same faithful quality that Spike and Tony had produced for T&JT.

Written by Chris Painter (who also wrote Frasier before becoming a regular Tom and Jerry Tales storyboarder), produced and directed by Hanna-Barbera veteran Scott Jeralds (Wake, Rattle & Roll, Droopy: Master Detective, Krypto the Superdog) and Tom Minton (Duck Dodgers, Pinky and the Brain, Raw Toonage) and featuring a stunning musical score by Mark Watters (Goof Troop, Taz-Mania, Tiny Toon Adventures), this clearly blows the likes of Blast off to Mars, Fast and Furry AND the Magic Ring right out of the water! Everything from the slick animation to the reminiscent character designs truly feels as close to Hanna-Barbera's MGM style as anything - even going as far as making extensive use of the classic MGM sound effects, including the unforgettable Tom screams (the ones produced by William Hanna!).
Featuring the voices of Mark Hamill (who BTW, puts on a fantastic performance as a Ghostly Skull), Wallace Shawn and Kathy Najimy, it was also Charles Nelson Reilly's final movie before his death the same year. Overall, it has fast become one of the better T&J Movies to date, with hardly any slow pacing to be seen =)

Then came the day we all knew was coming...Joe Barbera's swan (or cat?) song...

Joseph Barbera, with another collab between Spike and Tony, brought forth the 2006 movie special A Nutcracker Tale, his initial idea being synchronising the on-screen actions to music from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite - with all three co-writing and co-directing what would be Joe's final Tom and Jerry project and his final animation contribution as a whole, when passed away in December 2006. Thus, the movie was dedicated to him for all the laughter, memories and many inspired young animators from past to present.

Now at this point, with just about all the classic animation veterans long gone, you'd think WB would know when to call it quits and rely solely on TV reruns and DVD sales. And as much as the purists would have loved to hear that, perhaps it was the initial success of the recent movies, or the surge of creativity by Spike and Tony (or perhaps the various non-T&J flops that weren't raking in the views or cash at the time) that inspired Warner Bros. to take things a little further - realising the fact that the nostalgic market sells but not handling the theory just right...

More next time! The Present and the Future to come....

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Life and Times of Tom and Jerry - Part 6

Coming up now to 2005 - following the releases of Blast off to Mars and The Fast and the Furry, a year later WB Kids! brought forth yet another surprise for all - Tom and Jerry Tales, which had been in production since 2005 and saw a release in 2006. After the disappointment of the previous movies before, this series is what The Tom and Jerry Show (1976) ought to have been: a half-hour show made up of three animated shorts (each with a "theme" per show) showcasing Tom and Jerry's true slapstick/chase violence - and all with full animation!

Next to Tom and Jerry Kids, this has, I feel, been the best attempt at maintaining Hanna and Barbera's theatrical style in recent years. With plenty of nods towards previous T&J cartoons and regular appearances by the other MGM cast (Butch Ally-Cat, Nibbles, Spike), it seems this time round WB have truly learnt their lesson and understand what makes Tom and Jerry work without becoming too "gimicky" or cheap on production.

The first season was first broadcast overseas in the United Kingdom and elsewhere before it finally picked up in the United States - most likely following WB's financial disasters at reviving the Looney Tunes with Back In Action. For the most part, this latest venture was all right, really, as they managed to pick a good team of writers and animators who actually gave a damn about what made Tom and Jerry so likeable in their Golden Years. And even Tom Erba's scores managed to maintain the air of Scott Bradley's bouncy, catchy style for his first-ever scoring for a TV Series - although things really picked up come Season 2 when two animation guys, Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone, became involved...
History time now: Spike and Tony each have made their mark in the media biz for a long time, even so far as animating on the shows and shorts they helped to bring to life. Next to directing a few Animaniacs episodes and Earl Kress's Little Go Beep, Spike had the privilege to work alongside Joe Barbera to co-write and direct the last and newest Tom and Jerry theatrical short in 2005, The Karateguard, alongside Hanna-Barbera's top character designer Iwao Takamoto, as part of the 65th anniversary celebrations. While the story may have been a mix/match of The Bodyguard and Jerry's Cousin, with plenty of Samurai's thrown in, the final product is so close to an actual classic T&J animation (with faithful replications of Tom's lung-filled screams by Tony/Spike) it's stunning!

Tony meanwhile started out with directing A Baby Blues Christmas Special and has currently made several contributions to Back to the Barnyard for Nickelodeon - but between that time, he and Spike formed a fond friendship and collaboration for all things Warner Bros - including co-directing one of Chuck Jones's final Looney Tunes contributions Daffy Duck for President and bringing forth Duck Dodgers, based on Jones's Theatrical shorts while remaining extremely faithful to his style of humour and character design (although IMO, it did get kinda wordy at times...)

Anyway, long story short, following The Karateguard (in which Spike was nominated for an Annie award for best character animation) and the success of Duck Dodgers (which was nominated for several Annie and Daytime Emmy Awards for 2004), Spike and Tony worked together again for the second Season of Tom and Jerry Tales, where they co-wrote and co-directed many episodes for it, where the animation and music surpassed the efforts from Season 1.

More to the point, they entertained and did a stunning job at it! Even including Mammy Two-Shoes (although classed as a white character under the name "Mrs. Two-Shoes"), Uncle Pecos and Nibbles (who, for some reason, maintains his French Mouseketeer accent outside of this role).

One little irk I do have for T&JT as a whole was the involvement of Spike the Bulldog. When he's not busy being an antagonist to cat and mouse or the innocent caught between the pair's antics, he was also cast as a Zoo Keeper, a Genie, a Godzilla creature - just about every other role that could have easily been filled by another MGM character (how I hoped to have seen Barney Bear make an appearance!) or someone new altogether for the show.

Notable episodes include the following:
  • A Life Less Guarded - featuring Tom and Droopy competing for the role as Pool Lifeguard and a caricature of Tex Avery as the Pool Manager (with a Miss Shapely to boot!).
  •  Sasquashed - whilst hunting for the legendary Bigfoot, Tom runs into the cantankerous bear from Avery's Rock-A-Bye Bear (see above image).
  • Don't Bring Your Pet to School Day - where Tom and Jerry cause ruckus at Pet Day for a school, which features a Ben Stein-esque rabbit...
  • The Cat Whisperer - a complete farce on "The Dog Whisperer" where Mrs. Two-Shoes brings an expert to calm Tom's manic behaviour.
Sadly, Tom and Jerry Tales only lasted two seasons. Once WB Kids! was axed, so was every other show that was broadcast with it...however, T&JT was the highest-ranked show the channel had and even sold very well on DVD, which clearly showed that there was still some life in the old cat and mouse yet...

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Life and Times of Tom and Jerry - Part 5

Now we're fast approaching towards 2005 where things get rather interesting. Because of almost no dialogue in their theatrical cartoons, Tom and Jerry were easily translated and broadcast worldwide, where foreign countries (including the UK) adored, admired and learnt from the classics. In fact, it was thanks to these two that made a big name out of cartoonist Oscar Martin, who wrote and drew many Tom and Jerry comics for Germany and Spain from the late 1980's (which were later translated overseas by Harvey Comics) before earning the Lifetime Achievement Award for his career as such from Warner Bros in 2002.

So as you can well imagine, places like France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom loved T&J so much that there became big demands for more episodes, which gave Warner Bros. Animation plenty to think about...
Thus, in 2001, they released the direct-to-video movie The Magic Ring - which was notable for a few reasons:
  • Not only was it the last Tom and Jerry movie collaborated by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the former who sadly passed away a few days after its release; but;
  • It was the first time since Filmation's Tom and Jerry Comedy Show that T&J were brought together alongside Tex Avery's characters (Droopy and Spike) along with Butch, Spike and Tyke, Sniffles and Freddie (Alias "Muscles", who was strangely cast as an antagonist despite being "Jerry's Cousin" =P )

However, it seemed that Warner Bros did not learn from the mistake that Turner Entertainment made - though T&J have remained silent since the 1992 movie, this movie suffered a great deal of slow pacing and drawn-out scenes to make it an hour-long movie. In fact, it is scenes like this that made me want to fast-forward the video just so we could get the story moving quicker!!

But do you think because one half of Hanna-Barbera was gone, that would have been the ultimate end of Tom and Jerry...? Not a chance...

Joe Barbera was still involved with whatever else Warner Bros. decided to do with T&J at this point, mostly overseeing or producing each production whenever possible. But the next two movies that came out didn't really "do it" for me, because by this point it was becoming obvious that it would take a miracle to recapture the style of Hanna and Barbera's original Tom & Jerry theatricals.

Four years later, Bill Kopp (Eek! The Cat, Mad Jack the Pirate, Shnookums and Meat, The Twisted Whiskers Show) scripted the next two T&J Movies, Blast Off to Mars and The Fast and the Furry. Now speaking as someone who enjoyed all four shows above that Bill created and wrote for, I tried to enjoy these two movies, but...alas...they both had niggles of their own that cannot be unwatched.

Blast Off to Mars, for a start, had an irritating soundtrack arranged and composed by Steve and Julie Bernstein which, from my memory, wasn't as catchy or bouncy as Scott Bradley's music. Also the art style for the characters just looked....weird. With the nagging outlines, off-model appearances and human hands for T&J. The only interesting thing about this movie was Jerry's unusual alien love interest "Peep"...
However, I was pretty impressed with the big names WB managed to find who were more than happy to voice for this movie - Brad Garrett, Billy West, Jess Harnell, Tom Kenny, Jeff Bennett, Dan Castellaneta, Corey Burton...the list goes on!

The Fast and the Furry didn't really fair much either. The problematic art style was the same, and the soundtrack (or lack of soundtrack in terms of the opening scene) by Nathan Wang wasn't better either. Also, this Wacky Race/Fast and Furious special seemed to rely far too much screen-time either on the other contenders in the worldwide race (which saw plenty of them killed off too soon and gruesomely - a large body count of six, even for a Tom and Jerry movie!) or the moneymaking Producer who decides to change the finishing line every ten minutes...leaving the actual stars almost cameos in their own movie!
Neither weren't the best way of celebrating Tom and Jerry's 65th anniversary, personally speaking...but that was until Tom and Jerry Tales came along, with two new guys on the scene who would buckle the slow decline of lacklustre quality...

The Life and Times of Tom and Jerry - Part 4

The late 80's and early 90's was the period when "kiddiefying" popular characters became the "trend", and not even Tom and Jerry could escape it. Thus Hanna-Barbera Productions, along with Tom Ruegger, created and produced Tom and Jerry Kids which, for the most part, was the closest attempt at reviving the characters and their slapstick violence to date. Also involved were Droopy (with son Dripple), Spike and Tyke (in an Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy-type role) and Tex Avery's Wolf and Red (alias McWolf and Miss VaVoom here).

By this point, Hanna-Barbera's company had really upped their game in terms of animation, so seeing these guys in full movement and doing what they do best over the next 4 seasons made this a far better attempt than the various outsourced areas before. Although one still wonders why ONLY Tom and Jerry were deaged if; A) they were now allowed to get away with the same wild humour as before; and; B) if none of the other main characters were "kiddiefied" either.

Whilst we on the same page, does anyone else remember the other character exclusive for this series - Calaboose Cal, Wildmouse, Slowpoke Antonio, Clyde and Kyle Cat...?

Nope. Thought not. I am officially old =P

Come the release of the Boomerang Channel in 2001 (when it used to air all classic cartoons on a regular basis), The Mansion Cat was especially made for it, the first "new" T&J short produced and directed by Bill and Joe (featuring the voice of Joseph Barbera) and also the last short made before their company became absorbed into Warner Bros. Animation. It was an attempt to recapture the classic humour and set-up in a modern-day setting, with Tom and Jerry (proper "ages" once more) resorting to using modern appliances and devices in exchange of the "old hat" hammer and anvil.

In all, it gained some mixed views and would have been best left alone. But no...

Next time: Tom and Jerry join Scooby-Doo on the marketing cart.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Life and Times of Tom and Jerry - Part 3

With news of another Tom and Jerry Direct-To-DVD movie due in August, let's recall how many other revivals these two have had, coming up now in the mid '70's...

Yes, even the original creators can make mistakes of their own. Which was why in 1975, when their made-for-TV cartoons were selling like hotcakes, Hanna and Barbera were reunited with their original creations and thus brought forth The Tom and Jerry Show for the Saturday Morning viewings - which wasn't that hot. Thanks to Executive meddling and the limits of TV Animation then, Tom and Jerry became friends rather than enemies, meaning that their trademark violence was toned down greatly and became a far cry from the characters they once were. Not helped at all, most say, when they shared the same half-hour with Grape Ape and Muttley Mumbly, who are about as memorable as K9 and Company...

Fortunately, that wasn't the end of T&J's career - unfortunately, the next attempt made in 1980 was by Filmation...and ohhhhh boy. It'll be a contest choosing between a marathon of these or the Gene Deitch shorts...

The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show did TRY to bring back the classic humour of their MGM days by returning them to their slapstick roots and including other MGM characters, Barney Bear, Droopy and "Slick" Wolf, to add to the cast. But while a few of the episodes had promise story-wise, the severe lack of decent animation and a monotonous, synthesized soundtrack made this flop big time.

Didn't stop them, however, with attempting another revival of Terrytoons's Heckle and Jeckle... >_>

Still, on the plus side, MGM was bought by Turner Entertainment in 1986, and the classic T&J shorts received many TV reruns across the US and the world - so in spite of recent revivals failing at the time, and painful censorship made to eliminate various racial/violent scenes in specific TV Stations, at least the original cartoons are still remembered to this day, alongside VHS (video cassettes to the "new blood") releases too.

But just when you thought that would have been that, fast forward to 1992...the year of The Tom and Jerry Movie, where Phil Roman broke the one golden rule:


...OK, it wasn't THAT bad. In truth, it does boast of Henry Mancini's greatest soundtrack and songs since The Pink Panther and made another memorable mark on Dana Hill's acting career alongside Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures and Goof Troop.

And anyway, it wasn't the first time these two have broken their vow of silence - The Lonesome Mouse and Mucho Mouse are samples of rare occasions when Tom and Jerry spoke only when necessary or for comedy value.

The biggest gripe about the movie, though, was that Tom and Jerry weren't really suited for feature-length adventures, which was why their chase concept was more-fitting as a short-but-sweet 6-minute cartoon instead of stretching out a storyline that could really suit any other character beside these two.

....but, guess what, THAT wasn't the end of it either...More next time!