Monday, 9 May 2011

The Life and Times of Tom and Jerry - Part 1

Who would have thought that over 70 years years ago, two guys at MGM ("Bill" Hanna and "Joe" Barbera) would be fondly remembered for creating a series of theatrical cartoons from the simplest of premise: a cat chasing a mouse. Whilst every other animation studio would take the same concept with different characters/settings, Tom and Jerry became best-loved for a number of reasons:

  • The fact that almost every one of HB's 114 shorts relied on the titular character remaining totally silent, just perfect for the animation team to work from in terms of body language, fast-paced storyboarding and memorable expressions.
  • The fact that Bill and Joe managed to make every short different from the usual "cat-and-mouse" ploy by often tweaking the theme - Nit-Witty Kitty, Mouse in Manhattan, Push Button Kitty, Part Time Pal and Johann Mouse.
  • The fact that, unlike Famous Studios' Herman and Katnip, Tom usually got the upper hand of Jerry so not ALL of their shorts were one-sided - The Million Dollar Cat, Little School Mouse, Southbound Duckling, Mouse for Sale and Timid Tabby.
  • The fact that the violence was made mainly to entertain (with plenty of hilarious "takes" and aftermaths) and not to shock/disgust for the sake of either.
  • And the fact that their slapstick humour is one of the many inspirations for future animators/illustrators today.

All of these gave Bill and Joe the warm reception and 7 award-winning shorts that made their theatrical years, as well as the characters themselves, stand out against the test of time - that and the sort of credit was much needed when going into business for television (but that's another story! ;-) )

What really prompted me to create a Tom and Jerry blog post was the simple yet shocking fact that Warner Bros (the guys who own the rights to MGM) are currently releasing a new Tom and Jerry movie, based in - of all places - the Land of Oz....

Now the first thing that would come to many a person's mind would be: why? WHY plonk the world's famous cat and mouse duo in the same whirlwind as Dorothy and chase one another along the Yellow Brick road?

For now, the obvious answer would be because of marketing. Because of their recognition and global sales of the classic shorts on DVD (even with many of them edited in case of Mammy Two-Shoes), WB see these guys, along with Scooby-Doo and the Looney Tunes, as their biggest selling targets. And what better way to push their sales by creating new seasons and/or movies featuring these beloved characters.

More episodes/movies > more DVDs > more money trees.

Oh, and kudos for the Oz franchise, too =P

And yet for the "semi-young" generation, who have grown up watching these classic shorts and gaining further admiration by studying the people behind them, I just think it's because these big-time companies have little imagination, or are fearful even to attempt creating new shows and characters of their own to push forward. Instead they rely on reusing (or reinventing) the same popular characters with different ideas involving, most of the time, teams of people who have no idea how to treat the characters properly.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. In the next few blogs to come, I'll be diving deep within the past and seeing just how time has treated these two well - for better and worse...

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