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...

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