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 =)

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