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Tuesday, January 13, 2015


When reviewing something such as the 2-disc DVD set THE TOM AND JERRY SHOW SEASON 1 PART 2: FUNNY SIDE UP from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, one must take into account the fact that it's aimed at really little kids, and chances are they're going to be captivated by it just fine and dandy no matter what clever, insightful things I point out about the storylines or animation or whatever.

So feel free, Mom and/or Dad, to pick this up for the tyke(s) while blissfully secure in the knowledge that you have made the right entertainment choice. They'll love it!

With that part of the review out of the way, now comes the part for all us old folks who grew up with Tom and Jerry and might be wondering what's going on with the guys nowadays. They've been through a lot since the glory days of MGM (mainly during the 40s and 50s) in which geniuses like Tex Avery were the creative force behind these cartoons and they actually won Academy Awards and stuff.

Back then, cartoons were shown in theaters before the feature, so--since they were made for adults to enjoy just as much as children--much care was lavished on not only funny, gag-filled scripts but the best artwork and animation that the big studio cartoon departments could possibly muster.

But over the years Tom and Jerry fell into the hands of different creators who had considerably lesser skills (such as Gene Deitch) or made awkward creative choices (such as Warner Bros. cartoon legend Chuck Jones) until, finally, the characters ended up at their absolute nadir--the crudely-drawn, indifferently-scripted graveyard of mass-produced Saturday morning TV fodder.

And I'm not talking about the earlier Hanna-Barbera kind of limited animation, such as "Yogi Bear" or "Huckleberry Hound", which still looked pretty good. I'm talking about the really crappy later stuff that was churned out when they just stopped caring about quality altogether. (I'm looking at you, "Scooby-Doo.")

Still, it wasnt over for Tom and Jerry just yet. Amongst the various other incarnations of this deathless duo, Warner Bros.' "Tom and Jerry Tales" came to television in 2009, as we reviewed HERE. And with the studio's current series as seen on The Cartoon Network, kids--if not their parents--are being introduced to them all over again.

While not as exquisite as the early MGMs, these new cartoons look pretty darn good. The artwork is spiffy and the computer-enhanced animation simulates traditional full cel animation to a pretty convincing degree, making these shorts many times better-looking than previous limited animation done for TV. It's definitely superior to the old Gene Deitch cartoons and almost as good as the Chuck Jones attempts from the 60s, but with less of the cloying cutesiness Chuck was apt to indulge in.

One result of the computer making full animation faster and easier to accomplish is that it enables the animators to cram these cartoons with more furious, unrelenting action than the eye can follow at times. These suckers are loud, raucous, and sometimes almost incompehensible in their non-stop frenetic action, as though desperate to avoid giving children even a split-second in which to get distracted by something else or bored into turning the channel.

Along with subtlety, missing here is another of the most important comedy elements of past Tom and Jerry cartoons: timing. Methodically leading up to a gag and picking just the right moment to spring it always makes it funnier, but there's no time for that here--the animators throw everything they've got at us and just hope some of it will smack us in the face.

It's as though they watched some old Tex Avery cartoons and all they got out of them was that they were packed with gags that happened fast, fast, fast, and so they imitated this as a novice musician might imitate Van Cliburn by banging away on a piano real hard.

One familiar feature of the old MGM cartoons was the "scream take" in which a character would react to pain or fear with a hilariously exaggerated bug-eyed shriek. The new cartoons use this so often and so artlessly that the makers obviously don't really understand how it works--that the lead-up and timing are what make the gag funny, not simply having the characters scream their heads off every ten seconds. (This is something Steven Spielberg's "Animaniacs" never got right either.)

Humorwise, this is the equivalent of pulling goofy faces at a baby to make it laugh. Which is great for an audience of little kids--at whom, of course, this show is aimed--but not for that theatrical audience from days of yore in which both kids and adults equally enjoyed the same big-screen cartoons. 

As for the boys themselves--Tom's still portrayed as just plain evil and malicious most of the time, unless he's inexplicably teamed up with Jerry on some business enterprise or other endeavor. This is okay if you hate cats, but really--what would you rather have living in your house, a nice kitty or a bunch of filthy rodents?

Jerry, meanwhile, is the same hateful little bastard he's been in the past, so--for reasons I delve into in great detail HERE and HERE--I totally despise him (I'm a cat lover so I never understood why we're supposed to side with the disease-ridden vermin anyway). At least he seems to have lost those long "ain't I cute" eyelashes and that damn bowtie. But I can no longer fully enjoy "Tom and Jerry" cartoons of any era, even the MGM classics, since developing such a fierce, burning hatred for that mangy little scuzzball.

The best ones in this current bunch are those that stick with variations of the tried-and-true formula of Tom chasing Jerry around the house while Spike the dog interferes. Their new human owners, WASP-ish nerd Rick (Jason Alexander) and his ditzy wife Ginger, also take pets Tom and Spike (with hitchhikers Jerry and his tiny mouse companion Tuffy) on vacation to different locations such as Europe, Hawaii, the American Southwest, and a luxury cruise ship.

"Domestic Kingdom", which imitates the style of the standard wildlife program complete with droll narrator, is one of the most amusing in the set because it presents Tom and Jerry in their familiar domestic setting doing what they do best with some genuinely funny gags.

Forming part of what appears to be rotating premises is a laboratory setting where Tom and Jerry are joined by a screw-loose scientist (Tom Kenny), a gabby lab rat named Napoleon, and a hamster. At other times, the cat and mouse are found running a detective agency (these are narrated by Gary Cole) which allows the writers to dredge up all the standard parody cliches from that genre as well.

Some, such as "The Plight Before Christmas" and "Mummy Dearest", even have the boys living with a couple of witch sisters who owe more to Warners' "Witch Hazel" character than anything seen in the original MGMs. The witch cartoons veer most into crudeness and gross-out humor with Tom decorating a cake with live spiders and the witches sprinkling Christmas cookies with "gremlin hair, rump scabs, and troll snot" along with "donkey dandruff and cockroach meat."

Toilet humor also pops up here and there--sometimes literally, with Tom getting flushed down an airplane's john in "Plane Nuts." Luckily, though, some of this stuff does inevitably end up being funny if you watch it in the right mood. What's most surprising is that today's PC climate seems to have had no effect on the violence content--these suckers are just as brutal as ever, especially for poor Tom.

The 2-disc DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is in matted widescreen with Dolby Surround sound. Soundtracks and subtitles are available in several languages. No bonus features. The set contains 13 episodes of the TV series which totals 26 ten-minute cartoons.

Despite my various gripes and old-codger point of view, THE TOM AND JERRY SHOW SEASON 1 PART 2: FUNNY SIDE UP is chock-full of visually pleasing cartoons with above-average animation and the occasional funny gag. In fact, compared to some of the past revivals of these characters, it's positively first-rate.


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Release date: Jan. 13, 1915


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