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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TOM AND JERRY TALES, VOL. 6 -- DVD review by porfle

It's been a long and bumpy road for Tom & Jerry since the 40s, back when their dazzling MGM theatrical cartoons used to win Academy Awards and delight audiences of all ages. With creators Joseph Hanna and William Barbera and cartoon genius Tex Avery at the helm, the hijinks of this ever-popular cat-and-mouse team were far and away some of the most inventive, technically impressive, and downright hilarious cartoons ever made. Since then, however, they've been at the mercy of whoever owned the rights to the characters at the time, and in whose hands they've rarely been well-served.

The 60s brought a series of off-puttingly bizarre and relentlessly unfunny episodes from director Gene Dietch, which sounded as though they'd been recorded in a public restroom and looked like they should've stayed there. The legendary Chuck Jones tried his hand next, but his outings with the famous duo resulted in cartoons that, while technically fine, were overly cute and too similar in style to the later, inferior Warner Brothers productions. After that, of course, came a string of bottom-of-the-barrel travesties cheaply made to serve as fodder for Saturday morning television.

Falling somewhere between the two extremes, but making an admirably sincere effort to recapture the style of the old shorts, is the 2006 television series from Warner Brothers entitled "Tom and Jerry Tales." Twenty-six half-hour episodes (with three cartoons each) were produced, featuring full animation, good character design, and lush, painterly backgrounds. These cartoons fall short in comparison to the MGM classics, yet they're worthy efforts in their own right and far superior to much of their ilk. In fact, when the opening titles sequence comes on, you might just think for a moment that you're seeing scenes from the original cartoons.

The latest DVD release in the series is TOM AND JERRY TALES: VOLUME SIX, which contains five episodes of the show with three six-minute cartoons apiece. Some of them, such as "Declaration of Independunce" and "Kitty Hawked", seem to adhere to the idea that cartoons should teach kids a lesson along with the laughs. This, however, soon gives way to a string of frenetic shorts which are pure slapstick brimming with old-school knockabout violence and a strong sense of fun.

The raucous "Catfish Folly" boasts a traditionally simple set-up--Tom and Jerry are fishing from opposite sides of a pond when a surly catfish begins terrorizing them both. In "Flamenco Fiasco", which actually lives up to its name, Tom's frantic efforts to beat Jerry in a Spanish-style dance contest literally bring down the hacienda. The beautifully-rendered safari-themed "You're Lion" even has Tom taking on the fearsome King of the Jungle in order to impress his bevy of gorgeous lionesses. It's yet another action-packed gagfest that's not only blessedly free of any educational pretenses, but darn near good enough to pass for a theatrical short from the good old days. And the same can be said for several of the other titles in this collection.

All of these colorful cartoons are light, fast-paced, and sometimes genuinely funny entertainment that should appeal strongly to children while being pretty easy for grown-up fans of the old MGM cartoons to take as well. The quality level varies a bit from one to the other according to the various writers and directors, but they're superior to any of the post-MGM incarnations, including the ones from the Chuck Jones era. It doesn't hurt that the music, despite having a tinny synth sound, successfully attempts to recreate the style of the great Scott Bradley.

I'll admit to an initial bias against these latter-day Tom and Jerry adventures, based on the woefully inept and misguided attempts of the past. But it didnt take long for them to win me over with their no-holds-barred attitude and often impressive animation and artwork. TOM AND JERRY TALES: VOLUME SIX isn't likely to win any Academy Awards, but these lavishly-produced cartoons should win over most cat-and-mouse fans who give it half a chance.

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