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Saturday, 21 April 2012

Tom and Jerry

As a child growing up in the 60s and 70s one of the pleasures of early evening television was the Tom & Jerry cartoon. The BBC used to show at least one of these every evening (if my memory serves me right) for a while, certainly long enough for me to get to see a good many of them.

Fast forward to about 2004. By the miracles of digital technology the entire Tom & Jerry collection is now available on six DVDs, and under cover of getting them for my young son, I purchase the whole set. Often when I go back to something I loved as a child I find that three decades or more of experience and growing up have robbed it of the charm it once had for me. Not so Tom & Jerry: all the cartoons I remembered laughing at before I still found funny, and do still, even after repeated viewing. (And if you don't understand why the viewing is repeated, wait until you have a small child in your home.)

Of the six DVDs, four and a bit contained the episodes I loved; the rest were mostly ones I'd never seen before. According to their Wikipedia entry, the cartoons were originally done by Hanna and Barbera for MGM. After those two set up their own company in 1957, 13 Tom & Jerry cartoons were made in Eastern Europe, then a bunch more made by Chuck Jones. The difference in production companies is painfully obvious

In the earliest cartoons, Tom is very much a cat, running on all fours or curling up in a basket, for instance. Quite quickly though he matures into the classic Tom, who walks like a human, stretches out on a hammock, and can play a mean game of tennis. There is huge charm in these cartoons, which feels as if it has been almost surgically removed in the later episodes. There the jokes are rarely funny, and are usually telegraphed well in advance to minimise the risk of laughing at them. The physical appearance of the cat and mouse have also been altered, not for the better.

So much for my opinion.

Here's a thought though: if some enlightened soul at MGM commissioned a DVD's worth of new cartoons made in the same style and to the same quality as the ones from the 40s and 50s, I would be more than willing to pay full price for a copy of them. The continuing popularity of these cartoons on TV networks around the world would surely also provide enough income to justify the expense. And sixty years on the production cost of making cartoons like this must have gone down a bit? All it would take is a production team that loved the originals and didn't (apart from steering clear of outdated racial stereotypes, please) feel the need to update the characters.