Tom and Jerry return to DVD this month with the all new Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection, which is a compilation of all thirteen shorts by the legendary animator from the early 1960s. Fans of these classic cartoons will not want to miss this set, as it represents in itself an interesting piece of animation history.
In 1957, after the rise of television, MGM completely shut down its animation studio. The Tom and Jerry series remained dormant until 1960, when MGM decided to revive it using the then European animation studio, Rembrandt Films, with Deitch at the helm. All thirteen shorts were produced in Prague, Czechoslovakia, with music written by Václav Lídl, and performed by Štěpán Koníček and the Prague Film Symphony Orchestra.
These shorts are some of the series’ most controversial, as the animation style differs from the rest of the series, and critics of the time called them the worst of the entire series. Gene Deitch said that, despite the critics, he regularly had fans write and tell him that his shorts were among their personal favorites.
The division in opinions mainly stems from the fact that the shorts in this collection use a much less realistic style than earlier shorts. Not that a cartoon where animals are regularly shot in the face and blown up is realistic, but the style is very sketchy and loose compared to the shorts in the Hannah Barbara era.
As a kid I grew up on Looney Tunes, but I didn’t know much about Tom and Jerry other than the names and the basic plot. I think I had a coloring book at one time but, unlike Looney Tunes, who had The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show, Tom and Jerry didn’t have a presence on network television, so I had no way to watch it and never developed an attachment to the characters like I did with Looney Tunes. Having no preconceived notions of the series, I went into this review blind and with no idea what to expect.
Personally, I found these cartoons to be quite repetitive. They were not so repetitive that I was thoroughly bored, but enough so that I finally understood why the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons are so often criticized. I think if I had grown up with these shorts, like I did with the Roadrunner cartoons, I would probably have a little bit of a different perspective. This is definitely not to say these shorts are bad. The animation may not be as crisp as the Looney Tunes or Disney cartoons of the same era, but it is a great example of a cartoon that uses all manner of clever cartoon physics. The ideas may be repetitive, but the characters are timeless.
The cartoons included in this set are as follows:
- “Switchin’ Kitten”
- “Down and Outing”
- “It’s Greek to Me-ow!”
- “High Steaks”
- “Mouse into Space”
- “Landing Stripling”
- “Calypso Cat”
- “Dicky Moe”
- “The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit”
- “Tall in the Trap”
- “Sorry Safari”
- “Buddies Thicker Than Water”
- “Carmen Get It!”
A few of the more memorable cartoons include:
“The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit”
This short plays out like a poor man’s Duck Amuck, with an unseen narrator giving a tutorial on how to create your own Tom and Jerry cartoon using their kit, putting the two characters into various cartoon situations.
“Buddies Thicker Than Water”
This short sees the two characters begin as friends. Jerry saves Tom from the cold, then gets drunk on a rich woman’s liquor collection and, in the end, Tom and Jerry try to murder each other by tossing the other off the roof of an apartment building.
“Carmen Get It!”
This is a not unenjoyable, but still lacks an attempt to capture the same spirit as such classics as “The Rabbit of Seville,” or “What’s Opera Doc?”. This short sees Tom as hr attempts to “play” the violin in the orchestra for a performance of the opera Carmen. Jerry ruins his fun, which results in a classic cartoon musical fight.
Aside from the cartoons themselves, I found the documentaries to be a very interesting watch. In fact, they held my attention far better than the cartoons themselves. These extras include:
“Tom and Jerry…and Gene: The Rembrandt Years”
This is an interview with Deitch himself, in which he discusses the history of these shorts and what went into making them. It’s an interesting look at this collection, even for someone who didn’t find these particular cartoons all that enthralling.
“Much Ado About Tom and Jerry”
This is a documentary about the series itself, not necessarily about the cartoons presented in this collection. It’s an interesting watch for animation history buffs like myself.
Fans of Tom and Jerry will not want to miss Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection, as it represents a unique point not just in animation history, but in the series itself. If you are a fan of Tom and Jerry, or simply a fan of classic animation, there will be something for you in this set.
If you, like me, are not a fan of Tom and Jerry, the set is probably one you can skip without feeling like you’re missing much; however, it is an interesting DVD to watch if you are at all interested in the history of the series, or just animation history in general. If not for the cartoons, then watch for the behind the scenes featurettes, which are quite interesting and worth more to me than the cartoons themselves.
Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection: Amazon
What about you? Are you a fan of Tom and Jerry? What was your favorite era of the series?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes