My Take On… #225: What Happened To Tom & Jerry?

Last year, we talked about how WB has pretty much done nothing with the Looney Tunes characters except relegate them to being underused considerably unlike how Disney uses its’ classic characters. But the Looney Tunes are not the only characters owned by Warner Bros. that has gotten the short end of the stick in recent years, there’s also Tom & Jerry:

File:TomandJerryTitleCardc.jpg

Tom and Jerry is an American animated series of short films created in 1940, by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. It centers on a rivalry between its two title characters, Tom and Jerry, and many recurring characters, based around slapstick comedy.

In its original run, Hanna and Barbera produced 114 Tom and Jerry shorts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1940 to 1958. During this time, they won seven Academy Awards for Animated Short Film, tying for first place with Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies with the most awards in the category. After the MGM cartoon studio closed in 1958, MGM revived the series with Gene Deitch directing an additional 13 Tom and Jerry shorts for Rembrandt Films from 1961 to 1962. Tom and Jerry then became the highest-grossing animated short film series of that time, overtaking Looney Tunes. Chuck Jones then produced another 34 shorts with Sib-Tower 12 Productions between 1963 and 1967. Three more shorts were produced, The Mansion Cat in 2001, The Karate Guard in 2005, and “A Fundraising Adventure” in 2014, making a total of 164 shorts. Various shorts have been released for home media since the 1990s.

A number of spin-offs have been made, including the television series The Tom and Jerry Show (1975), The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show (1980–82), Tom and Jerry Kids (1990–93), Tom and Jerry Tales (2006–08), and The Tom and Jerry Show (2014–present). The first feature-length film based on the series, Tom and Jerry: The Movie, was released in 1992, and 12 direct-to-video films have been produced since 2002.

Tom & Jerry, in the prime of their success, were very popular and benefited from MGM’s unique animation strategy at the time with their short films. Everybody always considered Disney the classical music of animation while Warner Bros. was considered the jazz of animation. Each of those studios benefited from their strategies of making shorts and animations, Disney focusing more on the vibrant and beautiful animation while Warner Bros. had the nice animation but were more dialogue driven and wanted to keep bringing in good laughs in their shorts. MGM’s strategy was a mixture of both, having the vibrant and beautiful animation at Disney mixed with the dialogue driven material at WB and also, the wacky slapstick antics that MGM attributed. Heck, up until there were pairings of Sylvester & Tweety and Wile E. Coyote & Road Runner at WB, it’s arguable that the Tom & Jerry as well as Droopy and Tex Avery cartoons had the most slapstick attached to them. And sometimes the simplest and yet creative slapstick comedy is what gets the most laughs.

And that was Tom & Jerry’s best strength to the shorts, creating very funny and simple slapstick comedy bits…as well as their lust for blood.

The shorts worked because we all want to see how much Jerry and Tom are gonna go at each other and what kind of zany cartoony traps and mishaps each are willing to do to each other and nine times out of 10, it’s friggin’ hilarious. And there’s even a sense of realism, it’s a literal game of cat and mouse, two mortal enemies going at each other. What Hanna and Barbera were able to do with these two is make their objectives all the more obvious but also make the main characters likeable. You get why Tom wants to go after Jerry, sometimes it’s just because Tom is hungry or distraught by what Jerry is doing or he’s just jealous at the fun Jerry is having. You get why Jerry goes after Tom because Tom is interfering with his day and so, you gotta fight back.

What was also great about Tom & Jerry was that Hanna Barbera were able to humanize them in a way unlike how the Disney & WB characters were. Back in the very first shorts, they weren’t as funny because Tom & Jerry were too animal like and who wants to laugh at watching an actual animal getting hurt? Monsters, that’s who. Hence why the later shorts gave Tom & Jerry more human like personalities from their classic screams:

The unique ways of how the characters would get injured without actually showing them getting injured:

To even surreal moments like this classic:

So, Tom & Jerry were great in the old days? So, what happened? Why aren’t Tom & Jerry acting like this anymore? Well, a number of things come into play.

First up, the continuing controversies about the cartoons themselves.

Like a number of other animated cartoons from the 1930’s to the early 1950’s, Tom and Jerry featured racial stereotypes. After explosions, for example, characters with blasted faces would resemble stereotypical blacks, with large lips and bow-tied hair. Perhaps the most controversial element of the show is the character Mammy Two Shoes, a poor black maid who speaks in a stereotypical “black accent” and has a rodent problem. Joseph Barbera, who was responsible for these gags, claimed that the racial gags in Tom and Jerry did not reflect his racial opinion; they were just reflecting what was common in society and cartoons at the time and were meant to be humorous. Nevertheless, such stereotypes are considered by some to be racist today, and the blackface gags are often censored when these shots are aired. Mammy Two-Shoes’ voice was redubbed by Turner in the mid-1990s to make the character sound less stereotypical; the resulting accent sounds more Irish. Three episodes in particular, His Mouse Friday, the depiction of cannibals, in Casanova Cat, a scene where the face of Jerry is blackened by Tom with cigar smoke and Mouse Cleaning where Tom is shown as blackface has been removed from the Blu-ray DVD edition.

In Tom and Jerry’s Spotlight Collection DVD, a disclaimer by Whoopi Goldberg warns viewers about the potentially offensive material in the cartoons and emphasizes that they were “wrong then and they are wrong today”, borrowing a phrase from the Warner Bros. Golden collection. This disclaimer is also used in the Tom and Jerry Golden Collection: Volume 1 on iTunes.

Mammy Two Shoes in a scene from the Tom & Jerry short Saturday Evening Puss, in which her full face was shown for the first time.

The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in the U.S. society. These depictions were wrong then and they are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming that these prejudices never existed.
— Disclaimer by Whoopi Goldberg

As of 2011, most shorts that feature Mammy Two Shoes, except “Part Time Pal”, are rarely seen on Cartoon Network and Boomerang.

In 2006, the British version of the Boomerang channel made plans to edit Tom and Jerry cartoons being aired in the UK where the characters were seen to be smoking in a manner that was “condoned, acceptable or glamorized”. This followed a complaint from a viewer who thought that smoking was wrong and that the cartoons were not appropriate for younger viewers. There was a subsequent investigation by UK media watchdog OFCOM. It has also taken the U.S. approach by censoring blackface gags, though this seems to be random as not all scenes of this type are cut.

In 2013, it was reported that Cartoon Network of Brazil censored 27 shorts on the grounds of being “politically incorrect”. In an official release, the channel confirmed that it had censored only 2 shorts “by editorial issues and appropriateness of the content to the target audience—children of 7 to 11 years”.

Numerous Tom and Jerry shorts have been subject to controversy, mainly over racial stereotypes that involves the portrayal of the recurring black character Mammy Two Shoes and characters appearing in blackface. Other controversial themes include cannibalism and the glamorization of smoking.

So, yeah, a touchy subject here because a lot of what is depicted in these cartoons are horrible stereotypes that would not fly by today but at the same time, by removing these elements out of them basically is saying that this never existed before, just like in the disclaimer at the top. So, for TV, it makes sense why some of the shorts would be a little too much for TV.

Another reason why we aren’t getting much of Tom & Jerry in the older format, the violence.

Yep, you’ve still got those hyper sensitive people who think that these cartoons are extremely too violent and that kids could imitate these antics, well, you know what, kids will find ways to do violent shit, need I remind people of the Fire challenge.

So, Tom & Jerry have essentially become a little too safe from the reasons why they became so popular in the first place. In these newer productions, Tom & Jerry have essentially been reduced to being violent only in the realms of what WB can consider violent without being too violent. Take, for example, this clip from The Tom & Jerry Show:

Now, you can see they are trying to capture the magic of the older shorts but they have to stay within the realms of the WB censors at how much violence there can be.

And then there’s the direct-to-DVD movies, remember how much Tom & Jerry: The Movie is so bad because Tom & Jerry are essentially second bananas in their own projects? Well, that’s what they pretty much are now. From Blast Off To Mars to the more recent Tom & Jerry Wizard Of Oz movies, the duo has just been supporting characters in their own movies while there’s stories going on. Recently, they’ve even gone as far to putting them in various movies set in different timeplaces, from the two Wizard Of Oz movies to Sherlock Holmes to Robin Hood to Jack & The Beanstalk, they just put them in the most random of movies. There’s also the Jonny Quest crossover that I took a look at and now, there’s one coming up where Tom & Jerry interact with Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, like seriously, what’s the point?

The sad truth is that there doesn’t really seem like an outing will open up for Tom & Jerry to be like they were in the original cartoons, unless you do something like Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon…but not too insane or adult like that was…but an outlet where Tom & Jerry can be Tom & Jerry. I just wish they could Tom & Jerry cartoons today like they did the Roger Rabbit cartoon shorts or even Tiny Toons and Animaniacs style so you can send them back to how they used to be.

But hey, at least you’ve still got the original cartoons around so you can still enjoy Tom & Jerry at the top of their game. Will that be the only way to see the classic Tom & Jerry from this point on? Only time will tell but one can only hope for a brighter future for Tom & Jerry in the years to come.

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