MGM's Tom and Jerry Cartoons
Life Before Tom and Jerry
Like most of the other movie studios, MGM noticed the success of Walt Disney's short cartoons in the 1930s and attempted to duplicate that success. And like most of the other studios, they initially failed.
MGM first hired Ub Iwerks, who had worked for Disney and was instrumental in the creation not only of the Disney style but also of Mickey Mouse himself. For MGM, Iwerks created Flip the Frog, a character now only remembered by hardcore animation fans. He first appeared in 1930's Fiddlesticks, the first cartoon to feature both sound and color together, albeit two-strip color. Seeing it today, you may spend most of the cartoon waiting for gags. Though it does have a couple, Fiddlesticks is not about gags, it's about a little frog walking and dancing to music on the soundtrack. The animation certainly has a lot of period charm, especially with its little critters that look like Mickey Mouse himself. In fact, its simplicity is what makes it fun to watch today. Although both Ub Iwerks and the Flip the Frog cartoons are both much admired by animation buffs today, back in the 1930s, Flip wore out his welcome after two dozen cartoon and in 1933 he was replaced by Willie Whopper, a little boy who told tall tales. Willie didn't catch on, and MGM severed its ties with Iwerks after 12 shorts.
Next, MGM hired Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising, a team that had also originally worked for Disney but who became more famous for creating the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies series at Warners. Harman and Ising, with their beautifully punning last names ("harmonizing"), recreated their old character of Bosko for MGM, but in 1937, MGM let them go over budget concerns. One year later, Harman-Ising were back at MGM and in 1939 they created their most revered contribution to the history of animation, the anti-war short Peace on Earth, directed by Hugh Harman. But aside from the minor character Barney Bear, Harman and Ising never developed a popular star for MGM, and 1941, Harman left to start his own studio.
Friz Freling, who had created
Porky Pig for
Warners, came to work for MGM in 1937. After being told he
have free reign, he discovered that MGM expected him to animate their
new property, The Katzenjammer Kids, characters from a popular
newspaper comic strip. Even Freling assumed the
fail, although he worked hard on it. By the next year he was
at Warners, and would go on to direct some of that studios most famous