MGM's Tom and Jerry Cartoons
Part Nine - 1957-58
Tops With Pops / Timid Tabby / Feedin' the Kiddie / Mucho Mouse
The Tom and Jerry series petered out quickly in the late '50s, despite a handful of impressive productions.
Tops With Pops is a Cinemascope remake of Love That Pup. The end was clearly near for the Tom and Jerry series when remaking old T&J cartoons in Cinemascope were deemed to be more profitable than making new ones.
And who knows? Maybe it was the best course, considering the misfire Timid Tabby, in which Tom's scaredy cat cousin George comes to visit and is immediately picked on by both Tom and Jerry for being afraid of mice. I'm not sure what the point is of this cartoon or who the butt of the joke is supposed to be because it changes every minute. The only real memorable moment is when Jerry does a Jackie Gleason "Away we go!" shuffle across the floor. Feedin' the Kiddie was another Cinemascope remake, this time of The Little Orphan.
Mucho Mouse is a bit of an improvement, as World Champion Mouse Catcher Tom is called in to catch "El Magnifico", the uncatchable mouse who lives in the home of a Mexican woman. But it takes more than half the cartoon to set up the situation, and the gorgeously detailed backgrounds only serve to point out how bland and characterless the streamlined Cinemascope Tom and Jerry designs have become.
Tom's Photo Finish gets things back to basics, with Tom stealing food out of the refrigerator, framing Spike for the theft, and trying to keep Jerry's incriminating photo of the framing from falling into the hands of his owners.
The final Tom and Jerry to take place in Ye Olde France, Royal Cat Nap has Tom once again battling "The Two Mouseketeers", Jerry and Nibbles (or is it Tuffy?). Not as visually impressive as the previous entries of this sub-series, Royal Cat Nap is still one of the best of the final Tom and Jerry cartoons. The premise - the usual: if Tom's owner (The King) is disturbed by one more sound, Tom will face punishment, this time this time a beheading. So naturally the mice do their best to create havoc.
Royal Cat Nap clearly borrows gags from other sources. Several times, when Tom needs to scream out in pain, he runs out of the castle and up a hill to be out of the King's earshot, a gag used in several Tex Avery cartoons. Whenever the King does wake up, somebody is always singing a lullaby to get him back to sleep, a gag used by, among others, The Marx Brothers in 1939's At the Circus.
Happy Go Ducky (released before Royal Cat Nap) / The Vanishing Duck / Robin Hoodwinked
Before Royal Cat Nap, MGM released Happy Go Ducky, a cartoon in which Tom and Jerry are friends and must contend with Quacker, who floods the house when his enthusiasm for swimming gets the best of him. Directly after Royal Cat Nap came The Vanishing Duck, in which Quacker and Jerry use vanishing cream to annoy Tom, before Tom turns the table on them using the same jar of cream. If you like Quacker, these are okay cartoons. Robin Hoodwinked was the last of the "high class" Tom and Jerry cartoons and a cousin to all those Ye Olde France episodes like Royal Cat Nap and The Two Mouseketeers. It would be the next to last Tom and Jerry cartoon of this era to be released to theaters.
Unfortunately, during the production of this below average film, the money-saving technique of releasing old cartoons in lieu of new ones finally made MGM realize (perhaps wrongly) that they no longer needed to maintain an animation department. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera soon moved to television, invented "limited animation" and, quite unwittingly, changed the nature of animation for the worse.
In hindsight, it would have been more fitting to end the series on the relatively high note of Robin Hoodwinked. Instead, the Tom and Jerry series sputtered to an end with this annoying sequel to Busy Buddies, in which the cat and mouse have to contend with a distracted baby sitter and a rambunctious baby.
In 1960, MGM decided they needed a new Tom and Jerry series, and
outsourced production to Czechoslovakian animation director Gene
Deitch. From 1960 to 1962, Deitch produced thirteen new Tom
Jerry cartoons. This series is considered by some fans to be
horrible, by others to be oddly fascinating. There were
problems with the Deitch-era Tom and Jerry films. Made on a
small budget, they were often strangely surrealistic, with weird
animation and not of this earth sound effects. Deitch and his
animators were also not thoroughly familiar with the MGM cartoons, and
to add insult to injury, Deitch himself was not a fan of the old
series. To my mind, the Deitch-era shorts are just a step and
half above the ultra-cheap Popeye cartoons of the sixties.
saves them from being completely negligible are the very things that
make them unsatisfactory as Tom and Jerry cartoons - the cockeyed point
of view, the sometimes interesting way they worked around a low budget
(see The Tom and Jerry Took Kit,
a strange but fun variation of Chuck Jones's classic Duck Amuck, as an example) and the
sound effects and voices that would sound more in place somewhere in
the middle of a ghost story.
Next to take on the characters was Chuck Jones, the man responsible for some of the greatest Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons as well as the classic Road Runner series. Although he was one of the greatest cartoon directors of all time, even Jones himself felt out of place directing Tom and Jerry cartoons. He was inheriting two already developed characters who were completely at odds with the subtle, witty style Jones had perfected on his own.
The 34 Jones films from 1963 to 1967 were of a higher quality than the Deitch films, and were filled with Jones's trademark subtle poses and facial reactions, but only a handful were good Tom and Jerry films.
Tom and Jerry went on to several television incarnations, most of them of the limited animation/ Filmation type. There were several high quality specials, shorts and one TV series produced from 2000 to 2008 that wisely took their style and substance from the shorts of the 40s and 50s. Joe Barbera himself was a writer, story board artist and director for the 2006 theatrical short The Karate Guard, a winning return to the good old days.