DVD Review: Tom and Jerry: Chuck Jones Collection

Now Available on DVD

Read Our Review of Tom & Jerry's Greatest Chases Vol. 2

Celebrate the Efforts of Veteran WB Artist Chuck Jones

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Recently when Warner Brothers was kind enough to send me Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases Volume 2 for review-- sort of as a primer, I think for this 2-disc remastered set boasting 34 classic shorts-- I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the popular Oscar winning Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer series of theatrical shorts and Warner Brothers' own Looney Tunes.

And this makes perfect sense since the creation of Hanna-Barbera began as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's answer to the enormous success enjoyed by both Walt Disney and Warner Brothers with their Silly Symphonies and Merry Melodies shorts respectively.

However, as fate would have it-- the tonally and structurally similar styles of MGM and WB with their popular characters Tom and Jerry and Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner would merge two decades after the cat and mouse first took up the chase.

As studios scrambled to find a way to bring viewers hooked on television back to the multiplex
led to a decline in the employment of animators and existence of animation departments at various studios (save for Disney who pinched pennies but kept things running), MGM simply shut its doors and handed out pink slips to the creative geniuses behind Tom and Jerry.

While Hanna and Barbera would bounce back with their development of what's commonly referred to as "limited animation" which is faster, more cost-efficient and sitcom like than the old full-orchestra cinematic scope of their work with MGM that they developed in projects such as The Flintstones and The Jetsons, Warner Brothers soldiered on until inevitably its legendary animator Chuck Jones found himself out of work in 1964 when the studio he'd worked at for thirty years suddenly shut down that division as well.

However, Hanna-Barbera's old studio was ready and eager to snap up Jones-- offering him an unprecedented opportunity of complete creative control in taking over the long-running but then-fledgling (based on outsourced animation and under-funded efforts) Tom and Jerry series.

Bringing in veteran versatile voice talent like Mel Blanc and some of the extraordinary artists he'd worked with back at WB, Jones used the creative freedom to great effect, going against the grain of popular limited animation for the classical style of "full-animation" that was lighter on dialogue and heavier on action and art to tell the story and this can be evidenced right from the get-go on disc one of this beautifully packaged double-disc set (with a box alone that looks like a collector's item).

Although he's been widely and accurately criticized for an over-reliance on recycling the old plots of the Hanna-Barbera era of Tom and Jerry (in their brilliant '40s era you can see in Greatest Chases) as well as re-tooling some of the exact same gags he and his merry band of animation collaborators at Warner Brothers had sprinkled throughout Looney Tunes which won't go unnoticed to avid viewers of either series-- the Jones era of Tom and Jerry is far more cinematic than ever before.

And in fact, the influences of both vintage Hanna-Barbera shorts and WB cartoons are cited directly in one of two fascinating extra features-- Tom, Jerry... and Chuck which actually shows before and after comparisons of the works. When you couple some of the overly noticeable instances of "cribbing" from earlier material and trying a bit too hard to tie in with some popular culture of the '60s along with Jones' downright snobbish and slightly condescending view of the artists who'd worked on the series before him including Hanna-Barbera whose Flintstones and beyond "limited animation" technique he scoffs at, the shorts lose a bit of their luster.

Yet, taken purely on face value as a set for its content and as simply a fan of entertaining animation, it's a solid investment as Warner Brothers has painstakingly remastered the original shorts and similarly has offered them in their vintage theatrical widescreen format for the first time in numerous decades.

Changing the look of the characters themselves by making Jerry far sweeter and touching up the facial expressions of both in order to emphasize the moments just before each one loses it or their reaction to the other throughout their endless, highly violent back-and-forth battles (foreshadowing Jones' admiration for eyes. ears and mouths he'd use brilliantly with the Grinch's wicked grin in How the Grinch Stole Christmas)-- the shorts also tapped right into MGM's brilliant credit sequences of their popular 007 and Pink Panther franchises. They did so by opening with a teaser, going into some wildly inventive credit sequence and then moving directly into the cartoon. A terrific example of this can be found in Bad Day at Cat Rock which follows Tom down a manhole as he lights a match to illuminate the credits.

While the '40s shorts placed their emphasis on the foreground-- these '60s widescreen enabled picturesque shorts provide an endless supply of eye candy with incredibly intricate and detailed background images that moves from the "sets" to all of the individual little touches of "props" that is used to wondrous effect in the Charlie Chaplin Modern Times like I'm Just Wild About Jerry.

Using camera pans for a sweeping effect in The Brothers Carry Mouse Off which flows directly into what appears to be Jerry relaxing poolside only to realize that he's imagining that while stretched out on green carpeting or employing animated trickery for the magically tinged Haunted Mouse-- these are a feast for the senses. And likewise they manage to bust out of the antagonism momentarily for a touching and Disney like Snowbody Loves Me and the Hanna-Barbera directed Matinee Mouse wherein the two temporarily bury the hatchet.

With 216 minutes of content it's tough to pick a favorite but the one that I'd find myself probably replaying the most would have to be-- despite its direct tie to a classic Bugs Bunny short-- The Cat Above, The Mouse Below as Tom performs the Italian opera favorite "Figaro" to a packed house. Of course, while he's using his voice to reach those in the cheap seats, Jerry is busily trying to sleep below stage (a classic Hanna-Barbera era running gag) and war is declared between Jerry and his "noisy neighbor" in this classic favorite.

Retaining the mono sound (yet in Dolby Digital) to keep things authentic-- overall and despite some of the complaints about overlapping ideas and repetitions, visually, you're dealing with Tom and Jerry of the highest caliber with the full force of Warner Brothers' best and brightest behind them, picking up where Hanna-Barbera had left off in their Oscar winning collaborations that makes this set quiet a fun treat for classic cartoon enthusiasts.

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