Tom & Jerry's Greatest Chases Review
Considering that generation after generation of young children (and adults alike) have found an abundance of joy when watching the animated shorts of Tom & Jerry, it's surprising to learn that most of the classic episodes are more than fifty years old. The initial premise of the cartoon formula the show employs is so simplistic and yet so perfect in its application that the industry has failed to surpass it even in the twenty-first century.
For those unfortunate enough to have not grown up with the feuding-yet-loveable cat-and-mouse pair, Tom & Jerry began animated life in the 1939 short Puss Gets The Boot. For the next twenty or so years its creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera created over one hundred animated shorts featuring the pair, with seven of the episodes winning Oscars for Best Animated Short. Fred Quimby, MGM Producer, generally oversaw production.
The beauty of Tom & Jerry is that the set-up of Tom the cat locked in an eternal battle with Jerry the mouse can be transplanted to almost any situation, which ensured that the series never lost any of its wonderful charm. What makes the show so entertaining to watch, for both children and their parents, is the fact that both the audience and the characters involved in the show are fully aware of the strong forces at play. Jerry knows he is a mouse, and knows his aim is to generally exist and subvert any of Tom's actions, and Tom knows he is a cat, whose sole function in life is to rid the house he guards of mice. What's so amusing about Tom & Jerry is the fact that the show is almost devoid of any dialogue, save for a few rare occasions of narration or human talk. The action is completely driven by Scott Bradley's magnificent musical arrangements that seem to provide a voice for the show. Tom and Jerry do not speak; they do not have to, they express themselves through their actions and know their place in the larger scale of things. It's as if Tom and Jerry have found themselves soldiers in a war between cat and mouse, with both unsure as to the reasons why they are fighting but still committed to the unknown cause. They are almost friends to each other, as if they have a tacit agreement, in which none of them actually win, so that they each maintain their purpose on the grander scale.
The violence depicted in these cartoons is hilarious, so much so that it is hard to take it seriously, and hard to agree with parents who claim that it sparks copycat actions amongst their children who are watching it. It's a regular occurrence to find Jerry burning Tom's tail in a toasted-waffle-maker, or to find Tom being clanged around the head by Jerry holding a golf club. This is another element of the show's charm, in that Jerry is such an underdog compared to Tom and yet he frequently outsmarts the silly oaf of a cat in any way possible. Pain is never suffered for long in any episode, and the playing field has always been reset by the next episode. It's no surprise that The Simpsons have their own parody of Tom & Jerry in the form of the ultra-gorefest Itchy & Scratchy Show, as Tom & Jerry has influenced many facets of popular culture over the last half-century.
With regards to the episodes featured on this Greatest Chases DVD, the producers have gone for mainstream appeal as opposed to pandering to the collectors. Essentially, only the most memorable episodes are included, such as The Cat Concerto, a hilarious episode featuring Tom as a concert pianist struggling to hit the right notes whilst simultaneously catching Jerry, who has made the piano his home. Or Mouse In Manhattan, which finds Jerry leaving home in search of the big time, not to mention Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse, in which Tom the scientist concocts a poisonous potion for Jerry that inadvertently turns him into a super-mouse! However, many of the historical episodes, such as the introductory Puss Gets The Boot, or many of the episodes now infamous for containing stereotypically racist content are notable in the absence. Indeed, some episodes, such as The Little Orphan have had a few short sequences trimmed to avoid any racial hostility. It's unlikely that some episodes of the show will ever be shown in their entirety again.
You can see why some of the minority groups take offence at some of the mid-twentieth century animations. The main human to be seen in Tom & Jerry is a black servant named Mammy, who seems to do nothing but do the housework and prepare dinner for the owners of the house who are rarely ever shown. Also, many 'black-face' jokes have been dealt with intolerable punishment, with scenes edited out completely. To cut episodes or not show them altogether does nothing but sweep the facts under the carpet, and so only the sanitised, mainstream-friendly episodes of Tom & Jerry are all that remain. This is a pity, as the alleged 'racist' episodes of Tom & Jerry are just as historical fascinating as the more memorable ones.
The show was given a few reincarnations without the help of Hanna and Barbera, in particular a funky Cinemascope sixties re-launch which saw the show aim to move with the times, but the cream of the series remains in between the early forties to the late fifties, in which Hanna and Barbera churned out classic after classic. Tom & Jerry is arguably the finest series of animated shorts to ever be produced, and certainly is a series worth showing to your kids as an excuse to be able to watch it with them.
Presented in each episode's original fullframe ratio, the picture quality is watchable but disappointing, as it doesn't appear as if any of the episodes have been digitally remastered in any way. Some episodes suffer from excessive grain or print shimmering, whereas some are mostly lacking in defects. On the whole, Tom & Jerry is presented in a most inconsistent fashion, and clearly needs a decent amount of attention paid to it in order for the show to look the way it should.
Generally, the sound quality of the episodes is very good, with each short presented in mono with decent audible levels even if they contain a dated muffled quality associated with mid-twentieth-century animation.
Menu: A bright, static menu consisting of a few different artwork images from the show and a “Shortnin’ Bread” theme that quickly outstays its welcome.
Packaging: Yes, this is released by Warner, but Region 4 consumers are lucky as Warner refuses to use snapper cases and have therefore given Tom & Jerry’s Greatest Chases a transparent amaray casing.
The ‘Worry Song’ Excerpt: There are a number of possibilities for good Tom & Jerry extras, and yet the opportunity has been blatantly unfulfilled. However, Warner have used some initiative, and have included an excerpt from the popular Gene Kelly musical Anchors Aweigh, which featured Kelly singing and dancing with Jerry! This clip is priceless and very enjoyable to watch, and the picture quality is very good indeed. What stands the branching of animation and live action out above the rest is the fantastic choreography, which looks well rehearsed and expertly thought-out.
It’s Tom & Jerry, it features the majority of the ‘favourite’ episodes and it’s available for quite a reasonable price from most Australian Region 4 stockists. Other than an expensive and extensive box-set which will surely see the light of day in the future, this is a must-buy for anyone longing to rediscover the child in them.