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Warner Home Video presents
Tom and Jerry: Spotlight Collection (1943-1956)

"Apparently your whole life was spent pursuing an innocent little mouse."
- The Gatekeeper, in Heavenly Puss

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: November 07, 2004

Stars: William Hanna
Other Stars: Hans Conreid, Paul Frees
Director: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Cartoon violence, thematic material including smoking characters)
Run Time: 04h:38m:22s
Release Date: October 19, 2004
UPC: 012569587823
Genre: animation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ ABB- B

DVD Review

Cat-and-mouse chase cartoons had a long history already in the 1930s, and their one-joke gag was quite threadbare by the time Puss Gets the Boot premiered in 1940. But this cartoon set in motion the long-lived and highly successful Tom and Jerry series (even though the cat in that first cartoon is named Jasper). Despite primarily relying on that one gag, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera transcended the mold from which it came, producing 114 cartoons, some of which rank among the very best ever made. Hanna and Barbera instilled distinct personalities in their creations, and the often extreme and sadistic violence is always a crowd-pleaser.

This two-disc collection assembles 40 of these cartoons, roughly one-third of the classic output of Hanna and Barbera from 1940 to 1958; the Gene Deitch and Chuck Jones cartoons of the 1960s are mercifully omitted and the less said about the friendly (not to mention ghastly) Tom and Jerry of the 1970s the better. This classic era uses the chase theme prominently, but frequently places it in interesting situations or adds a third character to give a different resonance to the story. Among the most notable of the latter are the massive bulldog Spike (also named Butch and Killer in various cartoons) and the little orphan mouse Nibbles (sometimes called Tuffy, though since on occasion there are two of these voracious little mice it's possible that Tuffy and Nibbles aren't the same character). Spike puts the fear of retribution into Tom, frequently to hilarious effect as Jerry works out ways to manipulate his protector. Nibbles/Tuffy is a frequent source of exasperation for Jerry, who not only has to save his own skin but protect the heedless little tyke.

Perhaps the best-known of the situational cartoons is the classic The Cat Concerto, featuring Tom as a concert pianist struggling to get through Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 while Jerry, asleep in the piano, has his own ideas. Other include Tee for Two, as Tom attempts golfing with the interference of Jerry, and Cue Ball Cat, set in a pool hall. Romance is always on a tomcat's mind, and that's often the case with Tom Cat, who pursues numerous kitties, most creatively in The Zoot Cat as he makes himself a zoot suit in order to be hep to the jive, and in Solid Serenade, where he plays the double bass while singing Is You Is, or Is You Ain't My Baby to his feline femme fatale.

Music was a vital part of these cartoons, since for the most part the cat and mouse don't speak at all. Essentially silent films with sound effects, these shorts really spring to life with the music of Scott Bradley. Although not nearly as well known as Warner's Carl Stalling, Bradley more than holds his own with a perfect meld of classical and popular music, held together by vigorous mickeymousing. It's hard to imagine these shorts being nearly as good without Bradley's input, frequently delving into twelve-tone territory as well as the usual usage of swirling strings and wildly brassy horns.

While this review is placed in the Kids section of dOc, it should be remembered that these cartoons were truly intended "for all ages," being shown before movies of all kinds and not just children's films. Thus, there's plenty of adult thematic material here that may be inappropriate for younger children. In addition to the usual manic Tex Avery-influenced cartoon mayhem, there's cross-dressing, gunfire, use of knockout drops and smoking by the main characters. These bits have not been snipped, as Disney did to some of its films on DVD, which is commendable. Unfortunately, three shorts on the first disc have been shorn of racial blackface humor. Warner has been apologetic about the use of edited prints, and has promised to press and issue corrected discs for exchange. Since who knows when retailers will carry the replacement version, it's probably best to buy the set now and exchange the disc if you want the original versions.

One of the flashback cartoons, Smitten Kitten, is included, which is a bit annoying since three of the four films rehashed in it are here in full. If the producers felt the need to include one of these compilation shorts, surely a better choice could have been made. Otherwise, it's hard to argue with the selection. All seven of the Oscar-winning Tom and Jerry cartoons are included, as well as two others nominated for Oscars. The first two of the four "Mouseketeer" cartoons are presented here, and they're some of my all-time favorites. There are still a few gems not on this release, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse, which will have to wait for a second volume. Though this isn't labeled as Volume 1 on the case, the freeze-screen and the electronic label both recite that it is, in fact, volume 1. And that hint of the future is a good thing for animation fans, since more of these classic cartoons is always welcome.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicnoyes


Image Transfer Review: The cartoons look very good for the most part; the Technicolor is bright and vivid and the Disneyesque painted backgrounds on the earlier shorts are beautiful. The linework is a little soft at times, apparently as a result of digital video noise reduction, but it's certainly watchable even on large sets. The titles are windowboxed to prevent problems with overscan; the original titles for most of the shorts were lost long ago, so rerelease titles are the order of the day. The principal problem is speckling, especially at the beginning of films. In the fairly late Designs on Jerry, the first minute or so is full of flaking and damage that makes it look like a snowstorm at times. That's a bit disappointing for "restored" cartoons. On the other hand, the original negatives for all the Tom & Jerry cartoons dating from before 1952 were destroyed in a fire, so for them, this may be as good as it gets. Two Little Indians suffers from severe combing issues that I noticed even on a small television; apparently this short was somehow flagged incorrectly. Alas, it's on the second disc and not likely to be corrected in the recall. The best transfers are the last three cartoons, Touché Pussy Cat, The Flying Sorceress and Blue Cat Blues are presented in their original Cinemascope aspect ratios, in anamorphic widescreen, and they look beautiful.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio has been cleaned up substantially, with very little hiss or noise remaining. The music still sounds fine, though the earlier shorts are somewhat tinny, as is to be expected. The Truce Hurts is for some reason much noisier than the other shorts on this set.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Documentaries
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Jerry Beck
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Clips from Anchors Aweigh and Dangerous When Wet
Extras Review: Two substantial documentaries are included. The first of these looks at Hanna Barbera and the history of the Tom and Jerry series. This 27m:06 documentary incorporates a fair amount of interview material with the late Bill Hanna as well as Joe Barbera, with some amusing discussion of the issues surround The Cat Concerto and the suspicious similarities of Friz Freleng's Rabbit Rhapsody Bugs Bunny cartoon. The second documentary (17m:02s) is devoted to Scott Bradley (even though the title states that it's about the MGM Orchestra) taking a look at his technique, sources, and influences as well as his non-cartoon work.

Three shorts have commentaries by animation historian Jerry Beck. These are frankly disappointing, since other than identifying animators Beck surprisingly has little to say and ends up with long gaps of silence even in a six-minute cartoon. The package is wrapped up with the feature-film appearances of Jerry, famously dancing with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh, and the cat and mouse underwater in the Esther Williams vehicle Dangerous When Wet. These are certainly welcome additions to the collection.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Forty of the best cartoons ever made, at a bargain price. Other than a few mild transfer issues, this is a highly recommended set with very good extras to boot.

 


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