Monday, 1 April 2013

The Best of Tom and Jerry

Ray Patterson? Irv Spence? Hack animators, pure and simple. They never came close to the wit and charm of a drawing like this:



No, I can’t do it. I was going to do one of those facetious April Fool’s Day posts. You know, the ones that expound on the greatness of Sam Singer’s “Pow-Wow the Indian Boy” or list Scrappy Doo as the Most Popular Animated Character Ever (including Anime). But I just can’t bring myself to do it.

The ugly drawing you see above is from the Tom and Jerry short “Landing Stripling” (1962), one of the most wretched-looking shorts ever made. It was the product of Gene Deitch, who took a team of Czech animators unfamiliar with the characters and half the budget that Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera got and proceeded to try to revive the Tom and Jerry series for MGM.

None of the 13 Deitch cartoons are very good, let alone have the grace of Patterson or the outrageousness of Spence, though there are fraternities of “so-bad-it’s-great” and “anything’s-better-than-boring-Chuck-Jones-MGM-cartoons” fans who find some enjoyment in them. Actually, I like the elephant design in “Sorry Safari.” And Allen Swift is funny in the “Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit.” But if I had to pick Deitch’s worst, this may be it. For whatever reason, there’s reverb and tape loop noise everywhere, including on some kind of electronic didgeridoo sound given to the bird character. The symphonic music is drowned in muddiness at times. And the worst sound may be a boink-boink-boink vocal effect (by Swift?) made when a burned Tom quickly hops to and from the background.

The animation is jerky and character poses get lost at times. Here are some more frames:



Do I detect a hint of the influence of Jack Zander in that last pose? Uhhhhhh, no.

It’s a shame. Deitch could be very creative, as he proved with other cartoon series. Tod Dockstader, who I suspect had something to do with all the 15 ips tape loop effects, was an electronic music innovator. And storyman Eli Bauer enjoyed much future success. But all their talents added up to a big fat zero as far as Tom and Jerry were concerned.

15 comments:

  1. Gene does admit his UPA background made him an adversarial choice to do the Tom & Jerry series, and to me it really shows in some of the initial efforts (my least favorite -- "Down and Outing" where Tom is left tied up and crying at the iris out as fish are being thrown in his face). The first shorts released feel as if MGM and William Snyder are telling Gene to eat spinach, and he's throwing a tantrum and tossing food at the audience as an angry reaction to having to deal with characters he doesn't like.

    His last few T&J cartoons seem to have gotten that bile out of the system -- they're not award winners, but at least I don't get the vibe that the director is trying to torture the audience anymore as much as Jerry tortures Tom.

    (And speaking of spinach, Deitch also admits that, like his Terrytoons writer, Jules Feiffer, he shared a love for E.C. Segar's Thimble Theater, and as a result, Gene's Popeye cartoons don't have that same mad-at-the-characters feeling. He said his stories for the KFS efforts were shipped from New York, but to me it seems as if each unit doing the cartoons went in it's own direction -- you can definitely tell a Charles Shows Popeye from one written by Jack Mercer -- and Dietch's efforts have some of the more interesting story lines, even if the animation is no better, or worse in most cases than the T&Js theatricals.)

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  2. Ironically, I find Tom's pained "Boink-boink-boink" hilarious, especially when he hops on his butt back TOWARDS the camera and the "boink"ing switches from ascending to DEscending. Almost Avery-esque, in a way.

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    1. It was I, confessess I, who voiced that goofy series of boinks! And yes, I did intend it to sound funny.

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  3. Maybe we can discuss the merits of Hanna-Barbera's TV verison [there are a FEW people--NOT ME---who seem to love that 1975 one], Chuck Jones's late 60s or Filmation's late 70s classics next.....pure sludge..:)

    BOINNNNNGGGGG - Tod Dockstader effect Steve

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    1. It is weird what people will latch onto, Pokey. I use to see a lot of those 70's T&J's myself as a kid in the 80's, yet seeing them today is so painful to me (and what Filmation tried to do), yet there are people who would love those for different reasons or approaches to the iconic characters.

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  4. Though not mentioned in the blog spot, this cartoon (and a coupe others in the Deitch set) had Vaclav Bedrich credited as an "animation director". I suppose he would be the one that had to handle this very unknown form of animation that the studio in Prague had never done before. They have done cartoons, but not of that type we associate here in the west.

    Checking IMDB again, I see he passed away 4 years back. He has also produced many domestic productions for the state owned "Kratky Film Praha" including producing several favorite children's cartoons such as "Štaflík a Špagetka", Pohádky ovčí babičky" and others.
    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLrFL8Yh_WZAh66mHq0HalTb4Bq2faEnkk
    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZ83etHx-VE7N41vRBNfilRRGxDKOByYQ

    Under the shorten "V. Bedrick", he directed a number of short films based on stories by Ludwig Bemelmans for Bill Snyder's Rembrandt Films. Those would include two featuring Madeline and one called "Sunshine". I think these were put into production just before Deitch was sent over there but I'm not certain.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1cH96WkhEU

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  5. Well, unlike Yowp and J. Lee, I have long had a fondness for the Deitch efforts featuring Tom's rageaholic owner. In my younger days, I imagined him to be Mammy Two-Shoe's employer, and that the two would alternate cartoons in which to administer beatdowns to our favorite hapless feline.

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    1. You certainly thought very hard about it!

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  6. And speaking of the last pic, be glad Hanna Barbera's crappy gawd-aweful computer DI&P system wasn't around then......

    Asim.

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  7. Well, I accept the disdainful assessment of my T&J efforts. I know what they are and what they are not. (Don't forget, I was a UPA man, and was ordered by my producer to produce 13 cartoons with characters I had disdained.) I did what I felt was wanted, with a lame crew. But we all threw ourselves into it. However, if they are really so relentlessly awful as presented in this blog, then what in the world prompted Warner Brothers to recently issue such a lovingly remastered DVD, exclusively featuring all of our T&Js?

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    1. I don't know, Gene. They've released home videos of "The Dukes" (a cartoon version of the "Dukes of Hazzard"), "The Snorks" and "Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch." They aren't high on the quality meter for me. Conversely, the same company is letting Tex Avery's MGM cartoons rot on the shelf. Who knows how corporations make decisions. I don't.
      At the same time, I'd really like to see a home release of Tom Terrific. The cartoons are charming, amusing and creative. They never talked down to anyone. Feel free to accept that non-disdainful assessment as well.

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    2. "I don't know, Gene. They've released home videos of "The Dukes" (a cartoon version of the "Dukes of Hazzard")"

      It's amazing I remember watching that at all!

      What Gene said is right thought, he simply fulfilled a job that was given to him and he did it well to his abilities and judgement. It's more MGM's fault they didn't go further with his help when they had a change in management and noticed where their star characters had been animated in.

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  8. My favorite part of the cartoon where Tom is in the pot then he jumps (Wonk! Wonk! Wonk! Wonk! Wonk! Wonk!)

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