Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection
(Released June 23, 2009 by Warner Home Video)
Another Long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia
It must have been one heck of a surprise for the theatrical audiences of late 1963 to see the familiar MGM Roaring Lion signal the beginning of the upcoming cartoon - and have the head of TOM fade into its place and go "MEOW! MEOW! FST! FST!". ...I know it was for me when I first saw it on television!
But, with this revamped opening, famed animation director Chuck Jones began putting his stamp on Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera's cat and mouse team of TOM AND JERRY.
Chuck's unique vision and design sense would guide Bill and Joe's creations for little more than three years and 34 cartoons, and it is those cartoons that make up Warner Home Video's release Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection.
We'll break the review into CONS and PROS.
Content Notes: Once again a WHV set has NO CONTENT LISTING anywhere inside the package! One disc is on a "hinged holder" and the other disc rests on the inside back wall of the packaging! But, beyond that, there is no list of titles for the cartoons and, while they follow the order of original theatrical release, this isn't something that even most hardcore animation fans have committed to memory, much less mere civilians. Ditto on listings for the extra features.
This is at least the THIRD Warner Animation set I've purchased this year with no content notes! The others being Max Fleischer's Superman and Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1. Doubtless, there are others indicating an unfortunate trend in Warner's DVD packaging for animation sets.
Talent: It's not Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, and original composer Scott Bradley. Let everything that follows in this review lie within the context that these three talented individuals are who put Tom and Jerry on the pop culture map to stay!
The Set Itself: A minor "con", but the fact that it IS "The Chuck Jones Collection", coming on the heels of three volumes of the original Hanna-Barbera shorts, means that there will probably be no DVD release of the 13 Gene Deitch T&J shorts of 1960-1962.
I was actually hoping for a "Tom and Jerry in the Sixties" set that would encompass the runs of both Deitch AND Jones... but, clearly, Jones is the more marketable name and he gets the call - and we may never be treated to the "otherworldly wonders" of Mr. Deitch.
Talent: It's Chuck Jones - and, by this time in the 1960s, there were few, if any, talents to truly rival Jones - and he's brought a few old friends with him...
Writer Michael Maltese, co-director and designer Maurice Noble, voice actors Mel Blanc and June Foray (...with Blanc doing the "yelling in pain" as Tom. I guess they couldn't use Bill Hanna's classic "AAAAAAHHH!" anymore!), and composer Eugene Poddany.
Put them all together and they made 34 entertaining cartoons that looked better than the any of the competing product of the day.
Style: During this period, Tom and Jerry were "Jones-ified". There's probably no better way to put it. Jerry became "cuter" than ever before, and Tom took on the "villainous" physical characteristics of Jones' Daffy Duck and especially Wyle E. Coyote. The animation was lush for the time, and Jones' trademark character posing abounds.
The Extra Features: "Tom and Jerry and Chuck" is a 20 minute feature on the coming together of this unlikely trio, and is narrated by June Foray. Many parallels are drawn to Jones' prior Warner Bros. work - in both characters and plots of specific cartoons. It is also shown where Jones put his own spin on T&J plots previously produced by Hanna and Barbera. The feature is punctuated by frequent clips of Chuck Jones, in his later years, speaking on the subject.
In its 25 minutes, "Chuck Jones: Memories of a Childhood" covers what is found in the first three chapters of Mr. Jones' 1989 book, "Chuck Amuck", in his own words and pictures. This 2008 documentary featurette was produced for Turner Classic Movies and, while very informative, does not mention Tom and Jerry at any time. Give it points if you're a Jones fan. Take away points if you're a Tom and Jerry fan. You decide!
Print Quality: To my eyes, and on my equipment, the prints are nearly flawless for average age 45-year-old cartoons. Far better than the print quality on the aforementioned Max Fleischer's Superman and Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1.
Menus: For reasons unknown, Warner's DVD animation set main menus often have unusually LOUD background music or "series themes" that play while the menu is displayed. So loud that I'll either MUTE while lingering on the menu - or navigate off the menu as quickly as possible. Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection is an exception to this, as an "appropriately sixties" piece of cartoon theme-style music (the opening credits theme for "Jerry, Jerry, Quite Contrary" by Dean Elliot) plays at an equally appropriate sound level. THIS SHOULDN'T EVEN NEED TO BE LISTED AS A "PRO", but the loudness issue is so prevalent on Warner animation set main menus that such a welcome change should be noted.
The Cartoons: (Categorized as GRADE "A", GRADE "F" and everything else falls somewhere in between!)
"The Cat Above, The Mouse Below (Tied for Best!)
"Snowbody Loves Me
"Bad Day at Cat Rock
"Of Feline Bondage"
"Duel Personality" (Tied for Best!)
"Jerry, Jerry, Quite Contrary"
"Cat And Dupli-Cat"
"The Mouse From H.U.N.G.E.R."
All other shorts fall somewhere below "A" and above "F", including...
A SPECIAL ODD-HONORABLE MENTION: "O-Solar-Meow", "Guided Mouse-ille" and "Advance And Be Mechanized". Chuck Jones was the master of the "Duck Season / Rabbit Season Trilogy". These cartoons make up his "Robot Cat / Robot Mouse Trilogy"! Not great, but not terrible either.
"Matinee Mouse" and "Shutter Bugged Cat" For their jarring use of old Hanna-Barbera stock footage - and for using it without Scott Bradley's music! A double demerit!
The cartoons more than average out to a "PRO"! And so does the DVD set as a whole.
In the final analysis TOM AND JERRY, under the stewardship of Charles M. ("Chuck") Jones, was great and unusually innovative at its beginning - but, unfortunately, began to peter-out as Jones stepped further and further away from it.
The best entries were where Jones, Michael Maltese, Maurice Noble and Eugene Poddany came together as a fine creative force, experimenting all the way - and the lesser entries occurred when they did not. Though writer Bob Ogle contributed some worthy exceptions to this rule throughout the run.
As a DVD collection, the cartoons in this set are well worth multiple viewings and will provide many hours of enjoyment. (I watched "Surf-Bored Cat" four times in one day!)
Even the lesser efforts were among the best (...if not ACTUALLY the best) theatrical animated shorts of their time. Keeping it in THAT perspective, I recommend this set to anyone with an interest in Chuck Jones, Tom and Jerry, and the animated shorts of the sixties. If you enjoy some good old (stylized) fun in your cartoons, this is for you!