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Tom and Jerry (CinemaScope era, 1955-1958)

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Tom and Jerry (CinemaScope era, 1955-1958)
TomAndJerryCinemascope.jpg
Behold, the first decline in quality for Tom and Jerry.
Genre: Comedy
Slapstick
Running Time: 6-8 Minutes
Country: United States
Release Date: November 19, 1955–August 1, 1958
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Starring: William Hanna
Joseph Barbera
Episodes: 20 Shorts


Tom and Jerry is an American classic series of cartoon short films first made in 1940 by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (Hanna-Barbera).

While the earlier Tom and Jerry cartoons from 1940-1955 were well-received from critics and viewers, the cartoons from late 1955-1958 (also known as the CinemaScope era), while not terrible, garnered more mixed reception compared to the earlier cartoons, mainly due to weaker plot lines and lower quality animation, brought in as the result of the budget-cutting problems at the time. This article will be talking about the Tom and Jerry cartoons from That's My Mommy to Tot Watchers.

Shorts

1955

  • That's My Mommy (November 19)

1956

  • The Flying Sorceress (January 27)
  • The Egg and Jerry (March 23; part of the CinemaScope Remake Six)
  • Busy Buddies (May 4)
  • Muscle Beach Tom (September 7)
  • Down Beat Bear (October 21)
  • Blue Cat Blues (November 16)
  • Barbecue Brawl (December 14)

1957

  • Tops with Pops (February 22; part of the CinemaScope Remake Six)
  • Give and Tyke (March 30; Spike and Tyke cartoon)
  • Timid Tabby (April 19)
  • Feedin' the Kiddie (June 7; part of the CinemaScope Remake Six)
  • Scat Cats (July 26; Spike and Tyke cartoon)
  • Mucho Mouse (September 6)
  • Tom's Photo Finish (November 1)

1958

  • Happy Go Ducky (January 3)
  • Royal Cat Nap (March 7)
  • The Vanishing Duck (May 2)
  • Robin Hoodwinked (June 6)
  • Tot Watchers (August 1; last cartoon in the classic era)

Bad Qualities

  1. Fred Quimby retired after the release of Pecos Pest, resulting in William Hanna and Joseph Barbera taking co-production while MGM overlooked the series, which would lead to an increase of executive meddling.
  2. The animation in this era, while still a good effort, is a noticeable downgrade from that of the earlier shorts. Likely due to executive meddling, all of the cartoons were made in CinemaScope format instead of Academy format to compete against the growing popularity of television at the time. While the previous CinemaScope cartoons produced under Fred Quimby's production (Pet Peeve, Touche, Pussy Cat!, Southbound Duckling, Pup On A Picnic, and Tom and Cherie) have higher quality animation, budget cuts resulted in the animation taking a nosedive, resembling that of an early Hanna-Barbera television cartoon of the 1950s and 1960s.
    • In addition, MGM requested William Hanna and Joseph Barbera to create remakes of the previous cartoons for the CinemaScope format, to poor results.
    • Starting around Barbecue Brawl, the Tom and Jerry title cards as seen in the opening and closing title sequences appear to look cheap and simplistic with notable use of flat colors and poorly-rendered typography, as pictured above.
      • Thankfully, title cards as seen in the opening and closing title sequences improved from the following era.
    • Also, it should be noted that animating cartoons in CinemaScope requires much more time and effort than producing cartoons in the standard Academy ratio and format (1:37:1 aspect ratio) since it requires animators to animate the cartoons on wider storyboards in order to fit the wider theatrical aspect ratio of 2:35:1, as well as the extensive use of wideshots for proper framing of the visual elements, something which previous CinemaScope cartoons produced under Fred Quimby's production got it right. Because of the rushed animation and budget cuts, this causes the animation quality to look less like a theatrical cartoon and more like an early Hanna-Barbera television television cartoon of the 1950s and 1960s such as the use of simplistic background designs and flat colors, as well as some of the CinemaScope widescreen shots to look poorly-framed, ill-executed and awkwardly cramped, which is clearly evident in the CinemaScope remakes Tops with Pops, Feedin' the Kiddie, and The Egg and Jerry.
  3. Various bad to mediocre shorts in this era, such as:
  4. Notably weaker writing. The gags also went from brilliant and cunning to tired and overused. For example, The Vanishing Duck is a watered-down rehash of The Invisible Mouse which was produced 11 years prior.
  5. While there are good morals here and there, some of the morals are all over the place. It can range from very dangerous (like in Blue Cat Blues where it says that suicide is the only solution to your problems), confusing (like in Royal Cat Nap where the moral in that short is all over the place), or simply poorly executed (like in Busy Buddies and Tot Watchers where it tries to convey a good moral about watching over the baby is helpful, but didn't work due to its flaws)
  6. Most of the newer side characters introduced in these shorts like Jeannie the Babysitter and the king from Royal Cat Nap ending up being unlikeable due to the very little development they have other than their extremely bad qualities.
    • Quacker, while still a very likable side character, became slightly more dumb and annoying than he was before, most evident in That's My Mommy and Happy Go Ducky.
  7. The cartoons becomes a bit more one-sided by usually forcing both Tom and to either win or lose in the end, instead of having one character claiming a victory while the other loses in the end. Oftentimes, only the side characters win in the end instead.
  8. The Spike and Tyke spin-off cartoons made during this era, while positively received, failed to make it past two cartoons, likely due to budget reasons or due to low financial success of such shorts.
  9. Tot Watchers worsened almost all of the problems found in Busy Buddies and ended the classic era on a sour note.
  10. When these cartoons are shown on television (and sometimes on VHS) during the standard-definition television era, these shorts appear to have been cropped to 4:3 via pan-and scan from their original CinemaScope widescreen versions to fit the 4:3 television screens, resulting in the loss of certain important visual elements in some scenes. For example, in the pan-and-scan TV/VHS version of Timid Tabby, in one scene where Cousin George changes the channels on the TV set, Jerry appears to be cropped out in certain shots because of the 4:3 pan-and-scan format, making it seem as if Cousin George is browsing through a blank TV channel in one shot.

Good Qualities

  1. Despite the drop in quality, this era is still far superior to the following era and then massively improved and became highly creative again in the Chuck Jones-era.
  2. There's still lots of very good and/or decent shorts, such as:
    • That's My Mommy (which started this era on a high note)
    • Muscle Beach Tom
    • Barbecue Brawl
    • Timid Tabby
    • Mucho Mouse
    • Tom's Photo Finish
    • Robin Hoodwinked
    • the Spike and Tyke cartoons
  3. The title sequences used for the first seven cartoons of this era are still well-designed in high quality.
    • The animation quality for the first seven cartoons, while subpar, is still slightly better than that of the next 13 cartoons, though that isn't saying much.
  4. Most of the well-known and likable supporting characters such as Spike the Bulldog, Tyke, Tuffy, and Quacker are still present in each of these cartoons.
  5. Some of the one-off characters introduced in the shorts in this era, such as the titular witch from The Flying Sorceress, the female cat from Muscle Beach Tom, and Tom's lookalike cousin George from Timid Tabby are decent one-off additions to the main cast.
  6. The main characters from the previous cartoons (especially Tom and Jerry themselves) are not flanderized and/or dumped on and are still their great and likable selves in this era, though the same cannot be said for the following era.
  7. The human characters started having visible onscreen faces beginning with The Flying Sorceress, which is a refreshing change from the previous Tom and Jerry cartoons where most of the human characters such as Mammy Two-Shoes have their faces remain unseen.
  8. To be fair, none of this was William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's faults, MGM themselves had to cut budgets while still wanting to animate the cartoons in the more expansive CinemaScope widescreen process because of stiff competition with television which was growing in popularity at the time, but they're not to blame either.

Reception

Most film critics of the time, as well as some audiences and fans alike, often deemed this era as the start of the downfall of the Tom and Jerry series (as well as the entire MGM cartoon studio overall) instead of the Gene Deitch era, declaring that these cartoons are when the writing started getting weaker, the animation quality notably becoming cheaper and less theatrical quality-like and more television quality-like, the production of three unnecessary CinemaScope remakes, as well as the introduction of the unlikable supporting character Jeannie, despite also having a warm reception with many cartoons in this era such as "Mucho Mouse", "Muscle Beach Tom" and "Tom's Photo Finish".

In response to the declining critical and box office reception of the CinemaScope Tom and Jerry and Droopy cartoons of this era, MGM started reissuing some of it's far superior cartoon shorts (including those from the Tom and Jerry series) from the 1940s to the mid-1950s in theaters in order to keep it's animation studio alive. However, since the reissued cartoons brought in as much low box office returns as the newer cartoons did, in late-1956 MGM decided to shut down it's animation studio since according to MGM at the time shutting down production on new cartoon shorts could save $600,000 a year.

Despite the mixed reception of the cartoons of this era, these cartoons however were much more well-received than those of the Gene Deitch era as well as the 1975 and 1980 revivals where the cartoons of those eras were negatively received by both critics and audiences alike.

Trivia

  • When these cartoons are shown on television during the standard-definition era, these shorts appear to have been cropped to 4:3 via pan-and scan from their original CinemaScope widescreen versions to fit the 4:3 television screens, and have been presented this way on VHS releases as well as certain early Tom and Jerry DVD releases from the 2000s decade by Warner Home Video such as the European PAL Tom and Jerry Classic Collection DVD releases. The cartoons were however presented in their original widescreen formats on The Art of Tom and Jerry Volume 2 laserdisc set (albeit letterboxed), as well as later Tom and Jerry DVD releases since the late-2000s and streaming services such as the Boomerang app and HBO Max.
    • While the two Spike and Tyke cartoons "Give and Tyke" and "Scat Cats" remain unavailable on DVD or Blu-Ray, restored versions of both shorts are available on the Boomerang app, albeit presented in pan-and-scan. Before that, both shorts have been released unrestored on VHS (in pan-and-scan format) and laserdisc (in letterboxed format) by MGM/UA Home Video in the 1990s.
  • Between 1957-1958, while the final CinemaScope Tom and Jerry cartoons entered production, Michael Lah, a former animator who animated for Tex Avery's unit in the 1940s and 1950s, and a few Tom and Jerry cartoons between 1946-1947 for the Hanna-Barbera unit such as "Springtime for Thomas", "The Milky Waif", "Trap Happy", "Solid Serenade", "Cat Fishin'", "Part Time Pal", "Salt Water Tabby" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse", directed six new Droopy cartoons in CinemaScope format, having taken over Tex Avery's unit following Avery's departure from the studio in 1955. All six Michael Lah-directed Droopy cartoons (especially "Blackboard Jumble" which is considered the weakest Droopy cartoon Lah has directed) also suffered most of the same problems as the Tom and Jerry shorts did at the same time (see "Bad Qualities" above), mainly due to budget cuts on the part of MGM.
  • The MGM cartoon studio closed its doors on August 1, 1957, five days right after the Spike and Tyke cartoon "Scat Cats" has been released.
  • This era marks the last time the MGM cartoons are produced in the more lavish and costly three-strip Technicolor color process after nearly 20 years since late-1935 beginning with "The Old Plantation" from Harman-Ising's Happy Harmonies cartoon series, as all subsequent MGM theatrical cartoons produced since the Gene Deitch-era of Tom and Jerry are all produced in Metrocolor, a less expensive color process used from a selection of Kodak's film products and color processes, presumably to cut costs in future cartoon production. By 1965, about eight years after the MGM cartoon studio closed its doors, most of MGM's animated output sold for television are re-processed in this Metrocolor color process, hence explaining these cartoons' more poorly-faded, washed-out color quality when they first aired on television at the time.

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