Over the summer, I posted a rough draft of what I called a “Reading Guide” for Tom and Jerry. You know. The cat and mouse cartoon. I’ve since rewatched the series and revised my picks and criteria, so here’s “Version 2”.
(Also, apparently something happened with the latest DTV Tom and Jerry movie? Apparently it went mememtic this summer without me noticing?)
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the history of animation, particularly during the Golden Age, these past few months for a variety of reasons. I used to watch theatrical shorts all the time on Cartoon Network and I have a real affinity for that genre, but I think I’ve come to the conclusion now that Tom and Jerry is probably my favourite out of all the Golden Age series. Naturally, it’s the most controversial one.
Some of the criticism I find perfectly understandable. Some of it I find utterly preposterous and born from media illiteracy. But to take the more valid complaints, while there are certainly some pretty appallingly racist shorts in the Tom and Jerry catalog I tend to find this disproportionately overemphasized in modern criticism, making it seem like racist jokes and stereotypes made up far more of a percentage of Tom and Jerry’s humour than they actually did. I don’t actually find Tom and Jerry to be on average worse on stuff like this than Disney or Warner Brothers’ output, it just looks worse for Tom and Jerry because MGM never outright banned any of their most egregious outings like the competition did (I would count WB’s “Censored 11” as far and away worse for the time than just about anything Tom and Jerry ever did, and that Disney’s Peter Pan was allowed to skirt by unchallenged is a resounding source of ire for me).
On the whole, Tom and Jerry comes across to me as the most consistently creative, inventive and reliably excellent series in the entire Golden Age. I don’t think Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera always get quite the credit they deserve for sticking around the industry as long as they did (especially when their rivals were starting to visibly flounder), or for being the gifted comedic talents this series demonstrably shows them to have been. Other studios had a much harder time grasping the cartoon morality (let alone comic timing) Tom and Jerry perfected. And I was very surprised to see that Chuck Jones’ run on Tom and Jerry seems to be held in such low esteem by both Chuck Jones fans *and* Tom and Jerry fans: For someone who claimed to not understand the characters, I always thought he sure handled them well.
But more than that, Tom and Jerry is workmanlike, and I mean that in the best possible way. It constantly tries to adapt to a changing environment, and its humour is truly universal: Somewhat famously (and tellingly), Japan considers Tom and Jerry one of the greatest “anime” of all time, and it’s the only Western series to consistently make people’s Best Of lists.