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A magical ritual to pay my rent

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

12 Comments

  1. David Dukes
    July 12, 2017 @ 8:02 pm

    I’m with you on not liking the more cruel end of these cartoons. While Bugs and Roadrunner were trying to survive and Donald Duck was dealing with Urban Living, I remember not liking Woody Woodpecker as a kid as he was just an asshole.

    Reply

    • Josh Marsfelder
      July 12, 2017 @ 8:15 pm

      This is why I think the basic structure of Tom & Jerry is so good, actually: While both Tom and Jerry have defensible motivations for acting (one’s a predator and one is prey), neither is always expressly innocent either. The general rule is that whoever initiates the conflict loses, and I think that’s a really great message. It’s that “cartoon morality” I mentioned in the intro.

      Reply

  2. Camestros Felapton
    July 12, 2017 @ 10:09 pm

    //Additionally, I’ve left out most of the shorts where Jerry takes in another, cuter animal to protect them from Tom, largely because I feel once Hanna and Barbera started to do this it was a sign the series was getting long in the tooth and over-reliant on gimmicky additions (and some of them I frankly find cloying).//

    Jerry and Jumbo though! When I was a kid I remember laughing my self-sore and being vaguely terrified by the whole messing-with-Tom’s head element.

    Reply

    • Josh Marsfelder
      July 12, 2017 @ 11:15 pm

      That one was borderline and almost made it 🙁

      I have to give it another watch because I do remember liking a lot of the gags there. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the head games in that one. Like I said, this is “V.1” as it’s kind of a WIP.

      Reply

  3. Sean Dillon
    July 12, 2017 @ 10:20 pm

    Despite not featuring my three favorite Tom and Jerry skits (I grew up with them on DVD compilations and whenever they were on at my Nonna’s house), I can’t disagree with the selection you do provide. (To be fair, two of them are taken out because they don’t pass your criteria (one is a “Jerry protects a cute animal” story [I like it mainly for the ending of “Tom becomes the duckling’s mother”] and the other is about Jerry trying to convince Tom he’s suicidal [defensible if you buy into the Deadly Premonition take on Tom and Jerry]) and the third is just Chuck Jones blatantly ripping off Night Before Christmas [which was one I don’t really recall that well].) Out of curiosity, what do you think of Tom and Jerry skits where Tom wins or they team up?

    Reply

    • Josh Marsfelder
      July 12, 2017 @ 11:42 pm

      “That’s My Mommy” didn’t make the cut actually because I felt Tom was being needlessly cruel. I find it really, really hard to sympathize with him in the Quakers shorts: IMO Tom is set up to fail in them more often than not because of Quakers’ singularity of cuteness, and I’m not in favour of vilifying one part of the duo over the other. A lot of the Quakers ones also fail the “cloying” clause for me personally, but I was afraid I was being a bit too harsh on some of the later HB shorts.

      Which gets into your question: I’m certainly in favour of Tom winning, if and only if Jerry is being openly mean-spirited. Again, if Jerry starts the fight, he deserves to lose. “The Year of the Mouse” is a good example of that, but I think Jones actually goes way too far: Jerry is an utter bastard in that one, and the setup is so disturbing it upsets me. I don’t like seeing that. On the other hand, “Southbound Duckling” seems like Hanna and Barbera telling Tom apologists to be careful what they wish for, and was also way too dark for my tastes.

      If you want a great example of a short where Tom wins, I suggest “Little School Mouse” from the first HB run. Jerry’s mistake is assuming Tom will programatically pursue and harass all mice, and tries to teach Nibbles to be afraid of him. But Tom basically doesn’t care, happily letting Nibbles drink from his milk bowl, so long as he asks nicely, and even gratefully accepts a gift of a bell from him. Jerry is far more confrontational in his tactics, which annoys Tom and incurs his retribution. Jerry thinks Nibbles has missed the point entirely, but both he and Tom agree at the end “Cats and Mice Should Be Friends”.

      Which is something eagle-eyed viewers would have caught, as even Jerry himself doesn’t have a problem with all cats. Indeed, he and Toodles seem to be portrayed as being in a relationship on more than one occasion. Which isn’t, as some fans (and even Chuck Jones) seem to think, that unrealistic: Cats can get along with rodents just fine, so long as they grow up together. And in at least some of the shorts where Jerry and Toodles become an item, they do also seem to live together.

      Which is also not to say Tom only goes after Jerry because the mouse did something to provoke him. Indeed, the sheer number of shorts in which Tom loses because he started shit (again, not unrealistic as cats do toy with their prey and are known to kill just for sport) is proof enough that this is a lesson he could stand to learn a bit more often himself. But he’s not incapable of empathy.

      Which I guess begs the question as to why I didn’t include “Little School Mouse”…And I don’t really have a good answer, except that for whatever reason I didn’t feel like revisiting it as often as some of the others. Which is frankly what some of my criteria boils down to, and is mostly also why I didn’t include “Snowbody Loves Me” (which is I assume the third one you’re thinking of). I thought “The Night Before Christmas” was a more effective execution of that plot, and I thought it was mean for Jerry to shut Tom out in the cold. I do love the so-very-60s cheese condominium though.

      Like I said, this will probably be revised. You all have great points!

      Reply

      • Daibhid C
        July 14, 2017 @ 7:09 pm

        Also, “The Year of the Mouse” is basically Jones ripping off his own Hubie and Bertie cartoon “Mouse Wreckers”, except in that one the mice win even though they started it.

        Reply

  4. Homunculette
    July 12, 2017 @ 10:29 pm

    I’ve always theorized an axis of Sylvester/Tweety, Tom/Jerry, and Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner that represent three roughly simultaneous iterations of the same general idea. My personal favorite (and Thomas Pynchon’s, apparently) has always been the coyote.

    Reply

    • Josh Marsfelder
      July 12, 2017 @ 11:53 pm

      One of the great ironies in animation history is that Chuck Jones created Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner as an explicit parody of Tom & Jerry and what he perceived to be its misguided morality and formulaic structure…And lo and behold, where does Jones and his staff end up after being ousted from Warner Brothers? At MGM, taking over the reigns of Tom & Jerry. And suddenly admitting that the series was a lot more complex and nuanced, and far harder to get right, than he had ever given it credit for being.

      One of these days I do need to give the Coyote and Roadrunner shorts their proper due though, if only to better elucidate for myself Jones’ evolution as an artist.

      Reply

  5. Robert Dillon
    July 13, 2017 @ 8:47 am

    … So no hope of you covering Itchy and Scratchy then…?

    Bob Dillon

    Reply

  6. Jesse
    July 14, 2017 @ 8:50 pm

    No Gene Deitch means no “Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit.”

    Reply

    • Josh Marsfelder
      July 14, 2017 @ 9:33 pm

      Probably my favourite of the Gene Deitch ones too, but in hindsight I was concerned that one could be read as Deitch’s Writer Revolt, mocking the series’ formula and supposed repetitiveness.

      Reply

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