Tom and Jerry Deluxe Anniversary Collection
By Alan Bacchus
Warner Bros’ newly package two-DVD set contains all the essential Tom and Jerry short films from 1940 to 1958, originally produced and released theatrically by MGM– 30 ten minute cartoon featuring those two tempestuous combatants, Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse, their predilections for torture, pain and violence, not to mention Tom’s faceless black house servant with knee high britches and screechingly high Southern plantation voice. Though the set is missing some of the more notoriously unPC entries, it’s still a treasure chest of memories for me, having grown up rewatching all these films over and over again as Saturday morning and after school cartoons.
Not having seen these films since the early 80’s it was surprising to see that the two creators were none other than William Hanna and Joseph Barbara, who as ‘Hanna-Barbara’ created the Scooby Doo/Flintstones/Jetsons/Yogi Berra institution in the 60’s. Well, years before that they created cartoons for TV they produced them as high art for the cinema. Between 1940 and 1958, Hanna/Barbara created 114 shorts which played on the big screen in front of features, of which 13 received Academy Award nominations and 5 of which won Oscars. And they’re all in the set, split off into two discs – Disc 1: Oscar Winners and Classics and Disc 2 - Through the Decades.
But before we even get to see any of them on the DVD Warners holds up a disclaimer – not so much warning the audience about the politically-incorrect insensitivity toward racial stereotypes which exist in all of these shorts, but an acknowledgement of the creators’ own failings in this department. They also admonish the fact that these shorts were a ‘product of its time’ and should be watched with that in mind.
While this is appreciated, but not all that necessary, it’s not surprisingly it’s up there. Because as a child watching Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny the era in which these shorts were made were completely unknown to me. And though it doesn’t make it OK, as a child I didn’t notice any of the stereotypes, nor did I ever think that violence is the way to solve my disputes nor that all African American women were like Tom’s owner.
It’s a shame that Tom and Jerry is considered unacceptable to kids now. On the back of the DVD box, there’s also another disclaimer that says this set is intended for adult collectors not children? The fact is these cartoons have been treated as contraband for some time. It all started toward the end of my cartoon-watching youth – the mid to 80’s. In my Saturday morning-watching prime Tom and Jerry was the absolute best cartoons on television – better than any of that other Hanna Barbara stuff. By the mid 80’s we started seeing ‘edited for content’ versions of Tom and Jerry less violent, less racially insensitive, safe and sanitized cartoons.
Did I know these films were not only not new, but 30-40 years old? Nope. But did I notice the sanitization and re-editing of these films? Yes.
Well finally Warner Bros have made these films available again to us children, now grown up, 25 years later. In addition to the previously mentioned disclaimer on the back, the packaging is distinctly subdued, a dull blueish/purple, as opposed to the eye-popping primary colours reserved for regular children’s fare - colours are likely designed so kids DON’T notice the box on the shelves.
I haven’t been into a retail store, but I doubt it’s even in the children’s section. It’s a shame if adults won’t allow their kids to see these films, but we could likely be the last generation to demand and appreciate these films. What will happen when we all die off? If our children never see these films, what will become of them – bound for the ‘cult’ ‘shelves in video store (if there will be video stores in the future) – or next to the porn selection, the real naughty stuff children were never supposed to see?
'Tom and Jerry Deluxe Anniversary Collection' is available on DVD from Warner Home Video