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"Tom & Jerry" Golden Collection Vol. 1: Not Purr-Fect, But Pretty Good

Do I really need to describe Tom & Jerry? I don’t think I do. Aside from the fact that the premise of their cartoons (cat chases mouse) is so simple to describe, I think most everyone knows these iconic characters. Plus, I’ve described the series in previous Toonzone reviews, so I won’t waste your time. So let’s get right down to the new Tom & Jerry Golden Collection Blu-ray set, and how it fares compared to the previous Spotlight Collections.

Unlike the Spotlights, which were a hodgepodge of material, this new Golden Collection goes in order by release date. This makes it much easier to note the evolution of the series, and from viewing the shorts in this manner, I say the series started to grow its comedic legs around 1943. The first few years had great character animation and acting, but Hanna and Barbera were still finding their comedic voice, and many of the gags seem outdated today because everyone’s done them. But by 1943, the crew began experimenting with the formula, so we got shorts like “The Lonesome Mouse”, where Jerry schemes to get Tom back in the house because he misses his company (even though they’re always at odds), or “Baby Puss”, which is less about Tom chasing Jerry than it is Tom dealing with his cat cronies, who relentlessly mock him for being pampered. 1944 and 1945 are when things started getting really good, largely due to Tex Avery’s influence at the studio; Hanna and Barbera competed by quickening the pacing of their cartoons and making the gags zanier. Standout entries include “The Zoot Cat” (Tom tries to woo a love interest by wearing a fancy suit that he cut out of a hammock), “The Million Dollar Cat” (Tom inherits a million dollars but is not allowed to hurt Jerry as part of the will’s clause), and “Tee For Two” (a fast-paced romp set at a golf course). “Mouse in Manhattan” isn’t very funny but more than makes up for it with its musical score (the recurring melody being “Manhattan Serenade”) and beautiful NYC backdrops. It also deviates from the “Tom chases Jerry” formula, which is nice every once in a while.

Disc 2 finishes the 1945 cartoons and continues to 1948’s “Professor Tom”, giving us 37 total shorts in the set. Around this era, the animators began to streamline Tom’s design; he is less shaggy than his earlier incarnations, when his fur was more defined and realistic. In those early cartoons, Tom actually looked like a real cat. It’s also interesting to note how Tom began to stand on his hind legs more; in the earliest shorts, he was frequently on all fours like a real feline. And like I said before, thanks to Tex Avery’s influence, these shorts got much faster; they were able to pack in more gags and set pieces as a result. My favorites from disc 2 include “Quiet Please!”, a classic premise where Tom must not wake up Spike the dog or face his wrath; “The Cat Concerto”, which brilliantly combines “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2″ with comic hijinks in one of Tom & Jerry‘s finest hours; “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse”, a take-off on the famous story with some great horror-spoofing music by Scott Bradley; and “Kitty Foiled”, which is nonstop comic violence fine-tuned to perfection as Tom faces off against both Jerry and a canary.

You’ll be happy to know that, unlike early copies of the Spotlights, this release is unedited; racial gags are intact, and Mammy Two Shoes is black like she should be. I’m not sure why it was necessary to subject the viewer to an unskippable 45-second text disclaimer on how the cartoons are a product of their time whenever the disc is inserted, though. The least WB could’ve done is make it shorter.

As you probably know, Tom & Jerry was already released on DVD in (almost) its entirety. Unlike the Spotlights, whose picture quality could fluctuate wildly (and with many shorts being sourced from inferior TV prints), many of the Golden Collection shorts have been remastered from CRI negatives, which aren’t quite the originals but darn close. I say “many” because, unfortunately, ten of the shorts on this set (most from 1943-1945) have been remastered from average prints. They have a grainier, softer, slightly more faded look as a result. It’s also unfortunate that WB couldn’t have gotten their hands on the original title cards for the shorts which lacked them before; instead, they used re-issues. That said, the shorts remastered from lesser prints don’t look horrible; they’re just not as sharp as the CRI ones. And the shorts which were remastered from CRI look great, about as good as you could expect from a series whose pre-51 negatives were lost in a vault fire.

Special features are mostly recycled from the three Spotlights. The only new video feature is “Vaudeville, Slapstick, and Tom & Jerry”, a documentary running 22 minutes. It concerns the similarities between early comedy teams like Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, and the like, and Tom & Jerry, which were indeed alike due to their emphasis on slapstick. It also covers comic timing, such a crucial part of whether comedy succeeds or fails. The doc features interviews from a few animators and historians like Jerry Beck, Mark Kausler, and Eric Goldberg, among others. There are also seven new audio commentaries.

Repeats from the Spotlights include five audio commentaries from both animation historians and, of all things, MadTV cast members; an eight-minute excerpt from the musical Anchors Aweigh where Jerry dances with Gene Kelly (later traced over in Family Guy); and “The Midnight Snack” pencil test. There are also two documentaries: “How Bill and Joe Met Tom & Jerry”, which runs 27 minutes and covers Hanna-Barbera’s theatrical and later TV work, and the 5-minute “Comedy Stylings of Tom & Jerry”, which is a far more lightweight piece than “Bill and Joe”.

I recommend Tom & Jerry: Golden Collection. It’s a good upgrade over the Spotlights and the shorts themselves are funny and well-animated. It’s not a perfect release; some cartoons are still missing the original title cards and a few weren’t restored from the best elements. However, for me, the good outweigh the bad here. And if you haven’t bought any Tom & Jerry yet, this is a no-brainer.

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