Tuesday, January 21, 2014
CANON OF FILM: "TOM AND JERRY"-MGM YEARS
TOM & JERRY-MGM YEARS (1940-1958)
Directors: William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Producer: *Fred Quimby (*occasionally may vary)
Quick, name the animated characters that have won the most Oscars for Best Animated Short? Yes, true, Disney has the most, Walt won the Award the first seven years in existence in fact, but they often won for their Silly Symphonies like “The Three Little Pigs,” and only occasionally won for Mickey and Donald characters. Yeah, my guess probably could’ve gone to a Looney Tunes character, but you’d be surprised how little they got. Bugs Bunny only won once and it wasn’t even for any of the ones you’d think. Daffy, ironically enough, has never been nominated. Sylvester & Tweety won two, Speedy Gonzales won one, (and that one had Sylvester in it, so he has three actually) and Pepe Le Pew of all the characters won once. But far and away the most wins and most nominations, goes to Tom and Jerry. They won seven in the forties and fifties, including winning four in a row between ’43-’46, and had about a dozen or so other nominations until the golden age of cartoons era ended in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Animation actually predates film if you count comic strips, and even in film’s infancy, animated shorts were some of the first experiments with the new medium, and were expected to be viewed when you went to the movies in the studio block theater days, along with a double-features and along with the newsreels, and probably a small documentary. When the Supreme Court finally ruled that the studios couldn’t own the theatres anymore, along with the increased popularity in television, cartoons were the first to fall from theatres, and mostly became relegated to television. Also in the fifties, renegade animators like Chuck Jones would begin breaking from the studios and help form UPA, the precursor of the independent animation movement which began reimagining cartoons from style to timing, to even whether or not there’s a plot half the time. Disney certainly remains the most important, with the most innovation in the format even today, but Fleischer studio with Popeye and Superman are compatible to Disney in scope in it’s era, all the Looney Tunes have a far more enduring relevance even today, and there’s a place for the cartoons of Paramount and Columbia who all had competing studios with their own major cartoonist directors like Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, Max and Dave Fleischer, Fritz Freleng at Warner Brothers, and the aforementioned Chuck Jones, and Tex Avery who worked for what seems like everybody except Disney, belongs in a categories all his own, including being incredibly influential on Hanna and Barbara’s creation of “Tom and Jerry.” With Disney spending more time working on feature-length animation, and having exclusive rights contracts on things like Technicolor running out, the studios spent more money and time on animation in later years. MGM, led by Producer Fred Quimby who had a similar exclusive rights deal as Leon Schleschinger at Warners’ fell out with former Disney co-horts Ising and Harman, and teamed Hanna and Barbera up from the animation pits, who would work on their little cat and mouse creation for MGM for two decades.
Originally named “Jasper and Jinx,” in their first short, “Puss Gets the Boot” Tom and Jerry, might not hold up as well compared to the Looney Tunes character, but Hanna and Barbera were just as creative, and technically, with the legendary animation team of Kenneth Muse, Ray Patterson, Irven Spence and Ed Barge, created dozens of “Tom and Jerry,” cartoons, almost all of them with incredible care to details in the backgrounds, objects, design, color and especially in the shadows, combined with irreverent comedic timing, that would be continuously getting quicker over the years. Along with Tex Avery and the Looney Toons mostly, “Tom and Jerry,” elaborated on the zaniness and free form possibilities of animation that have truly defined what a cartoon is today. “Tom and Jerry,” are specifically fascinating, because these six-minute shorts remain some of the most violent pieces of film ever created. Looking back on it, Hanna and Barbera were really sick fucks. Some of their more fascinating films, especially their early films like “Mouse Trouble,” seem to be nothing but Tom and Jerry literally trying to kill each other in most disgusting and despicable ways possible, often gleefully and pointlessly, and very often in ways that’d make Spanish Inquisitionist’s hurl in disgust, and then laugh. Even though seven of their 114 Tom & Jerry shorts won Oscars, for Hanna and Barbera, the awards all went to their producer Fred Quimby, since at the time, directors of animated shorts didn’t receive the Oscars. After MGM closed their animation studio, Hanna-Barbera became even more famous for television, most notably “The Flintstones,” along with dozens other creations, but for about twenty years, they about created the most honored cartoons in the golden age of cartoons, and have a lasting influence that can be seen everywhere from Warner creations like Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, to comic strip irreverence like Gary Larson’s “The Far Side,” to the tame in comparison “Itchy and Scratchy,” cartoons in Simpson’s episodes and Seth McFarland probably owes half his “Family Guy,” career to Hanna and Barbera. In time, names like them, and Jones, Avery, Harman-Ising, Fritz Freleng, will be recognized among the great filmmakers, without the “animation,” marker next to them.