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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Tom & Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection

Warner Bros. presents Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection. But buyer be warned, these are NOT the beloved cartoons of the 40s and 50s originally created by Hanna and Barbera, but rather some shorts by the artist who brought back the popular duo in a new series seen in the early 1960s. This release includes thirteen re-mastered theatrical shorts and all-new bonus content, as well as two bonus features; Tom and Jerry…and Gene: The Rembrandt Years, and Much Ado About Tom and Jerry.

Created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in 1940, the original series is particularly notable for having won the Academy Award® for Best Short Subject: Cartoon seven times between 1940 and 1954, with thirteen nominations during that same period. The MGM cartoon studio ended up closing in 1957, thus ending the relationship with the original creative team. Later, MGM revived the series with director Gene Deitch at the helm from 1960 to 1962 for an additional thirteen Tom and Jerry shorts produced by Rembrandt Films, a Czechoslovakia-based animation studio. Under Deitch the combative duo enjoyed an unprecedented popularity becoming the highest-grossing animated short film series of the era, actually overtaking the venerable Looney Tunes. Animation’s workhorse Chuck Jones would later produce another thirty-four shorts with his own production company between 1963 and 1967.

Although entertaining, the Deitch collection has its detractors. Many Tom and Jerry fans feel that Deitch was the least capable of the cartoon duo’s multiple animators. Those who know the original series well will find the animation here to be noticeably different in style. The colors are less vibrant, leaning toward the flat side (no MGM, no Technicolor). And the backgrounds and character designs will seem static in comparison to the award winning shorts. The music also suffers from what must have been a greatly depressed budget, and unusual sound effects don’t help the situation.

Additionally, the violence for some will be uncomfortable to watch. I recall from my own childhood noticing the distinct change from the early MGM productions to the more and more zany versions. Deitch’s baker’s dozen certainly lacks the charm of the Hanna-Barbara creations, but then that was the direction cartoons were taking at that time. All I know is that’s about the time I graduated from cartoons to watching Emergency! and 1 Adam 12 re-runs when I got home from school.

Regardless of the criticism, the Deitch collection is an undeniable part of the history that is Tom and Jerry. A true T & J fan, or any animation aficionado will want to add it to their own collection if only for the completeness of the series. Then there are those who will appreciation the unique style as a reflection of the transitioning times when such work was beginning to be sent beyond American borders. After all, is there any animation done in the US anymore? Does any of it match up to the superior work done by the field’s early innovators at any of the big studios during the Golden Age of Hollywood? Not likely, nor will it ever again. In spite of the comparisons Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection will thrill anyone nostalgic for the days when these cartoon shorts ruled animation.

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