Thomas Cat and Jerry Mouse. Two adorable cartoon characters who always seem to be hunting each other. Thomas (Tom) isn't too bright, but he is vicious. They starred together in more than 200 cartoons under Hanna and Barbera, and another 60 or so under other production teams.
Thomas Cat - or Tom - isn't the brightest candle ever lit, to put it that way, but he takes every opportunity he gets to chase after Jerry. Large, black, white and evil. In the battles with Jerry, he needs every single of his nine lives, often creating hilarious situations.
Jerry Mouse is a small, brown, chubby creature with an evil streak who seemingly just wants a calm life. Or bully Tom. Usually minding his own business until provoked - but when he does get provoked, all hell breaks loose.
Tom and Jerry live in the same house. The rooms in use in this cartoon are primarily the Kitchen, the living room and the hallways, although Tom frequently gets thrown out, and the plot occasionally develops there as well.
Tom and Jerry have appeared in TV Cartoons, motion pictures and comic books. Thousands of garments with the faces of the little rascals, millions of figurines, mugs and other items with the duo on them have appeared.
The idea of Tom and Jerry was born in 1939 Culver City, California, at the MGM Studios (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) animation "factories". The first toon with the duo was released in February of 1940 - the legendary Puss Gets the Boot episode.
In Puss, Tom was called Jasper, and poor Jerry had not even received a name yet. The producer - Fred Quimby - didn't see any future in the idea of cat and mouse games. Until Puss was released, and it became a massive hit - to such an extent that people started believing in the possibility of winning an Academy Award.
The next Hanna and Barbara project was to become The Midnight Snack - this time with Tom as Tom, and Jerry as Jerry. This second (or first, depending how you see it) was to become the beginning of a three-decade legacy of cat and mouse games.
In the production years, Barbara would make the stories and concept sketches, while Hanna would draw out the storylines in greater detail. All of this was closely helped by Scott Bradley - the musical director for the series.
There is no doubt that the names Tom and Jerry were picked from a cartoon featuring two weird human comedy cartoon characters named Tom and Jerry, that ran around 1935-38. It is believed that Barbera suggested these names as a tribute to Van Beuren, who made these cartoons.
It didn't take more than three years before the success paid off - in 1943, the Tom and Jerry team won its first of seven Academy Awards.
In 1942, Tex Avery joined the Tom and Jerry MGM team as a scriptwriter. He had an exceptional talent of making the slapstick gags come like pearls on a string. The purpose of the cartoon was nothing else than keeping the audience laughing throughout the full 5-7 minutes that one of the 'toons would last.
Soon after, Tom and Jerry appeared in real-life movies (think Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the film), first in an advanced dance scene with Gene Kelly in the movie Anchors Aweigh in 1945, and later in Invitation to Dance, also with Kelly.
In the early 1950s, things started changing. Hanna and Barbera had started introducing new characters to Tom and Jerry (up to this point, the guest appearances were virtually nonexistent) Spike, Tyke, Little Quacker and Little Nibbles were characters who started appearing more often.
Around the same time, costs started to become a problem, forcing the Tom and Jerry team to recycle material drawn for earlier episodes to cut down on costs. Around this time, Fred Quimby stopped producing Tom and Jerry to pursue other projects.
From 1954 to 1956 another important change occurred; From going to the regular format, films changed to CinemaScope format (Wide Screen, kind of). This gave an entire new dimension to the drawing of the cartoons, and it is noticeable how a downright refreshing development happened - not just in format, but also in the way Tom and Jerry tried to catch each other. The animators became more spatially aware, and even though they were on a tighter budget, the cartoons were more enjoyable in general.
A side effect of this was that - because the characters would appear on screen in such massive sizes - the animation itself would have to be spotless. Small mistakes could easily be spotted. Because of this, the animators started to (slightly) change the Tom and Jerry drawing style. The lines became thicker, the characters simpler (but more enjoyable, IMHO) and the project became more unified.
Suddenly, in 1957, MGM decided to shut down their cartoon department without any notice. Over night, Hanna, Barbera, and the rest of the team were unemployed. The main reason for MGM doing this was because of the massive failure of cinema sales - largely due to the introduction of the television.
As a desperate measure, the team offered to make low-budget cartoons for television, but the MGM management thought this would be futile.
Downtrodden, the team made their own company, Ruff and Ready (later Hanna-Barbara) before the duo started doing other cartoons (The Flintstones and The Jetsons, among other things - see the node)
... Rebirth ... Sort of.
In the early 60s, people regained interest for cartoons, and MGM decided that Tom and Jerry deserved another shot. Gene Deitch was hired to make the cartoons. The production was moved to Prague in the Czech Republic to save money.
Although the production team had no previous experience with making Tom and Jerry, the animation was actually looking all right. Unfortunately, the music was shite, the sound effects were worse and the story lines were nothing short of horrible. If you have seen any of these cartoons (I have, sadly enough), you would recognize the characters' looks, but not their behaviours.
MGM were blamed for not giving a damn about the artistic value, and rather going for a quick buck, riding the wave of success that were the earlier Tom and Jerry cartoons.
... And again (ack)
In 1963, two ex-WB (Warner Bros) animators Chuck Jones (famous for lots of stuff, read the node) and Les Goldman are hired my MGM to get back on the case of Tom and Jerry. This is when Tom got bigger eyebrows etc to make it easier to give him facial expressions - Jerry got bigger ears and eyes to make him cuter. Any avid Tom and Jerry fan will tell you that this was probably the Jumping the Shark for Tom and Jerry.
The mid-60s version of Tom and Jerry was better than anything else that had happened for Tom and Jerry after Hanna & Barbara were excluded from the production. Still, Tom and Jerry never came anywhere near the success and charm of the early years.
In 1967, after more than 34 cartoons, MGM decide that Chuck Jones' style (which was not at all the same violence and chases as the Hanna and Barbera cartoons had been) was incompatible with Tom and Jerry, and Jones was sacked. The Tom and Jerry project was halted.
... And again (noo!)
in 1975, a new Tom and Jerry series was started, this time with Hanna and Barbera in the drivers seat again. The series were made for Saturday morning television, and featured a brutal twist in the plot;
TV executives decided that the violence inherent in the early Tom and Jerry cartoons was too brutal for young audiences, and had Hanna and Barbera rewrite the series. The rewrite consisted of a twist in the plot: Tom and Jerry had really always been friends, they just pretended to dislike each other. In the new series, Tom and Jerry work together to solve mysteries. Needless to say, hardcore Tom and Jerry fans didn't like this much.
Tom and Jerry become even cuter
In 1989, the ultimate atrocity (in the eyes of fans of the original Tom and Jerry series) happens; Tom and Jerry Kids - featuring Tom and Jerry as children - is launched.
As a cartoon it is cute enough, but when considering its heritage, the whole cutesy-wutesy version of the early, raw and heroic duo makes me want to vomit.