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DVD Review: “Tom and Jerry—The Gene Deitch Collection”

DVD Review: "Tom and Jerry—The Gene Deitch Collection"

Let’s get
right to the elephant in the room: Are these 13 Gene Deitch Tom and Jerry
cartoons–remastered and packaged together for the first time in a new DVD set (with notes by Gene Deitch himself and our own Jerry Beck)–really “the worst
ever” as the so many dubbed them after their first release in 1961?

 

Before
watching the cartoons on this of the Deitch/T&J canon, it might be helpful
to watch the two bonus features first. There’s “Much Ado About Tom and Jerry”, a
documentary from an earlier release which follows the cat-and-mouse team
through most (not all) of its incarnations and puts them in perspective. Even
in this feature, the Deitch shorts are not exactly treated with kid gloves.

 

“Tom and
Jerry…and Gene” is a sister feature to “Tom and Jerry…and Chuck” from the Chuck
Jones T&J set. The Jones segment went out of its way to be as positive as
possible about Jones’ approach to the characters, with some reservations here
and there. The doc about Deitch’s version does not represent his cartoons quite
as gingerly–but then the director himself is extremely self-effacing about the
relative strengths and weaknesses of his approach.

 

From what I
have read of Deitch on his own site and others, he has a generally
self-effacing manner. But no creative person enjoys—or usually deserves—all the
tomatoes thrown at his work. He approached this damned-if-you-do assignment with
his heart and soul, even though he worked under MGM’s slashed budgets and under
Hanna and Barbera’s 20-year Tom and Jerry shadow. To use a Bewitched analogy: Deitch was, in effect, Dick
Sargent to H-B’s Dick York (though even Sargent seems to have had a more fervent
following).

 

That’s why
watching these films again now, remastered to look as they never did on local TV
broadcasts, can be a game changer. Audiences and critics in 1961 were reacting
to Deitch’s unconventional cartoons after years of Hanna and Barbera’s slick
Hollywood ones as almost any fond admirers would; and it was felt that his
films suffered by comparison.

 

So how do
they look now, in view of the TV revivals in subsequent decades by
Hanna-Barbera Productions or Filmation? We’ve seen a renaissance of the UPA and
early H-B styles. It is worth considering that, in hindsight, the auteur style
of Deitch seems refreshing and ingratiating.


When I
first saw the Deitch Tom and Jerry
and Popeye cartoons in the late ‘70s,
I will admit I found them to be jarring and bizarre, too. But that’s exactly
what I like about them now. The hurry-up-and-wait, fluid-to-stilted animation
style, the loose graphics, unique sound effects, Steve Konichek’s reverb-laden,
quirky orchestral scores (which, by the way, interpolated the actual Scott
Bradley T&J theme more than Hanna and Barbera ever did), and the eclectic
voice work of Allen Swift. Swift’s presence, as well as story artists Larz
Bourne and Eli Bauer, indicate a New York animation aspect, further separating
the cartoons in spirit to their West Coast predecessors.

 

Another way
to gain a tremendous appreciation of these Toms and Jerries after seeing what
Gene Deitch could do with a character of his own creation: Nudnik. (My wife and
kids and I have watched Nudnik cartoons as they’ve become available, over and
over again.) Watching Deitch cartoons like these helps one understand the
“language” of his approach. All in all, I appreciate the release of Tom & Jerry – The Gene Deitch Collection. It’s a different cup of tea; a different flavor of a brand I enjoy very much. 

 

And here’s
a little fun fact: A shortened version of Deitch’s “Mouse Into Space” has been
running every 60 minutes since 1991 at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at
Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Granted, this overall clipfest is devoted to the
cheesiest in sci-fi pulp. However the other animated sequences included in the
loop are certainly not in the “B” category: Tex Avery’s “The Cat That Hated
People” and Ward Kimball’s “typical science fiction movie” spoof from the “Mars
and Beyond” episode of Walt Disney’s
Wonderful World of Color
. Here’s a bit of it on video:

So there
you have it: a Gene Deitch Tom and Jerry
cartoon (not a Hanna, Barbera or Jones cartoon, with all due respect) that is still
running during Park operating hours in a continuous big-screen presentation, seen
by millions of people over the last 23 years.

I guess the
only thing to say would be: “Dicky Moe!!!”

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