A drawn cat, tired of an annoying mouse living in his house, comes up with a tricky plan: to catch the cheeky cat in a mousetrap by luring him with cheese.
The mouse, who has immediately caught the tricky plan, quietly takes the cheese and runs away.
You probably know what’s gonna happen next. The end in almost every series is the same: a cat squeals in pain, becoming a victim of his own cunning.
The plot is familiar to everyone, but not everyone knows what story behind it from the glory and the Oscars to the secret studio behind the Iron Curtain of the Cold War era.
“Tom and Jerry” is celebrating 80 years this week. And that’s how they became one of the most famous comic duets in history.
Tom and Jerry were born out of despair and crisis. The animation department at Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, where animators William Hanna and Joseph Barber worked, tried unsuccessfully to repeat the success of their rivals with their super-popular characters such as Mickey Mouse and Porky Pig.
From boredom, Hanna and Barbera, who were under 30 years old at the time, began to come up with ideas. Barbera liked the simple idea of a cartoon about the game of cat and mouse with a simple conflict and chases, despite the fact that this has been done before hundreds of times.
The first joint work of Hannah and Barbera was a short cartoon Puss Gets the Boot (“Cat gets the boot”), released in 1940. The cat, similar to Tom, in this series was called Jasper, and the mouse Jinks.
The cartoon was a hit and won an Oscar as the best short animated film. The award, however, was not awarded to Hannah and Barbera themselves, but the studio MGM.
At first, the studio managers advised Hanna and Barbera not to put all the eggs in one basket and think about other projects. But everything changed the letter from Besa Short, director of the short films department of the Texas Cinema Network. She asked if she would see the new series of “this beautiful cat and mouse cartoon.
Jasper and Jinks became Tom and Jerry.
Barbera said that the question of whether the characters should talk was not particularly discussed. The creators of the cartoon grew up in the films of Charlie Chaplin and knew that humor does not need to talk. The music was composed by the composer Scott Bradley, and the recognizable, human-like scream of Tom was recorded by William Hannah himself.
For most of the next two decades, Hanna and Barbera directed the production of new series, of which more than a hundred were released. Drawing each took several weeks and could cost up to 50 thousand dollars, so there were not many series a year.
This time is considered the golden age of Tom and Jerry. Smooth animation of hand-drawn characters and painted scenery with many details helped “Tom and Jerry” to win several “Oscars” and a cameo in “real” Hollywood movies.
“For sure, if you watched this cartoon as a child, or even if you watch it now, it will be hard to tell when a series is made,” says animation historian Jerry Beck.
“There’s something about animation. It’s evergreen and never fades,” he says. A drawing is a drawing. When we go to the museum to look at the paintings, we know they were painted in the 1800s or 1700s, but it doesn’t matter, we understand them today”.
“It’s the same with cartoons. Over time, we’ve learned that animation is a great art, not a disposable form of fleeting entertainment”.
Cat and mouse appeared in the 1953 film Dangerous When Wet with the swimmer Esther Williams When in the mid-1950s producer Fred Quimby retired, Hanna and Barbera headed the animation division of MGM. There were cuts on the horizon. The managers of the studio, frightened by the growing popularity of television, realized that if you show old cartoons instead of making new ones, the revenue is almost not falling.
In 1957, the animation division was shut down, and Hanna and Barbera founded their own studio.
But just a few years later, the studio MGM decided to return Tom and Jerry to the screens, however, without the participation of the creators.
In 1961, the studio gave the series to a contractor in Prague to save money. Animator Jean Deutsch, a native of Chicago, led the project, but the budget was limited, and the animators did not know the original too well.
Czech studio secretly made the series for other cartoons, such as “Popeye”. In the credits, the Czech names were Americanized so that the audience did not have any associations with communism.
“Because of the Iron Curtain, the animators here in Prague have not seen a single episode of Tom and Jerry,” Deutsch said in an interview with Czech Radio.
He knew that he was continuing the series, which had already become a classic, and that fans would probably criticize him.
Thirteen series made under the leadership of Daic is regularly recognized as the worst in the series. Deutsch openly discusses this in an interview, and once said that one of the fans threatened to kill him.
After Deutsch, the cartoon was taken up by Chuck Jones, the most famous work of which at that time was the series “Lunie Tuins”. In his version of the cartoon Tom had bushy eyebrows, and his face looked like the character of another cartoon Jones – Grinch, from a cartoon by Dr. Seuss.
Chuck Jones led the creation of 23 episodes between 1963 and 1967, 72-year-old Mark Kossler – one of many who keep memories of childhood with Tom and Jerry. He kept dragging his father to a movie theater in St. Louis to watch the first episodes. Then he started drawing cartoons himself, inspired by Tom and Jerry, and made a long career in animation.
“The cartoon is based largely on what they look like, on rhythm, on how the music works in it,” he says. – It was an excellent formula – all the elements are connected.
“And when they tried to take it apart and reassemble it with new people, with a different artist, with different humour – it seemed insincere to me, if you know what I mean.
Cosler himself did not have time to work on “Tom and Jerry” – he came to the industry too late. But he remembers how excited he was when Hannah and Barbera went to animation school, where he studied.
At MGM’s studio, “television” was a forbidden word, but when Hanna and Barbera launched their company, they got used to this new medium. Budgets were smaller, but the series became longer. The animators adapted their animation style to TV and came up with several ways to spend less money and time.
For decades, cartoons have been a major component of television for children. Their first successes came in the 1960s, when such cartoon characters as Huckleberry Finn and Yogi Bear appeared. Then came the new hits – Flintstones, Top Cat, Scooby-Doo.
In the 1970s, Hanna and Barbera went back to Tom and Jerry.
By that time, under the new rules of television regulators, the early series of cartoons were already considered “too violent. The new series, in which the cat and the mouse were friends, could not repeat the success of the original.
In the 1960s, Hannah and Barbera created, among other things, the series “Jetsons” Like many other cartoons of the time, the legacy of “Tom and Jerry” is overshadowed by accusations of non-political images of people not white race. Tom’s mistress, Mammy Two-Shoes, an African-American maid with a strong southern accent that was not shown above the waist, was called a racist cartoon. Some episodes have seen blackface jokes, humiliating images of Asians and Native Americans.
When the series began to be shown on television in the 1960s, some of these scenes were cut out and Tom’s mistress was replaced by new characters created by Jones’ team. Today, the most non-political episodes are usually just cut out of reissue collections and streaming platforms. In 2014, Amazon added a warning about “racial prejudice” to the cartoon.
“Tom and Jerry” with its joking violence and black humor is still popular around the world.
The cartoon series can be seen on children’s channels in Japan or Pakistan, and the new game for mobile phones based on it has been downloaded by 100 million people in China alone.
Surprisingly, the cartoon continues to hit the news. In 2016, an Egyptian official accused the series of intensifying conflicts in the Middle East, and Iran’s supreme leader compared his country’s relations with the United States to Tom and Jerry at least twice.
BBC children’s channels were no exception: in Britain, children especially loved the cartoon, and after a survey in 2015 it turned out that it was the most popular cartoon among British adults.
In 80 years, cat and mouse have tried themselves in different genres – from the “children’s” version, where Tom and Jerry were babies, to a feature film in 1992, in which they talked and sang.
Bill Hannah died in 2001, Joe Barbera in 2006.
A year earlier, the name Barbera last appeared in the credits of the series “Tom and Jerry”. For the first time, there was no Hannah’s name next to him.
“We understood each other perfectly, and each of us respected the other’s work,” that’s how Barbera described his relationship with his partner.
Since 2014, a new version of the show, based on flash animation Warnner Brothers, the current owner of the rights to “Tom and Jerry”, is going to release a new movie under this title at Christmas. Little is known about the project. It involves actors Chloe Grace Sea and Ken Jong.
Jerry Beck explains the fading popularity of “Tom and Jerry” by the fact that these characters are easy to find in common.
“I think most people can identify with Jerry – we all have something in our lives that overpowers us,” he says.
“There’s always someone – the boss, the landlord, the politician – anyone. We just live our lives, and they come and break everything.