The UHF after-school lineup that we used to have here in Philly was just great. We'd get home just in time for Looney Tunes, which was followed by a half-hour of The Flintstones and one of Tom & Jerry. Then, just as the fresh smells of dinner began flowing out of the kitchen, we had The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island. I believe my sister and I watched this exact lineup every weekday for five straight years.
So I feel a strong connection to all of those childhood pals, and thanks to the blissful magic of DVD, I can now revisit those friends whenever the nostalgia bug happens to strike.
Second in a line of exceedingly well-produced compilations, Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume 2 might not be as overwhelmingly flashy as the sets afforded to the Looney Tunes gang, but fans of this frantic cat & mouse cartoon should find very little to complain about, all things considered.
Spotlight 2 contains 38 of the coolest Tom & Jerry bits ever concocted by those animated maniacs at Hanna-Barbera. And they're just as vibrantly energetic and violently hilarious as they've ever been.
Here's a breakdown of the complicated stuff:
Jerry is a mouse. Tom is a cat. One chases the other until an outside influence gets involved. Said influence is usually an anvil, an ironing board, a conveniently placed door, or an irritated bulldog who, clearly, is not a fan of the felines.
It's all about the thrill of the chase, cartoon fans, and let's just say that poor ol' Tom's earned about as much animated punishment as has his spiritual cousin, the oft-(physically)-maligned Wile E. Coyote. And if you don't think the idea of a cat getting his head stuck in a waffle iron is potentially uproarious, well, then you must have had a different cartoon lineup when you were a kid -- because Tom & Jerry is hilarious stuff.
Directed and animated with fast-paced fluidity, wonderfully effective musical cues, and a surprising amount of creativity (for such a single-minded concept), Tom & Jerry remains one of America's animated greats because it's just that light-hearted, silly, and violently raucous. I've re-visited at least a dozen old cartoon characters in the past few years, and aside from the Looney Tunes, none of 'em hold up as well as T & J still do.
-Puss Gets the Boot (1940)*
-The Midnight Snack (1941)
-The Night Before Christmas (1941)*
-Fraidy Cat (1942)
-Dog Trouble (1942)
-Puss n' Toots (1942)
-The Bowling Alley-Cat (1942)
-Fine Feathered Friend (1942)
-The Lonesome Mouse (1943)
-Puttin' on the Dog (1944)
-The Mouse Comes to Dinner (1945)
-Mouse in Manhattan (1945)
-Springtime for Thomas (1946)
-Trap Happy (1946)
-Part Time Pal (1947)
-Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse (1947)*
-Old Rockin' Chair Tom (1948)
-Professor Tom (1948)
-The Cat and the Mermouse (1949)
-Polka-Dot Puss (1949)
(* = Oscar Nominee!)
-Saturday Evening Puss (1950)
-Little Quacker (1950)
-Texas Tom (1950)
-Safety Second (1950)
-Sleepy-Time Tom (1951)
-Nit-Witty Kitty (1951)
-Cruise Cat (1952)
-Triplet Trouble (1952)
-Push-Button Kitty (1952)
-The Missing Mouse (1953)
-Jerry and Jumbo (1953)
-Just Ducky (1953)
-Little School Mouse (1954)
-Tom and Chérie (1955)*
-Muscle Beach Tom (1956)*
-Down Beat Bear (1956)*
-Mucho Mouse (1957)*
-Tot Watchers (1958)*
(* = CinemaScope Widescreen!)
Video: All of the shorts are presented in their original form and entirely unedited. Five of the 38 films included here are in widescreen, and the rest are full frame in format. Picture quality is wonderfully crisp and clean; Frankly, this is the best I've ever seen the cat and the mouse look. Hardcore animation-philes should be very pleased with the way these cartoons have been transferred onto DVD.
Audio: Original mono tracks all around, although you can watch in Spanish if you like. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French, although most of the shorts are joyously dialogue-free.
The first supplement you'll see is an excellent introduction by Whoopi Goldberg, in which the actress explains the cultural importance of presenting these old cartoons in their original uncut form. Ms. Goldberg goes on to give a little history lesson on the "Mammy Two-Shoes" character who seems to own Tom, also giving all the necessary background information and clarification as to why this potentially offensive stereotype has been allowed to remain intact. This is a wonderful way to educate viewers on the cultural differences between today and the era in which the T & J cartoons were produced. One wishes Disney would take a similar approach on Song of the South already.
Spread across both discs is a small variety of other goodies:
Silent Pencil Sketch: "The Midnight Snack" is a 9-minute multi-angle look at one specific short. Flip back and forth between rough sketchwork and the finished film, or watch 'em both via split-screen.
Animators as Actors (7:13) is a featurette that focuses on the well-hewn personalities of our favorite cat & mouse duo. Interview subjects include animation historians Jerry Beck, Ray Pointer, and animators Gus & Frances Arriola, Ken Southworth, and Mark Kousler.
The Comedy Stylings of Tom and Jerry (5:29) looks at the specific styles of slapstick that made T & J so popular. MADtv's Ike Barinholtz and Nicole Parker stop by to share their insights on the fine art of comedy, as do returning contributors Mark Kousler and Jerry Beck.
You'll also find four audio commentaries for among the shorts. Animation historian Earl Kress is, for some ridiculous reason, saddled with MADtv comedienne Nicole Parker, and the gal offers next to nothing to the equation. One gets the impression that Mr. Kress could capably fill each commentary with interesting information, but he's saddled with a yammering chick who doesn't seem all that familiar with the cartoons she's watching. Weird.
It's two discs full of 38 classic Tom & Jerry cartoons! What's not to like? Brownie points earned for the introduction piece by Whoopi Goldberg and a fantastic audio/visual presentation, but a few points off for the annoyingly shallow commentary segments. No big loss, I suppose.
Boasting the very first Tom & Jerry short, the very last one, three Oscar nominees and a fistful of lovely widescreen beauties, this Volume 2 edition comes very Highly Recommended by the animation junkies here at DVD Talk.
UPDATE (7/18/06) -- I've been informed that there's a problem with the audio tracks on Discs 1 & 2, and also that WB is willing to fix the problem:
"Warner Home Video is advising consumers who purchased Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection: Volume 2 DVD that certain episodes on Disc 1 and Disc 2 have an alternate audio track. For any consumer who wants to have both of these discs replaced with the original audio track, please contact Warner Home Video at 1-800-553-6937 so that a self-addressed stamped envelope can be sent to you for return of your current disc. Please note that the replacement discs will be sent to you in approximately 2-4 weeks."