It's no surprise why Tom and Jerry is one of the cartoon world's most recognizable and enduring creations. The cat and mouse duo first appeared in 1940, immediately scoring big with audiences of all ages and maturity levels. Truth be told, Tom and Jerry had much in common with the other "big fish" in the animation pond, Looney Tunes: madcap comedy, violence, and even a fully orchestrated score. Let's face it: the idea of pitting one character against another was hardly anything new, but it certainly proved to be successful. Created by the young team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Tom and Jerry would eventually be graced by the presence of Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Friz Freleng of Looney Tunes fame. Their hard work would stretch beyond commercial appeal: several shorts won Academy Awards, and the very first episode ("Puss Gets the Boot") was even nominated.
You'd be hard-pressed to find any serious lover of animation that didn't grow up watching Tom and Jerry, and for good reason: it's still one of the most consistently funny and entertaining cartoons ever conceived. With only a handful of supporting characters and a variety of locations, our cat and mouse duo are simply destined to do battle with each other during each and every short. In true cartoon fashion, the violence in Tom and Jerry is over-the-top and has no lasting effects: fur is shorn, eyeballs are poked and teeth are broken, but things revert to normal soon enough. Although cartoons of today are hardly able to get away with violence and mayhem on a regular basis, it's Tom and Jerry's calling card.
Not surprisingly, American culture has grown to accept this violence and mayhem...but a number of "negative ethnic stereotypes" has caused many vintage Tom and Jerry shorts to be trimmed and edited for broadcast consumption. From "Mammy Two-Shoes" (the overweight black homeowner with a less-than-stellar vocabulary) to sight gags involving racial caricatures, these elements have gradually come under fire in today's PC-overloaded society. When viewed through the lens of history, these "negative stereotypes" are mildly offensive at the very most, but your average Tyler Perry production is probably doing more damage. Luckily, Warner Bros. has done a good job of presenting Tom and Jerry in its original form on home video thus far, beginning with the "Spotlight Collection" DVDs from several years ago...and this "Golden Collection" Blu-Ray release keeps the ball rolling.
The Golden Collection, Volume 1 keeps everything simple and straightforward, just as it should be. The first 37 Tom and Jerry shorts are presented uncut and in chronological order, beginning with "Puss Gets the Boot". Seeing these shorts in order for the first time gives one a new appreciation for their development over the years, from the character designs to their gradually evolving behavior. As new elements are introduced for the first time---common enemies ("Dog Trouble") and outside locations (Bowling Alley Cat), to name a few---we realize that Tom and Jerry didn't beat each other up indoors for very long.
From start to finish, though, it's easy to see why these characters are so lovable: they seem to enjoy their "jobs" and love the constant challenge of one-upmanship. Tom and Jerry would change creative teams over the years...but in the eyes of most fans, there was simply nothing like the early Hanna-Barbera years. Upon viewing these 37 theatrical shorts for the first or 50th time, I'm sure you'll agree. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Video & Audio Quality
Unlike the "Spotlight Collection" DVDs from a few years ago, the shorts contained on this "Golden Collection" have been fully restored and remastered...and they look beautiful! Nearly all of the dirt and debris has been carefully scrubbed away, revealing a natural layer of film grain, strong image detail and a bold color palette. Some shorts look better than others---The Zoot Cat is heavy on the grain, for example---but I'd imagine these are source material issues and nothing more. These 1080p, 1.33:1 transfers don't exhibit any noticeable compression issues or edge enhancement, and I'll take a little extra grain over DNR any day of the week. From top to bottom, fans won't find much to complain about here.
The audio mix is a little more limited, as we only get lossy Dolby Digital Mono in English, French or Spanish. Though a lossless presentation wouldn't have added much, I'd still be interested in hearing the difference in future collections. In any case, the jazzy scores and brilliant sound effects still come through clearly, so what's here gets the job done just fine. Either way, I'm just glad Warner Bros. didn't attempt another half-baked 5.1 Surround mix like they did for a number of vintage Peanuts Blu-Rays. Thankfully, optional English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles have been included during all the shorts and extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, this two-disc collection is housed in a stupid eco-friendly keepcase and includes a handy episode guide and matching foil-enhanced slipcover. The menu designs are simple and efficient, though they're prefaced by a number of forced advertisements and a non-skippable PC disclaimer that runs for roughly 40 seconds (*sigh*)
. No layer changes were detected and these discs appear to be unlocked for region-free playback.
A number of old and new extras are on board here. First up are a few Audio Commentaries
during "Puss Gets the Boot", "The Night Before Christmas", "The Yankee Doodle Mouse", "The Zoot Cat", "Mouse Trouble",
"Quiet Please!", "The Cat Concerto", "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse" and "Kitty Foiled"; participants include animator Mark Kausler, historians Jerry Beck and Earl Kress, author Michael Mallory, comedienne Nicole Parker and director Eric Goldberg. Some of these commentaries were originally recorded for the first and second "Spotlight Collection" DVDs, but a number of them appear to be new. Let's hope there are more to come!
A new featurette is also here: "Vaudville, Slapstick and Tom and Jerry" (22 minutes), which details the physical comedy inspired by Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges and other famous duos. Several participants here were also featured in the audio commentaries, while a number of vintage comedy clips are also shown along the way. This is presented in 1080p...but it's not lit very well and the sourced Tom and Jerry clips look like upscaled "Spotlight Collection" footage. Not exactly a five-star effort, but still worth a look.
Four additional extras also return from "The Spotlight Collection, Volumes 1 & 2". "How Bill and Joe Met Tom and Jerry" and "The Comedy Styling of Tom and Jerry" offer additional history and insights about the franchise...and only the first one is worth watching, thanks to some great archival photos and retrospective comments. The "Anchors Aweigh" dance sequence with Gene Kelly also returns, as well as a Pencil Test for "The Midnight Snack".
If you don't like Tom and Jerry, may God have mercy on your soul. This dynamic cat-and-mouse duo has enjoyed immense popularity during the past 70 years, and for good reason: the animation is fantastic, the music is paired perfectly and the comedy timing is brilliant. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's most enduring creation fares well on Blu-Ray, mostly due to a rock-solid (and long overdue) visual restoration. More extras and some tightening in the audio mix would've put it over the top, but any and all Tom and Jerry fans should consider The Golden Collection, Volume One worth purchasing. Highly Recommended.
NOTE: The above captures were obtained from the DVD release and do not represent Blu-ray's visual quality.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design and works at a local gallery. In his free time he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.