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Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: November 18, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★★

At the Races © Hanna-BarberaThis episode starts with Fred and Barney playing pool in ‘Boulder Dan’s Billiard’. When they hear Dan wants to sell the place for 2 grand, Fred smells an opportunity.

Unfortunately, neither of them can raise the two grand in cash – they don’t even have the fifty bucks to bet on a horse (er… dinosaur) at one to forty to raise the big money. So Fred decides to use his pay, and to fool Wilma they think up a fake stick up. But as it goes in comedies like this, later a real stick up takes place…

‘At the Races’ is a fun episode, with Fred’s lies and over-confidence coming back upon him with a vengeance. Most painful in this respect is Fred’s rough treatment of his own boss, Mr. Gravelpuss, even before he has won the two grand that would make him independent. Strangely enough, Fred’s subsequent unemployment is not mentioned again during the rest of the episode.

This short contains a rare classic cartoon gag in which Fred makes the eight ball go through his skull: we can watch the ball rolling behind his eyes. A gag like this makes Fred suddenly akin to Hanna and Barbera’s earlier creation, Tom Cat. Also featured is a small elephant which Wilma uses as a vacuum cleaner, and a rather lame bus gag.

The designs of the characters vary a lot during this episode. Especially the drawings of Barney often seems rather off, giving him a huge nose in several scenes. Mel Blanc also voices a crackpot doctor with a strange accent.

Watch ‘At the Races’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘At the Races’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: November 11, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating:

The Baby Sitters © Hanna-Barbera

This episode starts with Barney getting tickets to a big fight in town.

Meanwhile, their wives promise one Edna Boulder to make Fred and Barney babysit her little son Egbert, so they can go to the bridge tournament together. So, Fred and Barney stay home to watch the fight on television. Unfortunately, their area is blackened out (the replacement is a recital by Alice Blue Jean and her Magic Banjo), thus Fred decides to watch it at Joe Rockhead’s place, who lives outside the blackened era.

Yet, Joe is not home, and in the least convincing of the story twists, Fred busts in Joe’s door to watch the fight anyway. In another unlikely event little Egbert puts his clothes on Joe’s pooch (a little brontosaur), which promptly jumps out of the window, making Fred and Barney think it’s the baby.

The story of this episode rambles, to say the least, and contains an Irish policeman trope. Worse, the designs of the characters are pretty weird. Fred’s design in particular is very inconsistent and off model. On the upside, there’s a nice primitive elevator, and a bird functioning as a car horn. This bird is the first animal talking to the camera, a Flintstones trope that would occur throughout the series.

Watch ‘The Baby Sitters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Baby Sitters’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: November 4, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Monster from the Tarpits © Hanna-Barbera“Hollyrock” company ‘Miracle Pictures’ is going to shoot a low-budget one-day quicky monster movie called ‘The Monster of the Tar Pits’.

The producers randomly choose Bedrock as a location, because they cannot spend the money on a prop set. The whole town gets excited, because Hollyrock actors Gary Granite, Rock Pile and Tuesday Wednesday are in it.

Gary Granite is clearly a parody of Cary Grant, not really in looks, but certainly in voice. Wilma and Betty even go auditioning, but it’s Fred, who gets hired as Gary Granite’s stunt double. The look on Fred’s face when the director says he’d be perfect [as an actor] is priceless, and one of the best facial expressions in the entire series. Of course, Fred mainly gets hit by rocks and clubs, which are all too real, as the company cannot afford props for those, either.

The Movie Company’s slogan, “If it’s a good picture, it’s a miracle”, is a variation on similar slogans in ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood‘ (1938), which uses the word Wonder, and the Popeye cartoon ‘Doing Impossikible Stunts‘ (1940) with the word Mystery.

The episode is only mildly funny, but contains a few stone age gags: Fred and Barney eating a huge brontosaur steak and pterodactyl drumstick, respectively, and Wilma doing the laundry using a pelican, and handling a little mastodon as a vacuum cleaner.

Watch ‘The Monster from the Tarpits’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Monster from the Tarpits’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: October 28, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★½

The Split Personality © Hanna-BarberaIn this episode Fred accidently knocks himself out with a bottle. When he wakes up he has turned into a suave gentleman who loves opera and poetry.

Wilma, Barney and all other husbands soon get really fed up with this new ‘Frederick’ character, so Barney thinks up a scheme to get the old Fred back.

This is one of the more inspired Flintstones episodes, especially the scene in which Fred comes home, growling is a delight. Moreover, this episode finally features no less than three stone age gags: some birdlike creature is Wilma’s waste disposal, Betty’s shower is a mammoth, and Fred’s pick-up is a little bird with a will of his own.

Nevertheless, the episode’s message is rather dubious: one of Frederick’s new habits is his willingness to do some of the house cleaning himself. Such progressive, feminist ideas were clearly out of the question in this era…

Watch ‘The Split Personality’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Split Personality’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: October 21, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★½

No Help Wanted © Hanna-BarberaThis episode starts with a conversation between Fred and Wilma providing the back story: due to a stupid action by Fred, Barney got fired. So, Fred helps his neighbor out by making him the caddie of his rich and influential golf partner, Mr. Boulder.

Barney’s authentic instructions makes the big shot win for once, so Barney gets a job as a  debt collector, with his first victim happening to be Fred…

This episode is just one another example of Fred’s tendencies to deceive his wife, refusing to tell Wilma he has gambled the money away, necessary to pay the television bill. The story progresses at an even, rather slow speed, and is only moderately funny. The best scenes are the golf scene and the chase between Fred and Barney, with the latter looking like a television set with legs.

This episode is the first to feature Dino (although he has been in the titles since the beginning). Nevertheless, Dino’s appearance is restricted to the first scene, and no mentioning of him occurs during the rest of the episode.

Watch ‘No Help Wanted’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘No Help Wanted’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: October 7, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Hot Lips Hannigan © Hanna-BarberaThis episode opens with another feature borrowed from The Honeymooners, the series that served as the example for The Flintstones: the idea of the boys being member of an all-male society.

In this episode Fred and and Barney are members of The Loyal Order of Dinosaurs”. This club is also featured in the episode ‘The Golf Champion‘, but later the two neighbors would join the ‘Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes’.

The story starts with the two having to perform at the annual meeting. Barney practices a trampoline act, while Fred tries his luck at magic, with stuff borrowed from ‘Rockstone the Great’. In a demonstration he thinks he made the wives disappear and he and Barney take advantage of the situation to go to the Rockland Dance Hall to see Hot Lips Lannigan, an old acquaintance of Fred. Fred and Barney join in at his concert with Fred singing ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In’, bebop style, and Barney beating the drums. Their act impresses the young hep cats, much to Wilma’s and Betty’s bewilderment, who have dressed up like hep cats themselves to catch their husbands red-handed.

‘Hot Lips Hannigan’ is one of the more inspired Flintstone episodes, even though there’s absolutely no reference to prehistoric times, at all. Highlights are the intoxicating jazz number at the dance hall, and Betty’s and Wilma’s ‘hep’ alter egos. The name Hot Lips Hannigan is modeled on that of trumpeter Hot Lips Page, but the character looks more like a white version of Dizzy Gillespie, with his beret and goatee, and he plays the latter’s iconic upright trumpet.

Hot Lips Page had already died in 1954, and bebop arguably died with the death of Charlie Parker in 1955, making this episode strangely anachronistic. Moreover, Hannigan appears to be a square in disguise (for example ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ was a staple of the conservative dixieland bands of the time), and it’s clear the writers’ sympathies are with the conservative middle-aged, not with the more advanced music-loving youngsters. This is a rather painful conclusion in an era in which even rock-‘n-roll was already past its prime, and hard bop (the follow-up to bebop) already started to make place for post-bop and free jazz…

Watch ‘Hot Lips Hannigan’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hot Lips Hannigan’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: September 30, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Flintstone Flyer © Hanna-Barbera‘The Flintstone Flyer’ was the very first Flintstone episode aired on television. The story was one of two already conceived before the series went to production and used to sell the series (the other one was ‘The Swimming Pool‘).

The episode establishes many aspects of the series: the setting may be in the stone age, this is a rather poor excuse for a suburban situation comedy depicting very a very standard family from mid-20th century indeed, complete with modern inventions like cars, telephone and television (how the latter two work is never revealed). This is little wonder, as the series was modeled after ‘The Honeymooners’ (aired 1955-1956), which features remarkably similar characters (for example, they love bowling, too).

Hanna and Barbera’s stone age is one of pure fantasy, and features dinosaurs coexisting with humans, despite the fact that dinosaurs had died out 65 million years before the dawn of man. In that respect ‘The Flintstones’ stand in a long tradition: dinosaurs co-existing with man could be seen in e.g. Willis O’Brien’s short ‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ (1916), in the Alley Oop comics (starting in 1932), in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur‘ (1939), in ‘Prehistoric Porky’ (1940), and Fleischer’s Stone Age cartoons from 1940.

The Flinstones tells about Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. The two are neighbors in some suburban area of ‘Bedrock’ (population 2500). They both love bowling, and are willing to lie to their wives (Wilma and Betty, respectively) to go out to play their favorite game. When bowling, Fred has a particular walk on his toes, and when excited he shouts ‘Yabba-dabba doo!’.

In this particular episode, the guys want to go bowling, while they have to go to the opera with their wives. So, Fred pretends to be ill and then the two literally fly off to the bowling alley, using a flying machine Barney has invented before. The opera itself is a typical mismatch of Wagnerian costume and bel canto singing, a trope frequently encountered in cartoons.

The complete cartoon moves at a steady pace, and by 2018 one can only conclude that the humor is rather dated. One cannot resist the thought what poor marriages these must be that one cannot be honest to each other. This sets the tone of many episodes to come: by now they only seem to demonstrate the inequality between men and women at the time.

Moreover, little to nothing is done with the stone age concept: we watch monkeys grabbing the pins, and a soda machine that’s operated by a man, but that’s about it.

No, despite Warner Bros. veterans Warren Foster and Michael Maltese working on the stories, the classic status of this very first animated series to be aired on prime time must come from its appealing designs by Ed Benedict (who had designed cavemen before, for Tex Avery’s ‘The First Bad Man’ from 1955), clever layouts by Dick Bickenbach and Walt Clinton, and great background artwork (e.g. featuring olive skies) by Art Lozzi, Fernando Montealegre, Robert Gentle and Dick Thomas. Even the limited animation (by the likes of top-animators Ken Muse, Carlo Vinci, Ed Love, Don Patterson and Dick Lundy) remains quite interesting throughout, even if the designs are rather off at times.

Watch ‘The Flintstone Flyer’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Flintstone Flyer’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Production Date: 1959
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Flagstones © Hanna-Barbera

‘The Flagstones’ is a demo reel lasting only 95 seconds, with which Hanna and Barbera tried to sell their product: a prime-time television animation series.

However, their title ‘The Flagstones’ resembled ‘The Flagstons’ too much, the surname of Hi and Lois from the comic strip of the same name by Mort Walker and Dick Browne. Thus the name was first changed into ‘The Gladstones’ and finally, into ‘The Flintstones’, the prehistoric family we all know today.

In this demo reel not only the names are different, Betty looks very different, too, and Barney doesn’t sound like himself. Wilma and Fred, on the other hand, are pretty much themselves already.

The demo depicts a short scene from the episode ‘The Swimming Pool’ (the final version can be seen from 10’40 to 12’03 in this episode). ‘The Swimming Pool’ was one of two stories Hanna and Barbera had already conceived before selling the series (the other one was ‘The Flintstone Flyer‘, the first episode to be made and aired).

The looks of the demo may be a little different from the real series, it does show that the Hanna-Barbera product has clear roots in the cartoon modern era, using appealing designs and layouts by Ed Benedict, and beautifully painted background art by Art Lozzi.

Watch ‘The Flagstones’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Flagstones’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1959
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Magic Hat © Toonder StudiosIn 1959 an unknown American distribution company asked Marten Toonder to produce some animated shorts for the American television market starring Toonder’s comic strip stars Tom Poes (Tom Puss, a white cat) and Olivier B. Bommel (Ollie Bungle, a large bear).

Nine films were conceived, but the Americans were displeased with Ollie Bungle’s voice, which was provided by a black man. Even worse, the so-called distribution company turned out to be a fraud, and these films were never shown anywhere.

The DVD accompanying Jan-Willem de Vries’s Dutch language book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’ has included eight of these films. They are a strange mix of Toonder’s elaborate cartoon style and Hanna-Barbera-like cartoon modernism. For example, Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle look more angular than ever, and both suddenly wear bow-ties, an all too obvious Hanna-Barbera influence. The animation in these shorts is very limited, and unfortunately the films rely too heavily on rather tiring dialogue, but this is countered by some effective staging.

‘The Magic Hat’ is clearly based on the Tom Poes story ‘De kniphoed’ (1955), and apart of Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle, features Bungle’s butler, Joost, magician Hocus Pas and a rather unrecognizable chief constable Bulle Bas (all unnamed in the cartoon). As the 65 page comic strip has been squeezed into a five minute film, the story has been greatly simplified. The result is no masterpiece, but still makes a pleasant watch, and the film is a good example of the huge influence the Hanna-Barbera studio had on the rest of the world.

‘The Magic Hat’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: August 1, 1958
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Tot Watchers © MGM

‘Tot Watchers’ was the very last Tom & Jerry cartoon directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

The short was released in August 1958, but it had already been made in 1956, before MGM closed its animation studio in April 1957. Surprisingly this short was penned by Homer Brightman, instead of Hanna & Barbera themselves.

The cartoon stars a teen-age babysitter who, instead of watching the baby, is hanging on the telephone all the time. It’s up to Tom & Jerry to rescue the baby time and time again, especially when the baby wanders off to a building site. The building site sequence harks back to similar cartoons taking place there, like the Popeye cartoon ‘A Dream Walking’ (1934), the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1937) and the Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Homeless Hare‘ (1950).

The baby looks like a Chuck Jones character. Like Jones’ Minah Bird the infant is almost a force of nature, devoid of personality, but with a drive of its own. Unfortunately there’s no conflict between Tom & Jerry themselves in this cartoon (apart from the very beginning), thus ‘Tot Watchers’ lacks the duo’s traditional comedy. Moreover, the short is hampered by the babysitter’s extensive dialogue. In all, this makes ‘Tot Watchers’ a rather disappointing ending to the series.

The short marks Spike’s last screen appearance, who has a very short scene in this cartoon, and only as a cliche bulldog. Tom and Jerry, however, would return to the silver screen, in 1961, with an ill-conceived new series, produced by Gene Deitch’s animation studio in Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile Hanna and Barbera would start a television adventure, founding their now legendary Hanna-Barbera production company in July 1957, and producing television series starring such beloved characters as Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and the Flintstones, to name just a few.

Watch ‘Tot Watchers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 113
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Robin Hoodwinked
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Switchin’ Kitten

‘Tot Watchers’ is available on the European DVD Box set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: June 6, 1958
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Nibbles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Robin Hoodwinked © MGM‘Robin Hoodwinked’ is similar to Tom & Jerry’s four musketeer cartoons, but this time Jerry and Little Nibbles belong to Robin Hood’s merry men.

Alas! Poor Robin Hood has been locked inside the sheriff’s prison, so Jerry and Little Nibbles go to the rescue. Unfortunately, the prison is guarded by Tom. At one point Tom swallows the key, and Nibbles goes inside the sleeping Tom to retrieve it. This makes Tom getting the hiccups, and he swallows a jug of wine to stop them. Of course, Nibbles gets drunk, and at one point we watch him reappearing from Tom’s mouth, singing ‘The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond’. Unfortunately, the rest of the cartoon doesn’t build on this story idea, and all too soon Robin is rescued.

‘Robin Hoodwinked’ is not a bad cartoon, but rather routine and uninspired. Nibbles, who makes his twelfth and last screen appearance in this cartoon, speaks with an English accent in this short.

Watch ‘Robin Hoodwinked’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 113
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Vanishing Duck
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Tot Watchers

‘Robin Hoodwinked’ is available on the European DVD Box set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: May 2, 1958
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Little Quacker
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Vanishing Duck © MGM‘The Vanishing Duck’ marks Little Quacker’s eight and last cartoon appearance.

He enters Tom & Jerry’s house as a gift from George to his wife Joan. This couple apparently are Tom’s owners. As soon as the two are off for an anniversary dinner, Tom enters the house, and within seconds eats Little Quacker, who reenters life by opening Tom’s left eye like a roller blind.

Little Quacker seeks refuge at Jerry’s, but soon discovers ‘vanishing cream’, rendering the two critters invisible, and driving Tom mad. But, for once, Tom gets wise, and applies the vanishing cream to himself, and in the end, it’s Tom who can bully mouse and duck unseen.

‘The Vanishing Duck’ borrows heavily from ‘The Invisible Mouse‘ (1947), in which Jerry becomes invisible. Like other invisibility cartoons the humor suffers because the invisible characters become invincible, and the sympathy shifts to the hapless victim, in this case Tom. In that respect it’s only fitting Tom gets his revenge in the end. Apart from the eye gag the cartoon isn’t very inspired. For example, there’s a nice gag in which Jerry and Little Quacker make Tom think his tail has gone off, but this gag is hardly developed, and dropped all too soon.

Watch ‘The Vanishing Duck’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 112
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Royal Cat Nap
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Robin Hoodwinked

‘The Vanishing Duck’ is available on the European DVD Box set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: March 7, 1958
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Nibbles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Royal Cat Nap © MGM‘Royal Cat Nap’ was the last of four cartoons in which Tom & Jerry are musketeers in 17th century France.

In this cartoon the king is taking a nap, and Tom has to keep the king’s sleep undisturbed, otherwise he will be beheaded. Jerry and Little Nibbles, who, like earlier entries, speaks French in this cartoon, take advantage of the situation.

With this story the cartoon harks all the way back to Tom & Jerry’s debut ‘Puss Gets the Boot‘ (1940), and to ‘Quiet Please’ (1945) in particular, in which Spike poses Tom for the same problem. Two of the gags, however, are borrowed from Tex Avery’s Droopy cartoon ‘Deputy Droopy’ (1955), with Tom running to a far away hill to make the noise he can’t make in the king’s bed room.

Tom really gets into trouble when he has to scream, after he has locked all the doors himself, and swallowed the key. Luckily little Nibbles rescues Tom from certain death by lulling the king back to sleep, but outside the king’s bed room the fight continues.

‘Royal Cat Nap’ is no classic, but it shows that even in their last year at MGM Hanna & Barbera still had maintained their talent for comedy and timing. The heydays of Tom & Jerry were clearly over, but compared to most contemporary theatrical cartoons ‘Royal Cat Nap’ is surprisingly inspired and well-timed. The animation, too, is still of high value. This is partly because the 1957/1958 cartoons were made much earlier, in 1955 and 1956. Already in the Spring of 1957 MGM had closed his cartoon animation studio. By July Hanna & Barbera had founded their own production company, and by December 1957 they had launched their first television series, The Ruff and Reddy Show.

Watch ‘Royal Cat Nap’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 111
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Happy Go Ducky
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Vanishing Duck

‘Royal Cat Nap’ is available on the European DVD Box set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: January 3, 1958
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Little Quacker
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Happy Go Ducky © MGM‘Happy Go Ducky’ starts with the Easter bunny delivering an Easter egg to Tom & Jerry.

The two fight over the egg, which soon breaks, hatching into Little Quacker, which immediately goes swimming in whatever fluid containing device he sees, being it Tom’s milk bowl, a fish tank, a water tank or a bath. Tom & Jerry try to get rid of the little duck, even putting it back into the egg shell and sending it back to the Easter bunny, but to no avail. In the end, the whole room is flooded, and Tom and Jerry have to watch Little Quacker swimming around with his four duckling friends from the local public park pond.

‘Happy Go Ducky’ is remarkable for lack of conflict between Tom and Jerry. As soon as Little Quacker enters the scene, the two work together to get the intruder out. This hampers the comedy, which remains mild and friendly. Part of the humor stems from Little Quacker exclaiming ‘Happy Easter!’ enthusiastically every time he has found a place to swim. The best gag however is when Tom tries to shut a shower door, which Little Quacker has filled to the max with water.

Watch ‘Happy Go Ducky’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 110
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Tom’s Photo Finish
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Royal Cat Nap

‘Happy Go Ducky’ is available on the European DVD Box set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: January 17, 1942
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Mammy Two-Shoes
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Fraidy Cat © MGMThis short opens with Tom listening to ‘The Witching Hour’ on the radio, living the part of it.

Jerry mocks the scene, and decides to scare Tom himself, which he does with e.g. help of a vacuum cleaner and a white shirt. Jerry scares Tom to death, who had already been frightened by the radio program.

‘Fraidy Cat’ is less funny than the first three Tom & Jerry cartoons, but it clearly shows that Hanna and Barbera could do much more with the cat and mouse duo than ordinary chases. ‘Fraidy Cat’ also is the first Tom & Jerry cartoon to feature non-realistic gags: when Tom listens to the radio he literally gets “icy chills raised down his spine”: we watch him being covered in icicles. In the next scene he literally has is heart leaping into his throat. Later, we watch Tom’s nine lives leave him, when he is almost sucked away by Jerry’s vacuum cleaner. And finally, when Tom sneaks upon Mammy Two-Shoes, his body stretches beyond any sense of realism. These types of gags would become more and more important in the series, making the Tom & Jerry cartoons funnier and funnier.

Watch ‘Fraidy Cat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 4
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Night Before Christmas
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Dog Trouble

‘Fraidy Cat’ is available on the European DVD set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: December 6, 1941
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Night Before Christmas © MGMAlready in their third cartoon Tom & Jerry were given their own Christmas special.

The short starts with the narrator reciting the first two lines from the early 19th century poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’: “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse“.

Upon the last word we cut to Jerry who appears from his hole and goes exploring the Christmas setting. When Jerry mistakes Tom for a stuffed animal, a cartoon chase emerges, which is the more fun due to the Christmas setting. For example, we watch Tom inspecting a troop of wooden soldiers, and Jerry inviting Tom for a kiss under the mistletoe.

The chase ends when Jerry accidentally falls through the letter box outside in the snow. Relieved, Tom settles himself at the warm fire site, only to be plagued by remorse. Anxiously Tom rushes outside to retrieve a frozen Jerry from the snow. The cartoon ends with the broadest smile on Jerry possible.

‘The Night Before Christmas’ was only the duo’s third cartoon, but already Hanna and Barbera were able to play with the relationship between the cat and the mouse. Now they’re not only antagonists, they’re also friends, or at least ‘friendly enemies’, and their chase retains a playful attitude.

Jerry is animated outstandingly in this cartoon, and pulls several priceless faces, the last smile being a highlight among highlights. Tom’s finest moment is when he’s invited by Jerry for a kiss. The cat’s obstinate refusal turning into goodwill, followed by an embarrassed shyness is animation at its best.

Composer Scott Bradley provides a fantastically integrated score, weaving the Tom and Jerry themes with Jingle Bells to a great effect. In fact, one can listen to the score in its own right. The result is a cartoon of sheer delight, and ‘The Night Before Christmas’ easily is one of the best Christmas cartoons of all time.

Watch ‘The Night Before Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 3
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Midnight Snack
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Fraidy Cat

‘The Night Before Christmas’ is available on the European DVD set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: July 19, 1941
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Mammy Two-Shoes
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Midnight Snack © MGMFollowing the success of ‘Puss Gets the Boot‘ it would take quite a while before the cat and mouse duo were given their own series. But one and a half year later ‘The Midnight Snack’ was released: Tom & Jerry’s very first official cartoon.

The duo was re-christened ‘Tom and Jerry’, which may have sounded right, as there had been a human cartoon duo before with that name (1931-1933). The looks of the cat and mouse were altered, too: Tom now has his characteristic black nose and thick black eyebrows, which make his facial expressions much stronger. Nevertheless, his features are still very complex. Jerry’s designs have remained the same, but he’s now animated much more consistently, rendering him less pudding-like.

The story of ‘The Midnight Snack’ feels like a variation on ‘Puss Gets the Boot’. Tom catches Jerry stealing cheese from the fridge, only to make a buffet out of the fridge himself. When Mammy awakes, Tom frames Jerry, but in the end it’s he who gets punished by the angry maid. The cartoon violence is still rather mild in this cartoon, the most conspicuous gag being Jerry pricking the trapped Tom with a large carving fork.

Composer Scott Bradley juxtaposes separate themes for the cat and the mouse against each other in a rather complex continuous cartoon score. Bradley used this composition method in the duo’s first cartoons to a great effect. Later, the frantic cartoon action called for more disjointed and less integrated musical scores.

‘The Midnight Snack’ shows the cat and mouse’s great appeal and potential. Yet, in Charles Solomon’s book ‘Enchanted Drawings – The History of Animation’ Joe Barbera reveals that ‘The Midnight Snack’ almost became the last Tom & Jerry cartoon; apparently producer Fred Quimby was opposed to make any more of them, until he got a letter from Texas asking for more of “these delightful cat-and-mouse-cartoons”.

Watch ‘The Midnight Snack’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 2
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Puss Gets the Boot
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Night Before Christmas

‘The Midnight Snack’ is available on the European DVD set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: February 10, 1940
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Mammy Two-Shoes
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Puss gets the Boot © MGM

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ marks the first of three game-changing debut cartoons of 1940 (the other ones being ‘A Wild Hare‘ from July and ‘Knock Knock‘ from November), making the year a turning point in American studio animation. From now on cartoons were to be brassier, more energetic and more violent.

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ introduces that illustrious cat and mouse duo, Tom & Jerry. The cartoon was made by William Hanna and Joe Barbera under Rudolf Ising’s flag, and like ‘A Wild Hare’ only meant as a one-off cartoon. Indeed, Tom is called Jasper in this short, and Jerry remains unnamed.

Moreover, the two look quite different from their later incarnations. Not only is Tom drawn with outrageous detail, he also has a white nose and very modest eyebrows. Jerry’s physique is rather unstable, as if he were made of a sort of rather amorphous jelly.

Yet, the characters are well established, and the friendly antagonism between the two is set from the start, as is the prize-winning combination of silent comedy and high production values. Also present is the combination of cuteness and gag-rich cartoon violence that made the Tom & Jerry series unique.

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ also marks the debut of Mammy Two-Shoes, a black maid character whose face we were never to see (except for a few frames in ‘Saturday Evening Puss‘ from 1950). Mammy was borrowed from Disney, who had introduced exactly such a character in ‘Three Orphan Kittens‘ (1935). For present American audiences this character is problematical, as she clearly is a stereotype of a black maid. But I, as a European kid, always thought of her as the owner of the house, never realizing the discrepancy of the enormous mansion and the maid’s modest looks. In any case Mammy lasted until 1952, starring 18 Tom & Jerry cartoons in total.

In this very first Tom & Jerry short Mammy tells Jasper (Tom) that if he breaks one more thing, he goes out. So the still unnamed Jerry takes advantage of the situation, in a series of gags that culminate in a scene in which Tom tries to hold a ridiculously high pile of plates. The short features several gags that were pretty modern at the time, like Tom drawing a fake mouse hole entrance, and Jerry poking Tom’s eyes. Indeed, the idea was strong enough to be more or less revisited in ‘Mouse Cleaning‘ (1948), with even better results.

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ is a very well made cartoon. The silent comedy of the two characters is acted out perfectly and the action is timed very well. It’s still very funny, and it’s no wonder that the audiences asked for more cartoons from this cat and mouse duo. The short even was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost it to another MGM cartoon, the equally feline, yet much more saccharine ‘The Milky Way‘.

However, Tom and Jerry would quickly become MGM’s superstars, and they would win no less than seven Academy Awards, more than any other cartoon star. Indeed, Tom and Jerry arguably were the most successful cartoon stars of the 1940s and 1950s, starring 114 cartoons, and lasting until 1958, when MGM shut its animation department down. However, even that wouldn’t be the end of the cat and mouse duo, and even in the 21st century still films are made featuring these great characters.

Watch ‘Puss Gets the Boot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 1
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Midnight Snack

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ is available on the European DVD set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: December 25, 1943
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Meathead
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Baby Puss © MGMA little girl makes Tom behave like a baby.

Tom only reluctantly cooperates, until he discovers the milk bottle. Jerry mocks him and warns three alley cats of Tom’s baby behavior. They mock him too, all too more violently, which leads to a frantic samba finale in which the little cat does a great Carmen Miranda impersonation, singing her hit song ‘Mamãe eu quero’ from the film ‘Down Argentine Way’ (1940).

Tom’s friends, the red cat from ‘Sufferin’ Cats‘, Meathead (in his debut) and a little cat, would reunite only seven years later in ‘Saturday Evening Puss‘ (1950). Apart from the finale the greatest scene is when Jerry behaves like ‘she’ is caught naked in the bathroom of a doll house.

Watch ‘Baby Puss’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://vimeo.com/90508001

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No.11

To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Yankee Doodle Mouse
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Zoot Cat

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: June 26, 1943
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Yankee Doodle Mouse © MGMIn this Tom and Jerry short their chase routine is pictured as if it were World War II itself.

War references include a periscope, a “jeep”, (paper) planes, a bomber (throwing light bulbs), a parachute (a bra), and lots of fireworks. Tom is the clear villain now, with Jerry acting the role of the brave American soldier. At the end of the cartoon Tom explodes in the sky revealing the American flag to which Jerry salutes.

Although not a real war cartoon (Tom and Jerry do not fight Nazis or anything like that), it is drenched in war spirit. Moreover, the short is extremely fast and furious, with gags coming without any break. No wonder it won an Academy Award.

Watch ‘Yankee Doodle Mouse’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No.11

To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Lonesome Mouse
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Baby Puss

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