Tom and Jerry is an American franchise consisting of animated theatrical shorts, television shows and specials, a feature film, and direct-to-video films. It was created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera for Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, and it centered on a never-ending rivalry between a cat (Tom) and a mouse (Jerry) whose chases and battles often involved slapstick comedy and minimal dialogue.
WarnerMedia currently owns the rights to Tom and Jerry, with Warner Bros. and its subsidiaries handling production and distribution of new animated content.Tom and Jerry is currently available on the Boomerang channel and streaming service, along with other MGM cartoons.
"Tom and Jerry" was a commonplace phrase for youngsters indulging in riotous behaviour in 19th-century London. The term comes from Life in London, or Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorne and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom (1823) by Pierce Egan. However Brewer notes no more than an "unconscious" echo of the Regency era original in the naming of the cartoon.
Before Tom and Jerry; MGM branches into cartoons
In 1934, MGM contracted with animation producers/directors Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising to produce a new series of color cartoons. Harman and Ising came to MGM after breaking ties with Leon Schlesinger and Warner Bros., and brought with them their popular Looney Tunes character, Bosko. These were known as Happy Harmonies, and in many ways resembled the Looney Tunes' sister series, Merrie Melodies. The Happy Harmonies regularly ran over budget, and MGM dismissed Harman-Ising in 1937 to start its own animation studio. The two would eventually be rehired, however.
Early development and Puss Gets the Boot
In June 1937, animator and story man Joseph Barbera began to work for the Ising animation unit at MGM, the largest studio in Hollywood at the time. He learned that co-owner Louis B. Mayer wished to boost the animation department by encouraging the artists to develop some new cartoon characters, following the lack of success with its earlier cartoon series based on the Captain and the Kids comic strip. Barbera then teamed with fellow Ising unit animator and director William Hanna and pitched new ideas, among them was the concept of two "equal characters who were always in conflict with each other". An early thought involved a fox and a dog before they settled on a cat and mouse. The pair discussed their ideas with MGM cartoon studio head Fred Quimby, who gave them the green-light to produce one cartoon short despite a lack of interest in it.
The short, Puss Gets the Boot, featured a cat then named Jasper and an unnamed mouse (named Jinx in pre-production) and an African-American housemaid named Mammy Two Shoes. It was released onto the theater circuit on February 10, 1940 and the pair, having been advised by management not to produce anymore cartoons about the cat and the mouse, MGM focused on other cartoons including Gallopin' Gals (1940) and Officer Pooch (1941).
Matters changed, however, when Texas businesswoman Bessa Short sent a letter to MGM asking whether more cat and mouse shorts would be produced, which helped convince management to commission a series. A studio contest held to rename both characters was won by animator John Carr, who suggested Tom would be the name for the cat and Jerry would be his name for the mouse after the Christmastime drink. Carr was awarded a first place prize of $50. Puss Gets the Boot was a critical success, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Short Subject: Cartoons in 1941 despite the credits listing Ising and omitting Hanna and Barbera.
After MGM gave the green-light for Hanna and Barbera to continue, the studio entered production on the second Tom and Jerry cartoon, The Midnight Snack (1941). The pair would continue to work on the series for the next fifteen years of their career. Early into the series, Jerry never started the conflict, and shorts typically involved Tom losing by the end. The composer of the series, Scott Bradley, made it difficult for the musicians to perform his score which often involved the twelve-tone technique developed by Arnold Schoenberg. The series developed a quicker, more energetic and violent tone which was inspired by the work of MGM colleague Tex Avery. Hanna and Barbera made minor adjustments to Tom and Jerry's appearance so they would "age gracefully". Jerry went on to lose weight and his long eyelashes, while Tom lost his jagged fur for a smoother appearance, had larger eyebrows, and received a white and grey face with a white mouth. He adopted a quadrupedal stance at first, like a real cat, to become increasingly and almost exclusively bipedal.
Hanna and Barbera produced 114 cartoons for MGM, thirteen of which were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject and seven went on to win, breaking the winning streak held by Walt Disney's studio in the category. Tom and Jerry won more Academy Awards than any other character-based theatrical animated series. Barbera estimated the typical budget of $50,000 for each Tom and Jerry cartoon which made the duo take "time to get it right". A typical cartoon took around six weeks to make. He and Hanna did not work with a script beforehand, instead worked on the story as they drew scenes. Quimby was credited as the producer of all cartoons until 1955.
The rise in television in the 1950s caused problems for the MGM cartoon studio, leading to budget cuts on Tom and Jerry cartoons due to decreased revenue from theatrical screenings. In an attempt to combat this, MGM ordered that all subsequent shorts be produced in the widescreen CinemaScope format; the first, Touché, Pussy Cat!, was released on December 1954. However, the studio found that re-releases of older cartoons were earning as much as new ones, resulting in the executive decision to cease production on Tom and Jerry and later the animation studio on May 15, 1957. The final cartoon produced by Hanna and Barbera, Tot Watchers, was released on August 1, 1958. The pair were fired and focused on their own company Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Tom and Jerry returns to theaters
On July 18, 1961, MGM announced that it was going to resume filming of Tom and Jerry cartoons. Thirteen new shorts were produced by Rembrandt Films, led by Czech-American cartoonist, Gene Deitch in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now called Czech Republic in later years).
Deitch's shorts were commercial successes. In 1961, the Tom and Jerry series became the highest-grossing animated short film series of that time, dethroning Looney Tunes, which had held the position for 16 years; this success was repeated once more in 1962. However, unlike the Hanna-Barbera shorts, none of Deitch's films was nominated for nor did they win an Academy Award. Deitch stated that due to his team's inexperience as well as their low budget, he "hardly had a chance to succeed", and "well understands the negative reactions" to his shorts. He believes "They could all have been better animated – truer to the characters – but our T&Js were produced in the early 1960s, near the beginning of my presence here, over a half-century ago as I write this!" Despite the criticism, some fans wrote positive letters to Deitch, stating that his Tom and Jerry shorts were their personal favorites due to their quirky and surreal nature. The shorts were released on DVD in 2015 in Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection.
Production returns to America
After the last of the Deitch cartoons were released in 1962, Chuck Jones, who had been fired from his 30-plus year tenure at Warner Bros. Cartoons, started his own animation studio, Sib Tower 12 Productions (later renamed MGM Animation/Visual Arts), with partner Les Goldman. Beginning in 1963, Jones and Goldman went on to produce 34 more Tom and Jerry shorts, all of which carried Jones' distinctive style.
Jones had trouble adapting his style to Tom and Jerry's brand of humor, and a number of the cartoons favored full animation, personality and style over storyline. The characters underwent a slight change of appearance: Tom was given thicker eyebrows, a less complex look, sharper ears, a longer tail and furrier cheeks, while Jerry was given larger eyes and ears, a lighter brown color, and a sweeter expression.
Some of Jones' Tom and Jerry cartoons are reminiscent of his work with Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, included the uses of blackout gags and gags involving characters falling from high places. Jones co-directed the majority of the shorts with layout artist Maurice Noble. The remaining shorts were directed by Abe Levitow and Ben Washam, with Tom Ray directing two shorts built around footage from earlier Tom and Jerry cartoons directed by Hanna and Barbera, and Jim Pabian directed a short with Maurice Noble. Various vocal characteristics were made by Mel Blanc and June Foray. These shorts contain a memorable opening theme, in which Tom first replaces the MGM lion, then is trapped inside the "O" of his name.
Though Jones's shorts were generally considered an improvement over Deitch's, they had varying degrees of critical success. MGM ceased production of Tom and Jerry shorts in 1967, by which time Jones had moved on to television specials and the feature film The Phantom Tollbooth. The shorts were released on DVD in 2009 in Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection, except they were not in their original 4:3 format.
Tom and Jerry shorts hit the TV
Beginning in 1965, the Hanna and Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoons began to appear on television in heavily edited versions. The Jones team was required to take the cartoons featuring Mammy Two Shoes and remove her by pasting over the scenes featuring her with new scenes. Most of the time, she was replaced with a similarly fat white Irish woman; occasionally, as in Saturday Evening Puss, a thin white teenager took her place instead, with both characters voiced by June Foray. The standard Tom and Jerry opening titles were removed as well. Instead of the roaring MGM Lion sequence, an opening sequence featuring different clips of the cartoons was used instead. The title cards were also changed. A pink title card with the name written in white font was used instead.
Debuting on CBS' Saturday morning schedule on September 25, 1965, Tom and Jerry moved to CBS Sundays two years later and remained there until September 17, 1972.
New Tom and Jerry shows
In 1975, a new Tom and Jerry show was produced by Hanna-Barbera and MGM Television. These 48 seven-minute short cartoons were paired with Grape Ape and Mumbly cartoons, to create The Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape Show, The Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape/Mumbly Show, and The Tom and Jerry/Mumbly Show, all of which initially ran on ABC Saturday mornings between September 6, 1975 and September 3, 1977. In these cartoons, Tom and Jerry became nonviolent pals who went on adventures together and often teamed up, as Hanna-Barbera had to meet strict rules against violence for children's TV in the time. This format was no longer used in the newer Tom and Jerry entrees due to negative reception and angry complaints from fans.
Filmation (in association with MGM Television) also tried their hands at producing a Tom and Jerry TV series. Their version, The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show, debuted in 1980, and also featured new cartoons starring Droopy, Spike (from Tom & Jerry, and the same version also used in Droopy), Slick Wolf, and Barney Bear, not seen since the original MGM shorts. The Filmation Tom and Jerry cartoons were noticeably different from Hanna-Barbera's efforts, as they returned Tom and Jerry to the original chase formula, with a somewhat more "slapstick" humor format. Like the 1975 show, this show was not as well received by audiences as the original shorts, and lasted on CBS Saturday mornings from September 6, 1980 to September 4, 1982.
New owners; New content
The rights to MGM's pre-May 1986 library was purchased by Turner Entertainment in August 1986.
Tom and Jerry returned to television in 1990 with Tom & Jerry Kids, a co-production with Hanna-Barbera and Turner Entertainment. A year into the show's run, Turner would buy Hanna-Barbera from then-owner Taft Broadcasting.
A feature film, Tom and Jerry: The Movie, was released in 1992 (1993 in the USA), and it was the only time Tom and Jerry spoke regularly. The film bombed at the box office and was given negative reviews by film critics and fans, resulting that Tom and Jerry would never be given this concept type again. Around this time, Tom and Jerry shorts were being re-broadcast on Turner's Cartoon Network. The shorts contained new voice-over work for Mammy Two Shoes performed by Thea Vidale to remove the stereotypical black jargon featured on the original cartoon soundtracks.
Time Warner purchased Turner Entertainment in 1996, giving Warner Bros. full control of the Tom and Jerry franchise. In 2001, a made-for-TV short, The Mansion Cat aired on Boomerang. Direct-to-video movies were made during that period, starting with Tom and Jerry: The Magic Ring in 2002. The latest Tom and Jerry theatrical short, The Karate Guard, was written and co-directed by Barbera and debuted in Los Angeles cinemas on September 27, 2005. In 2006, Warner Bros Animation produced a new TV series, Tom and Jerry Tales. Unlike The Tom and Jerry Show from 1975 and Comedy Show, Tom and Jerry Tales brings back the source material from the Golden-era, which received positive attention from the audiences. The most recent TV series is The Tom and Jerry Show (2014), produced by Renegade Animation and is the first series to be done in flash animation instead of the usual traditional hand-drawn animation.
Warner Bros. is currently working on a live-action/CG animated movie and is set to be released in 2021.