Imagine a television show that spans across four generations, yet is ever appealing with not even one word spoken. Yes! Only Tom and Jerry can do that.
Tom and Jerry is an American animated franchise and series of comedy short films created in 1940. The series centers on a not-so-smooth friendship between the title characters Tom, a cat, and Jerry, a mouse.
This hilarious yet riveting animation was created by an American illustrator, animator, comics artist, and film director, Eugene Merril Deitch who was born on August 8, 1924 and died April 16, 2020. This Prague based creator was known for creating animated cartoons such as Munro, Tom Terrific, and Nudnik, as well as his work on the Popeye and of course the Tom and Jerry series. His death filled everyone who ever watched the animation with nostalgia.
Let’s go down memory lane for a bit.
The plot is familiar; an animated cat, sick of the annoying mouse living in his home, devises a plot to take him out with a trap loaded with cheese. The mouse, smart enough, safely removes the snack and saunters away with a full belly.
You can probably guess what happens next as the cat expresses disappointment and devices yet another plan which backfires.
What happens behind the scene? What is the story behind it?
From Academy Award wins to secret production behind the Cold War’s Iron Curtain – here’s how Tom and Jerry, who turned 80 in February 2020, became one of the world’s best known double-acts.
The duo was dreamt up from a place of desperation where creators in the MGM’s animation department, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera worked and had struggled to emulate the successes of other studios who had hit characters like Porky Pig and Mickey Mouse.
Out of boredom, the animators, who were then both under 30, began thinking up their own ideas. Barbera said he loved the simple concept of a cat and mouse cartoon, with loads of conflict and chase, even though it had been done countless times before.
The first release in 1940 was a hit and won the studio an Oscar nomination for best short animation. But despite their work, the animators were not credited.
They were initially told not to put all their eggs in one basket but a change of heart came only when a letter arrived from an influential industry figure in Texas asking when she would see another one of those “wonderful cat and mouse cartoons”.
That was when Jasper and Jinx, as they were first known, became Tom and Jerry.
For the best part of the next two decades, Bill and Barbera oversaw the production of more than 100 of these cartoons. Each took weeks to make and cost up to $50,000 to produce, so only a handful could be made every year.
When the then producer, Fred Quimby retired in the mid-1950s and their department was closed down later, Hanna and Barbera set up their own production company.
Now, here’s the connection.
A few years later, MGM decided to revive Tom and Jerry without its original creators. So, in 1961 they outsourced to a studio in Prague to save on costs and our dear animator, Gene Deitch was tasked with heading the remake. He started but struggled with a tight budget and staff with no knowledge of the original work.
At this time, his studio was secretly made episodes of other cartoons, including Popeye.
During a radio interview before his death, Deitch said he knew that being the first to follow up the classics, that he would be “in the line of fire” from fans and at some point revealed that he even received a death threat over them.
Yet he continued to fine tune these awesome characters and today, Tom and Jerry are almost universally considered the best, with rich hand-drawn animation and detailed backdrops helping win them seven Academy Awards and cameos in Hollywood feature films.
Even today, Tom and Jerry remains extremely popular around the world and can be found on children’s television everywhere from Japan to Pakistan and a new mobile phone game which has more than 100m users in China.
Warner Brothers, who now own the rights to Tom and Jerry, will release a new live-action film just before Christmas this year.
So, whenever you or your kids watch Tom and Jerry remember some people worked really hard to put a smile on your face. One of them is Gene Deitch.
What’s your favourite scene or episode of Tom and Jerry? Please share with us in the comment section.