They may not look it but Tom and Jerry are 75 this year. The animated duo have been playing games of cat and mouse on and off since 1940 and are back again this February in a series of original adventures on the newly rebranded Boomerang channel.
The combination of cartoon violence, award-winning animation and a relationship that is often closer to sibling rivalry than that of out-and-out enemies has made them loved by kids of all ages for many generations.
But while the key ingredients have remained the same, and the pair themselves are as recognisable as ever, they’ve nevertheless lived through their fair share of change and a number of distinct eras of Tom and Jerry…
Tom and Jerry’s appearance has altered down the years but the first thing to change about them were their names. When they made their debut in February 1940 short Puss Gets the Boot, they were called Jasper and Jinx and only became Tom and Jerry after Hanna-Barbera offered studio employees a $50 prize to come up with the best name. While Jerry’s physical appearance has changed relatively little since he was created, Tom started out with a noticeably rounder face and shaggier fur than the cat we know today. These early years with Hanna-Barbera were in many ways a golden era for Tom and Jerry. The studio produced a total of 114 meticulously hand-drawn animated shorts between 1940 and 1958, picking up seven Academy Awards in the process.
Gene Deitch (1961-1962)
The next phase of Tom and Jerry’s lives was spent behind the Iron Curtain. Director Gene Deitch created 13 shorts with his Czech team, many of whom were credited with westernised versions of their names in order to avoid any perceived link with Communism. Budgets were tight but the series was a commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing animated short film series of the time. Critical reaction was less positive, with no Academy Award nominations forthcoming and the quality of both the animation and soundtrack often disparaged. The cartoons introduced a new character, Tom’s owner Clint Cobbler, whose particularly cruel treatment of the poor cat meant Jerry often had a relatively easy time of it.
Chuck Jones (1963-1967)
The man behind Looney Tunes’ Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner brought his distinctive style of animation to the 34 character-driven shorts made between 1963 and 1967. Tom and Jerry even inherited some of the physical traits of Jones’s other characters, with Tom given Wile E-style bushy, knitted eyebrows and a more streamlined look, while Jerry got bigger ears and cuter facial characteristics reminiscent of Porky Pig. Jones’s Tom and Jerry cartoons also launched the recognisable theme tune that is used to this day, as well as the classic title sequence that sees a hissing Tom replace MGM’s trademark roaring lion.
Hanna-Barbera’s The Tom and Jerry Show (1975-1977)
Tom and Jerry returned to their original home for TV series The Tom and Jerry Show, but in a rather different form. Not only were their 48 new seven-minute adventures packaged up with other cartoons but strict new rules against violence in kids’ television meant the former sworn enemies were now best friends who went on adventures together. As if to signify this change in character, Jerry was often seen sporting a new accessory – a red bow-tie.
The duo were back to their natural cat-and-mouse antics in another TV series, The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show, which again interspersed their adventures with those of other animated characters, including Droopy, Barney the Bear and Tom’s former canine foe Spike.
Tom and Jerry Kids (1990-1994)
As if being turned into best pals during the 70s wasn’t humiliating enough, the 90s saw Tom and Jerry as baby versions of themselves. They still got to chase each other but Jerry was again forced to wear his bow-tie while Tom sported a red cap. Spike and his son Tyke and Droopy and his son Dripple also made appearances.
Warner Bros Tom and Jerry Tales (2006-2008)
A 2001 TV special – The Mansion Cat – and a 2005 stand-alone theatrical short – The Karate Guard – were followed by Warner Bros’ 13-part series of half-hour shows, each featuring three adventures that echoed the slapstick chase style of the originals.
Warner Bros The Tom and Jerry Show (2014-present day)
Tom and Jerry returned for a new series of adventures in 2014. A second season launched in February 2015, ensuring they celebrated their 75th birthday in style. Tom and Jerry themselves have not changed drastically, although the Flash animation techniques used by Warner Bros give the cartoons a more contemporary, 2D style.
The stories take place in the present day but without being overtly modern. The interiors of houses, for instance, retain something of a 50s feel, in keeping with the originals, but little touches such as a digital read-out on the cooker, remind us they are set in the 21st century. Occasionally, modern gadgets are even used as plot points. “We have an episode where Jerry is watching a movie on a smart phone,” says Jay Bastian, Warners Bros’ animation VP, “so that’s a widescreen TV to him.”
Along with the familiar suburban surroundings, the new series also transplants Tom and Jerry into a range of recurring fantasy settings such as a witch’s cabin, a detective agency and a mad scientists’ lab. “It gives us a new tool box,” says Bastian. “We have access to magic; with the lab we have access to all kinds of creative super powers or inventions.”
Seventy-five years on, it looks like there are still plenty of new adventures in store for Tom and Jerry…
Boomerang UK re-launched this week as a global all-animation, youth-targeted network, repositioned with a line-up of timeless and contemporary cartoons programmed for family co-viewing. The on-air schedule will be anchored by such timeless favourites as The Tom and Jerry Show. The rebrand comes with a refreshed look for the channel and a new Boomerang logo.