In the history of animation, there are only a handful of talents who rank as true game changers. After Walt Disney, the biggest single influence on the art was Chuck Jones. His output at Warner Brothers has been meticulously detailed on the printed page and on video, but what happened after Termite Terrace closed in the early 1960s?
As a latch-key kid growing up in the 1970s, I spent many an hour sitting in front of the television, soaking in everything from The Flintstones and The Jetsons to Looney Tunes and Silly Symphonies to Popeye and Heckle and Jeckle. Tom and Jerry were okay, but they were never in the same league as Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny. And as I watched this collection of 34 shorts written, produced and/or directed by Jones, I realized as a child I never made the connection between this Jones and the same man who had made so many of my personal favorite Looney Tunes. While these cartoon are entertaining, not one of them hold up to the legacy created by the shorts Jones made at Warners such as “Boyhood Daze,” “Duck Amuck,” “Duck Dodgers”, “One Froggy Evening” or “What’s Opera, Docr,” nor his greatest masterpiece, “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics,” made for MGM during his time working on Tom and Jerry.
Many of the 34 Jones-made Tom and Jerry cartoons revisit themes from previous T&J cartoons and from Jones’s Warners canon. 1964’s “The Cat Above and the Mouse Below,” which finds Tom singing the aria “Largo al Factotum” from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” on a concert stage, much to the chagrin of Jerry, who is trying to sleep below, will remind viewers of Jones’s late 1940s shorts “Long-Haired Hare” and “Rabbit of Seville,” both featuring music from Rossini’s opera. Another cartoon from 1964, “Much Ado About Mousing,” is virtually a remake of “The Bodyguard” from twenty years before. An alley cat seen in 1965’s “Tom-ic Energy” bears more than a resemblance to Pepe LePew. Which is not to say the cartoons are inferior. It’s just that if one is going to repeat a gag, one better make sure they do it better the second time around.
Nor does this mean there aren’t any gems in this collection. There is one, 1964’s “Snowbody Loves Me,” which features Jerry trying to find comfort from a blizzard inside a cheese shop guarded by Tom. I dare anyone to keep a dry eye when Tom tries to find Jerry in the storm after throwing him out of the cheese shop. Scored to the music of Frederic Chopin, “Snowbody Loves Me” deserves to be remembered amongst the best of Jones’s work.
The special features are a bit light. Disc one also includes a commercial for another Tom and Jerry DVD collection, “Tom and Jerry’s Greatest Chaces,” as well as “Tom and Jerry… and Chuck,” an exceptional twenty-minute documentary, narrated by animation voice-over legend June Foray, which traces the history of the cartoon duo, created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, from their MGM heydays to their final hurrah under the tutelage of Chuck Jones, while disc two includes commercials for Scooby-Doo DVDs and a second Jones documentary, the twenty-six minute “Chuck Jones: Memories of a Childhood,” which premiered on Turner Classic Movies earlier this year. To listen to Jones talk about his life and his work, and especially to watch him create, is a marvel well worth the DVD purchase in and of itself. However, would it have been so hard to include the Oscar-winning “The Dot and the Line,” or “The Bear That Wasn’t,” Jones’s other non-Tom and Jerry cartoon during his MGM years, as bonus features?
It’s also important to note that, with this DVD release, this will be the first time since their original theatrical releases that these cartoons will be viewable in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios.
If you love the work of Chuck Jones, this is an invaluable, if not exactly incredible, addition to your collection. Hopefully, Warner Home Video will take this idea to the next level, releasing director-specific collections of their Looney Tunes cartoons. While the Looney Tunes Golden Collections are exceptional, the constant shifts of directorial tones between Jones, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson and Tex Avery are sometimes too much to handle over the course of a few hours. To have a Chuck Jones or Tex Avery-only Looney Tunes collection, presented in chronological order (unlike the Golden Collection, which bounces around from director to director, from the 50s to the 30s and back again) to watch their work mature and grow, would be such a treat.Rating: B+