STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $26.99
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 320 Minutes
Commentary on four selected episodes
"Silent Pencil Sketch: The Midnight Sketch" featurette
"The Comedy Stylings of Tom and Jerry" featurette
"Animators as Actors" featurette

Ready for
a little of the ultra-violence? Warner Bros. brings us the second volume of the
and Jerry – Spotlight Collection
nearly a year after the first volume
was released. (Justin’s review here.)
This volume digs deeper into the history of the cartoon — thankfully including
"Puss Gets the Boot," the genesis of the characters we know and love
— and presents thirty-eight of the famous and infamous shorts. As with the
first set, it’s a treat to have so much golden history available in one place,
but the discs themselves aren’t the quality one would expect of a set intended
for collectors.

The Show

Each disc
opens with the same surprisingly thoughtful introduction by Whoopi Goldberg,
designed to defray the shock of seeing hurtful stereotypes paraded about. She
explains the importance of preserving the shorts as historical artifacts, uncut
and unaltered. It’s an interesting reflection of our hypersensitive culture,
and it also seems to be targeted at younger people who accidentally stumbled
onto the discs, or intolerant people who accidentally bought them.

As with
the first volume of the Spotlight Collection, this one
covers a whole range of chronology, starting at the very beginning and working
up through the golden and silver ages of Hanna-Barbera cartooning. To some
degree, these cartoons are the ultimate extrapolation of the concept of
variations on a theme, that theme being the age-old struggle between cat and
mouse. To the credit of the creators, through all the shorts contained on these
discs, those variations never get stale. The traps the two characters set for
each other are consistently imaginative, to the point that Leigh Whannel only
wishes he could envision.

Gaze ye upon the ruins of your life and feel shame!

Tom and
Jerry, when playing off of each other, manage to be one of the legendary teams
of physical comics. They work a bit differently than Laurel and Hardy, or Dean
and Lewis, though, in that in their dynamic there is no straight man. There’s a
much more balanced give-and-take to the structure of their wars. Compare a Tom
and Jerry short to a Roadrunner bit, for another example. Wile E. Coyote never
stands a chance against the Roadrunner; if he does come across some unlikely
success, it’s a gimmick rather than the mode of the show, whereas in a typical
Tom and Jerry short the upper hand changes positions several times. This puts
the emphasis on the more immediate action of the characters, rather than the
anticipation of what the coyote will think up next.

than going through each of the thirty-eight episodes, I’m going to pick on
three of my favorites (which also happen to be three of the four the studio
decided to record commentary tracks for).

Gets the Boot" is the origin story of our heroes, though it’s technically
not a Tom and Jerry cartoon. The cat, while identical to later incarnations of
Tom, is named Jasper, while the mouse isn’t given a name. I don’t know; Jasper
and Jerry
is kind of catchy, don’t you think?

short is a great example of the check-and-balance structure that became
standard for the duo. Every time Tom (‘scuse me, Jasper) has Jerry in his
clutches, the mouse pulls an escape out of nowhere. Every time Jerry seems to
have the ol’ cat licked, Tom efficiently cripples his defense. Usually, Jerry
comes out on top, and this is no exception, as his plot finally get the better
of his nemesis. The strength of this structure is its rudimentary tensions —
it’s not the battle of good versus evil by any means, but it does create a
partial intersection with realism that is subtly appealing to the audience.

Jekyll and Mr. Mouse" is a prime example of the cartoon’s love for parody.
With a simple conflict over a stolen bowl of milk, the pair one-ups each other
to a point where Tom tries to poison the prize. His plan backfires when the
poisoned milk ends up giving Jerry super-strength, and a trim physique. A
couple of cartoondom’s more famous individual shots come out of this short,
most notably this one:

Paper dolls are for pussies. Other pussies, I mean.

symbolism of the Robert Louis Stevenson source material is jettisoned in favor
of the standard moral of Tom and Jerry: Your own cleverness will be your
downfall. Very keen on hubris, were Hanna and Barbera.

Evening Puss" has a set-up that reverses the roles of the cat and mouse
somewhat. Whereas Jerry is usually tormenting Tom in some fashion (if in no
other way, then by merely continuing to be not
), this one has Tom and his buddies jolting Jerry out of bed by means
of an exuberant party. The resulting back-and-forth between the four cats and
the single mouse is a fine example of the capability for character that the
animation captured. Tom’s friends could have easily been mere generic cats, but
the way they are drawn, with individual tics and quirks, makes them memorable.

When you
think of great physical comedians, you think of their rubbery bodies and faces
performing in ways that the you’re sure must hurt like the dickens. Tellingly,
a word used commonly to describe physical comedy is "cartoonish". Well,
no one is more cartoonish than a cartoon character, and the slapstick humor
displayed in this collection is exaggerated beyond reality by the quick and
expressive animation. This is some of the best work that Hanna and Barbera
wrangled out of their animating teams, topping the more staid work in The
and The Jetsons and containing much more
action than the old standby, Yogi Bear.

This set
may not be the best buy for a parent looking for a gift for the kids, but it is
a cinch for collectors, partly because there’s no alternative, but mostly
because it’s a fine anthology of the reigning years of children’s animation.

8.5 out of 10

…and thus began Logan’s Overweight Friend’s Run.

The Look

Most of
the episodes are in fullscreen, but a handful on the second disc are in
widescreen. The problems of the first volume, namely the lack of effort put
into the restoration, are still present here. The older shorts are rife with
scratches and color errors that are distracting, due to the clarity of the
disc. It’s a testament to the quality of the transfer that these imperfections
are now so noticeable.

amount of noise decreases as the shorts increase in chronology, but the
improvement can be chalked up to better source material, rather than more
effort in the disc authoring.

4 out of 10

The best time to make music is when you’re high;
also, coincidentally, the best time to play with spoons.

The Noise

The music
has to carry the action, since there’s virtually no dialogue, and, fortunately,
the score does the job admirably in Dolby digital mono. As was tradition during
the golden years of animation, the score is performed by a symphony, and is
matched to the action perfectly. Thanks to the expressive animation, the score
isn’t strictly necessary, but its elimination would immediately be noticed.
(For comparison, one of the bonuses on the first disc is a silent pencil
sketch, equivalent to a storyboard sequence, sans score.)

Oddly, the
soundtrack is mastered at different volume levels for the shorts and for the commentary
tracks. In the commentary tracks, everything — score and commentary — is
mastered higher. It makes for some weird on-the-fly adjustments with the

7 out of 10

The Goodies

There are
commentaries on four selected episodes by MadTV’s Nicole Parker and animation
historian Eric Hess. In a perfect world, Parker would be providing the insight
into the history of the humor, while Hess would provide the history of the
animation. That seems to have been what the producers of this disc were hoping
for, but only Hess holds up his end of the bargain. Parker is somewhat
pointless, sort of an everyman commentator who says things along the lines of,
"Wow! People have bumps and bruises which disappear in seconds!"
Hess’ bits of trivia are far more interesting, as he explains the working
conditions of the animators back in the day, as well as historical tidbits
about the founding and developing of the Tom and Jerry brand.

You also
get three featurettes: "Silent Pencil Sketch: The Midnight Snack,"
which runs a side-by-side comparison between the original rough pencils and the
finished cartoon; "The Comedy Stylings of Tom and Jerry," which
briefly details the various vaudeville and physical comedians that
Hanna/Barbera used as inspiration for their characters; and "Animators as
Actors," which gives a survey of the methods through which animators
create distinct personalities for their creations.

All of
which add up to something right around the level of "average". Sadly,
there’s not much in the way of interest, apart from Hess’ few commentaries,
although you do get the bonus of a mini-framed animation cel.

5 out of 10

It runs on a web-based backend, so script kiddies can amuse themselves
torching neighbor children from across the globe.

The Artwork

completely different format from the other spotlight collections. Grace in
silver, I like to call this piece. I’m not sure why they changed up their
layout, since the consistency is now broken, but at least they made an
improvement for the better. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the change was
to make the box less appealing to children and moreso to adults; the box
carries a disclaimer that reads: "Intended for the Adult Collector and May
Not Be Suitable for Children." (Their capitalization.)

line, it’s elegant and attractive.

8 out of 10

This set
is a fine example of a studio deciding that the content of the disc should be
enough to cancel out the quality of the disc authoring. Despite the flaws,
though, this is easily a set worth owning, if you don’t mind rewarding a
company for letting their standards slip.

Overall: 8 out of 10