|Note: This was written on 22 June 1980... I pulled
it off the internet as an
interesting and well written read.
Turn on the TV Saturday morning and you'll see how low Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera have sunk in the field of animation. They've done away with the violence (and thus the fun) of the cartoons under pressure from (1) stupid organizations like the NEA and the PTA, which preach total inoffensiveness to anybody, placid and BORING programming; and (2) the rising cost of the full animation which makes squash-action characters and zany antics possible. Thus, the studios fall back on limited animation which requires no racing *physical* action to carry the cartoon, but instead needs good dialogue (which is super-cheap to animate) to hold interest. Well, it doesn't work, folks. Take the Classic MGM "Tom & Jerry" cartoons from 1940-1956 and compare them to Hanna-Barbera's recent (1975) "Tom & Jerry" TV efforts:
(1) Quality. I can see the need for cutting corners here and there to hold down costs, bu there is a point of excessive short-cutting. The 1975 cartoons are barely pasted together. The Xerography process used to bypass the old Inking Department makes a poor-looking cartoon, because it is a direct Xeroxing onto cels of the rough, ragged, pre-liminary animation sketches, with minimal cleanup. The clean, crisp line of an ink pen directly on the cel is missing, and instead we have fuzzy characters. An MGM "Tom & Jerry" animation still is a pleasure to look at; an H-B still hurts the eyes. Even Disney's assay in Xerography, "101 Dalmations", suffers because of the scraggly lines.
(2) Artwork. Even though in 1975 most of the original MGM animators worked with H-B on the new "Tom & Jerry" series, the artwork from a purely technical standpoint is lousy. The original "Tom & Jerry" animators (Ed Barge, Irv Spence, Ray Patterson and Kenneth Muse) worked in supervisory positions only -- they didn't draw a single frame. A few MGM people like Lewis Marshall, who worked on the "Barney Bear" and "Droopy" cartoons (and some of the unclassifiable Heck Allen and Tex Avery comedies), did animate the '75 series, but in as poor as style as the one employed in the CinemaScope efforts of the middle 1950s. Other than Dave Tendlar, one of the original animators for Max Fleischer's "Popeye" and "Betty Boop" cartoons in the 1930s, the majority of the artists were strictly TV people, born and bred in the tradition of cheap limited animation so popular after the mid 1960s.
Tom in the 1975 series is generally horridly drawn. His character design seems drawn much more from the Chuck Jones series of "Tom & Jerry" in the 1960s (in which Tom and Jerry look more and more like typical Warner Bros. creations) than from the "classic" form of the mid 1940s at MGM. Every once in a while Tom looks like his old self (minus the white patch between his eyes -- a concession made to time and cost in the early '50s *at MGM*, believe it or not); one can only assume that an experienced cinema animator like Dave Tendlar or Grant Simmons did the work, or else someone who could turn out the drawings in the necessary production-line atmosphere and do it with quality. It would seem that the majority of the '75 series animators had no concept of what Tom should look like. Sometimes one wonders if it really is a "Tom & Jerry" cartoon because *that* blue cat bears very little resemblance to the one everyone is used to seeing. Jerry, however, is drawn fairly well, albeit with the meaningless addition of a red bow tie.
One disturbing thing about the new series is the scalar relationship between the characters. Tom seems to have shrunk, and Jerry enlarged. No longer does Tom occupy the majority of the screen; he shares space with minor characters (introduced by various story requirements) who are as large as the "old" MGM Tom. The size differential tends to de-emphasize Tom and Jerry and concentrate on the "guest stars". A smaller Tom may be responsible for the poor renderings of him by the animators.
One problem with the Xerography cel-process is that the separation between some colors in the Painting (Opaquing) procedure (as in Tom's basic blue body and the white paws and underbelly) is a black line, not a "lineless" border as in the original MGM cartoons. Under the old system, such lines were not inked in black but with a colored ink appropriate to the colors being demarcated. But since Xerography prints the entire animation drawing directly on the cell, the color separation lines get printed, too. As a result, the 1975 Tom has white paws marked off from blue arms by an ugly black squiggle, which fails to duplicate the beautiful separation of the older, more expensive system.
(3) Animation. Needless to say, this is one of the weakest points of the 1975 series. Television production techniques do not permit the making of 30 shorts in full animation per year. Limited animation and its inherent reliance on dialogue instead of motion for comedy destroy the '75 "Tom & Jerry"s. Now and then a good sequence appears, but the majority are awful in their blandness.
Squash-stretch cartooning requires 12 frame/second full animation; it simply can't be done with 3 or 4. Limited animation can be used to great advantage *IF* it does not attempt what it cannot do -- reproduce realistic motion. H-B could have stuck to limited animation for the most part and done it well -- as in "The Flintstones" or "Johhny Quest" -- and switched to full animation for action sequences when needed. But H-B attempted some fancy action without enough drawings per second to pull it off, and the pastework shows. The 1975 Tom walks like a mechanical monster, his motions awkward and unconvincing, with poor extremes and insufficient in-betweens. Squash-stretch actions like extreme distortions (or "takes") for surprise, fear, etc. are poorly done and incongruous in the limited animation format.
Oddly enough, the "guest stars" of the TV series are better-animated and better-drawn than either Tom or Jerry! Perhaps since these characters never had a full animation treatment they survive the limited animation, while Tom and Jerry suffer from inaction. The Bulldog, a corruption of the original MGM Spike, often steals the show (though his talky verbal asides are maddeningly unfunny). All in all, comparing the superb animation of H-B's 1945 efforts with those of 1975, there is really no comparison: MGM's Tom and Jerry are *alive*, while their recent reincarnations are dead, empty shells.
(4) Story. Poor storylines are the source of many of the flaws in the 1975 "Tom & Jerry" series. The violent and exciting cat-and-mouse plays and counter-plays, which make the vintage MGM shorts so delightful, are gone. National organizations to "clean up" Saturday morning programs have killed off the action-packed cartoon and left what has been referred to as "illustrated radio". Not that the "violent" cartoon is unpopular! Reruns of Bugs Bunny and the Warner Bros. gang continue to draw a bigger audience than any "new" cartoons programmed opposite them. (Alas, the CBS [now ABC] censors have butchered some of their best cartoons by cutting out anything with guns, etc.)
The new "Tom & Jerry"s are indeed talkies; of course neither Tom nor Jerry speaks (at least H-B got *that* right), but the secondary "guest stars" monopolize the show and blabber incessantly. Instead of letting action speak. the new cartoons have constant throwaway chatter which announces a character's every move. If they didn't, however, no one would understand the situation, because the motion picture part is too sketchy to make it clear! The sound track should *complement* the visuals, not make up for them. This is unfortunately the case in the 1975 series.
As cartoon plots, the new
stories fail. Invariably, I can point to an earlier cartoon from
either MGM or Warner Bros. in which a particular gag or even entire story
situation was handled 100% better, and was more fun to watch. Original
plots are scarce, but new treatment is a *must*. Most "good" animated
cartoon plots, however, are considered nowadays to be bad influences on
young, "impressionable" minds. That's a big word today, "impressionable".
So to keep the PTA off their backs, the studios turn to insipid, wordy,
"meaningful", and above all *BORING* stories, which are totally devoid
of violence and savagery, to be sure, but are also devoid of any artistic
value at all. Animation is an art, too. In trying to offend no one
they offend everybody.
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