Friday, November 23, 2007

TOM & JERRY'S NUTCRACKER

My family was roused from our tryptophan post-turkey lethargy yesterday by a new Cartoon Network special featuring MGM's classic cat and mouse duo in a new version of THE NUTCRACKER, which was quite enjoyable and had some very good things in it. It's not perfect, but to it's credit it is easily the best incarnation of the team since the original TOM & JERRY unit was shuttered in 1957 (only to be outsourced to various franchisees over the following five decades).
The people in charge of this one are Tony Cervone and Spike Brandt , two of the guys responsible for some of the better LOONEY TUNES animation in the post-ROGER RABBIT era. Here they have done an impressive job of synthesizing the original TOM AND JERRY style (which evolved radically over the 17 years they were in production) and adding a little bit extra on top of that. The visual result is both classic and contemporary, which is pretty hard to pull off. The characters (including a considerable cast of new ones) are all consistent with the amalgam models of Tom, Jerry and Tuffy, and the poses and acting seem to have a touch of Chuck Jones' Looney Tunes from around the time of shorts like SCARDEY CAT and WEARIN' OF THE GRIN. (This does not however bear any resemblance to Jones' TOM AND JERRY shorts, which is a good thing in my opinion.)

The animation itself seems to have been executed with some sort of FLASH type program that yields uneven results. It may also be to blame for the super-zippy timing that left me woozy after a bit, tho the aspects of the traditional end of the animation equation is by and large nicely done. The classical music (mostly from the original ballet) leaves one missing Scott Bradley's jazzy scores and the sound effects (particularly on the most violent gags) are faint to the point of seeming non-existent. I'll let viewers themselves judge from there, but overall it is a huge step in the right direction for this sort of thing. TiVo it or better yet, pick it up on DVD and show your support to the artists who made it (CARTOON NETWORK maginalized the credits beyond belief last night, shame on them!). It is definitely worth checking out.

14 comments:

Michael J. Ruocco said...

I also caught the special last night after coming home from Thanksgiving dinner. I wasn't very enthused by the whole Nutcracker concept, but I was blown away by the design. I also noticed that little Jonesian-like touch they put into the characters, they put in just enough without going overboard. The animation was a lot better then the other direct-to-video Tom & Jerry specials. The closest thing to a decent Tom & Jerry cartoon recently was "The Karate Guard", also done by Spike & Tony. They did a fantastic job with the characters & I hope we get more from them in the future. Overall, it was an amusing little film. It's not "It's a Wonderful Life", but it's enjoyable nonetheless.

& I was also surprised to watch a few classic Tom & Jerry cartoons after the special, including my favorite: "The Night Before Christmas". A pleasant end to a pleasant holiday.

Weirdo said...

Chuck Jones and "Tom and Jerry" didn't gel well. They were just two different mentalities of cartooning. "Tom and Jerry" is rough and tumble, very violent style. Chuck Jones underplays things and is a bit more subtle.

I would like to see that special. I'm sure Cartoon network will play it again this Christmas, along with the Chuck Jones classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". Great post.

Will Finn said...

michael--it certainly is noticeably better than any of the previous things I have seen. I didn't know about KARATE GUARD tho and will look for it. For the record I don't know Spike and Tony but wish them well.

weirdo--the very first time I saw Chuck Jones speak in person (USC campus 1979), someone nailed him on this. after an uncomfortable pause he said that it is always difficult when business imposes on one artist to take on another's work, and that it would be fairly impossible to achieve the same results, which I thought was diplomatic of him. He added that he didn't think Rudy Larriva was very successful at doing ROAD RUNNER after he (Chuck) left Warner's, but he didn't hold it against him.
He seemed to be saying that in starting up his own studio he couldn't afford to be picky and I'll add that given the fact Hanna and Barbera already had their own operation by then, he wasn't doing any harm. It also was apparent that he wasn't particularly satisfied with his own T & J cartoons himself... I love Chuck Jones but don't find these entries remotely interesting. THE GRINCH was definitely his last great work, and it's a beauty.

Michael J. Ruocco said...

Will - I found "Karate Guard" here on Youtube. You better watch it before they take it down. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo0AKEFgD6w

Thad K said...

The greatest story, re: Larriva, is how Chuck would never speak to him again after he wouldn't return to Warners. So Larriva ending up directing those Road Runner shorts is just about the greatest revenge ever.

Ninja Dodo said...

Personally I found the Chuck Jones Tom & Jerry by far the funniest. The older ones have a more appealing sort of warmth in their style, but for sheer entertainment I prefer Jones.

Will Finn said...

That's a good story Thad, I didn't know that one.

Michael, thanks for the link. I watched KG and it looks like it was a good rehearsal for the new one.

Ninja--even more people are divided on the Gene Deitch ones!

Michael J. Ruocco said...

Don't even get me started with those Gene Deitch T&J's!

Weirdo said...

Will- Actually, I thought his work on "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" wasn't that bad. He stayed very true to the story. His work on the "Pogo" special is all right. it's nothing to write home about. He actually voiced Porkypine in that one, but I felt he wasn't right for the part. You're right though, "The Grinch" was his last masterpiece.

P.S. I'm not a big fan of the Gene Deitch "Tom and Jerry".

Weirdo said...

Have you ever met Chuck Jones or any of the people who worked at Warner Brothers or any other studio during "The Golden Age"? I love hearing stories about them.

Also, I don't think anybody but Chuck Jones and his crew could do The Road Runner cartoons. He just had that special touch that made it work.

Will Finn said...

weirdo--i got to meet Chuck Jones a good number of times, usually in groups or at lunches or gatherings, and usually after a formal speech/screening. i always got the impression that each time he was meeting me it was (for him) the first time. i'm not implying he was senile, (he sure wasn't) but as I get older i can sure understand how hard it is to keep track of names and faces...
i did converse directly with him several times tho and the highlight was working (freelance) with him on his final RR cartoon CHARIOTS OF FUR (1993)as an animator. It was one of my all-time favorite gigs, tho we all had to use fake names for contract reasons.

Whit said...

Chuck Jones' "Rikki Tikki Tavi" was helped by the distinct backgrounds of the late designer Oscar Dufau, who also worked on several of his other mid 1970's animated specials.

Robert said...

As far as Flash being responsible for overly zippy timing... it just doesn't work that way. Flash (and all other animation programs) display what ever the animator put into it and decided was acceptable (for budget, skill, time or other reasons) when he stopped putting things into it. No more, no less. You can make classic full 24fps animation in FLash or you can make the basest lame cut-outs move in straight lines, but those are both choices by the artist, not the program.

Will Finn said...

Thanks for the clarification Robert. I admit I don't know anything firsthand about FLASH, but I am not generally a hater of it. I thought it often augmented the Tom & Jerry animation here in a very positive way, although not consistently so. As you say, that depends on human factors and not technical ones.

My specific comment re: the zippy-ness of FLASH-type programs was in reference to the frame rate: THE NUTCRACKER looked to me like it may have been at running at 30 frames per second, although I am not certain of that. Maybe some other artificial means compressed the timing.