DVD Review: Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection

Tom and Jerry was an easy cartoon for a small child to enjoy. The premise is simple. A little mouse antagonizes larger cat. The classic designs and lush art from Hanna and Barbera were attractive to young eyes. For the most part, their 114 theatrical shorts made over 17 years were content of the half hour that ran on TV. Then one afternoon, a strange new Tom and Jerry cartoon was shuffled into the mix. The cartoon was jagged, crude and harsh in its violet content. There was something so wrong about the cartoon and yet they were memorable. Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection brings together all 13 shorts that turned out to be an amazing experiment.

MGM shutdown their animation studio at the end of the ’50s and laid off Hanna and Barbera. But the studio wasn’t quite ready to get out of the cat and mouse game. Gene Deitch had made his mark at the legendary UPA. He opened up an animation studio in Prague, Czechoslovakia at the height of the Cold War. MGM gave him a contract to make 13 cartoons. This was a strange experiment since Deitch was not a fan of the characters and his Czech crew had never seen any of the cartoons since they weren’t shipped over the Iron Curtain. This combination led to the creation of animated shorts that don’t seem like a clones of the previous regime.

Quite a few of the Deitch cartoons have remained memorable over the years. “Dicky Moe” is a version of Moby Dick. Tom gets kidnapped and forced to work on Captain Ahab’s ship. It’s bad enough that he must serve an insane old salt, but Jerry is also on board to torture him. “Calypso Cat” is a little Caribbean cruise fun. Jerry impresses a female by torturing Tom. “Mouse Into Space” launches them into orbit. In space, you can hear Tom scream yelps of pain. “The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit” almost seems like how Deitch explained to his Czech crew how to make a cat versus mouse short. There’s quite a bit of wit as we’re told how everything necessary to make their cartoons can fit inside a simple box.

These Tom and Jerry cartoons almost look like bootleg productions. There’s a roughness to both the character design and their motions. The violence seems elevated on the screen. Reportedly these cartoons are the inspiration of Itchy and Scratchy on The Simpsons. They even had a joke about a version of Itchy and Scratchy made in a communist country. Finally getting the Gene Deitch era cartoons out on DVD is a relief since it ties up all the theatrical releases from Hanna & Barbera and Chuck Jones. Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection is greatest import from behind the Iron Curtain.

The video is 1:33:1 full frame. The transfers are fine as they bring out the jagged quality of the original animation. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. Allen Swift’s voice sounds authoritative on the soundtrack. The shorts are subtitled.

Tom and Jerry…and Gene (18:07) allows the animator to explain how he came about to produce 13 episodes. He has plenty of tales about making an American cartoon behind the Iron Curtain in Prague. He brought his UPA background to the project.

Much Ado About Tom and Jerry (18:53) covers the history of the cat and mouse act.

Warner Home Entertainment presents Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection. Directed by: Gene Deitch. Starring: Tom, Jerry and Allen Swift. Rated: G. Running Time: 95 minutes. Released: June 2, 2015.