Tom and Jerry Gene Deitch cover

By Chaz Lipp

Don’t miss the chance to win one of three Tom and Jerry The Gene Deitch Collection DVDs – enter our giveaway here.

New from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection on DVD. This release compiles all 13 Tom and Jerry shorts directed by acclaimed animator Gene Deitch from 1960 to 1962. These shorts marked a revival for the animated cat and mouse duo, originally created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. MGM shut down their cartoon studio in 1957, leaving the Hanna-Barbera team to start its own company.

MGM contracted with producer William L. Snyder’s Rembrandt Films for a baker’s dozen new theatrical Tom and Jerry shorts. Gene Deitch took the job of directing the Prague, Czechoslovakia-based production team even though he admittedly disliked Tom and Jerry. Too violent, Deitch carped. Meanwhile, the Czech team didn’t know the first thing about Tom and Jerry. Topping off all these deficits, there was a limited budget available for creating the cartoons.

As a result of all these factors, the Gene Deitch-directed shorts are unlike anything else in the Tom and Jerry canon. The animated style itself is radically different from what preceded it (and what came after). They’re often creatively designed – just check out the surreal sci-fi of “Mouse into Space.” But the low budget gave them a glaze of grainy crudeness – even after each of these has been carefully remastered for this new compilation (though they do look quite good now) – that further sets them apart. But shorts like the ultra-meta “Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit” (which literally demonstrates how to create a Tom and Jerry short) bristle with witty inspiration. “Dicky Moe” is a Mobey Dick spoof that expands the standard Tom and Jerry universe, setting the cat and mouse adversaries on a whaling boat (a clever sight gag that typifies the Deitch shorts: while scrubbing the ship’s deck, Tom literally scrubs the color right off of Jerry, leaving just an outline).

The shorts have been collected here on DVD, in one place, for the first time. Upon their initial release they were quite polarizing (and remain so). For many Tom and Jerry fans, these often bizarre, mold-breaking shorts were just too much of a departure. But from a historical standpoint, this DVD is a treasure trove for fans of Tom and Jerry and classic animation in general.

Warner Bros. has included two 18-minute feautrettes as bonus features: “Tom and Jerry… and Gene” and “Much Ado About Tom and Jerry.” In the former, Deitch explains the full story of how he came to work on Tom and Jerry (and acknowledges the vehemently negative reaction his shorts received from many fans). The latter offers an overview of Tom and Jerry’s history. Regardless of how one feels about the Gene Deitch Tom and Jerry shorts, this is a very special and important release. Too bad there is no Blu-ray option considering these shorts were carefully remastered.

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