This is the first time, however, that the cartoons are presented in complete, chronological order on DVD, something that hasn’t been done since the Art of Tom & Jerry laserdisc sets eons ago. The set, which you can buy on Amazon for less than $20 U.S., features the first 37 cartoons, straight from Puss Gets the Boot to Professor Tom.
This is, essentially, almost every Tom & Jerry cartoon worth owning. Great shorts like the lyrical Mouse in Manhattan, Flirty Birdy, the most sexually charged T&J ever, the bizarrely racist Lonesome Mouse (with Jerry talking like James Cagney), and uproariously funny entries like Mouse Trouble and Kitty Foiled are all present and accounted for. Every cartoon is also completely uncut and uncensored.
By and large, they look better than they ever have on home video or television. This is due to Warner Home Video utilizing the oft-forgotten CRI negatives, which, at their best, are the elements on the MGM cartoons that look closest to their original negatives. The MGM restorations will never reach the vibrancy of those on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection or Disney Treasure releases, but having seen rare nitrate material on several MGM cartoons, the best restorations on this set are not unreasonable facsimiles. Truth be known, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a copy of Old Rockin’ Chair Tom that wasn’t a faulty composite (meaning inferior, faded source material was used for the final thirty seconds).
The MGM cartoons, in general, never had a particularly striking sense of color. The color styling of the Tom & Jerrys was always pleasingly cool and low-key, in striking contrast to the abrasive subject matter and entertaining but overbearing soundtracks of Scott Bradley. Nevertheless, there is a decent level of prime restoration going on when you can finally make out Tom’s green irises in just about every shot of the cartoon.
Unfortunately, this is not a perfect release. Unlike with other Tom & Jerry offerings, it’s not due to censorship. The huge plus in this release’s favor is the chronological and uncut presentation. Standards slipped however on the following ten cartoons, all mastered from lesser CRI elements (more on this later), so they fall very short of meeting the standards set by the other outstanding restorations contained therein. The quality ranges anywhere from serviceable to downright garbage quality. The tell-all sign is their retaining of the 1960s MGM lion logo (with no mention of Technicolor – because there was no intention of these versions ever replicating it).
Puss n’ Toots
The Bowling Alley Cat
The Lonesome Mouse
The Zoot Cat
The Million Dollar Cat
Puttin’ on the Dog
The Milky Waif
I am not aware of all the inner-workings of this release. But, for the record, there is not a single set of CRI negatives for the MGM cartoons as has been perpetuated all over the Internet. Often, they have as many as two or three in existence. Some look amazing, as close to Technicolor as you can hope for, while some look absolutely putrid because they were made on the cheap (hence the later Metrocolor title cards). Puttin’ on the Dog in particular seems to be taken from faded Eastman elements. Seeing these versions mastered for Blu-Ray is akin to if WHV decided to remaster the old Turner material of the 1940s Warner shorts in high-def.
I know for a fact there are various CRI elements because MGM/UA Labs used them for the 16mm prints they distributed to TV stations and sold to collectors. Quality could vary wildly on the same title depending on how high on chemicals the lab technician was that day. Almost always, they looked absolutely fantastic. My print, struck in 1983, of Mouse Trouble looks wonderful, nothing like the embarrassing version seen on this latest release. (A comparison shot can be seen here. The digital camera didn’t get a great shot of the projected print, but the point is made.) Same goes for Lonesome Mouse and Quiet, Please!. On the other hand, some later 16s have passed through my hands that looked like hell because they were taken from what I’d like to call “Metrocolor” CRIs. One of them was Million Dollar Cat.
Perhaps it’s harsh to call the move of settling for the worser CRIs for some of the titles idiocy, but to invest thousands of dollars in brand new High-Definition transfers from source material that looks awful to begin with is pretty asinine. A lot can change in the thirty years since those pristine 16s were struck, but I have my doubts that the masters here were from the only CRI elements they had access to. Even the earlier Spotlight Collections looked better than the offending versions here. This is simply a continuation of WHV’s long pattern of ineptitude with the MGM cartoon library.
Without meaning to toot my own horn, you will never see a 100% perfect Tom & Jerry release unless either David Gerstein or I are looking over it every step of the way. This is a fact. But given that idealistic scenario will never happen, this is about as good as you’ll be getting. And 27 out of the 37 do look perfect. I’d buy it.