Sunday, October 30, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again


Børge Ring called the above to my attention. It's a 2005 Tom and Jerry, co-directed by Joe Barbera. In some ways, it does a remarkably good job of duplicating the look and feel of the Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoons of the 1940s and '50s. However, in other ways, it doesn't, and surrounded by those things that work, the lapses stand out even more.

Børge pointed out that Bill Hanna's timing just isn't there and that this cartoon inadvertently shows the importance of Hanna's contribution. He's right. For instance, the gag at 3:05 where Tom hurtles into the garbage truck is timed too slowly. Hanna never would have had the extended pause between Tom landing and the jaws closing. Furthermore, the jaws would have closed faster. That wouldn't have been true to life, but it would have been funnier.

Like the opening titles, a collision of Warner Bros. and MGM fonts, some of the character poses look to be from Warner Bros. rather than MGM. Jerry's look to the audience at 2:36 smacks of Chuck Jones. Jerry's pose at 1:36 has the look of a Robert McKimson cartoon. Tom's look to the camera at 3:26, with his eyes merging, is also more reminiscent of Warners.

The music can't compare to the exuberance of Scott Bradley's scores.

There are good things here. The characters stay on model. The animators have captured the way Tom scrambles off screen, including the subtle stretch in his mid-section, and have also captured the way Hanna and Barbera had characters shooting and rebounding into holds. As I said above, because so much of this is right, what's wrong stand out and that is why you can't go home again.

Revivals work in the theatre because the originals only exist in memory. There is no expectation that a revival will duplicate the look and feel of the original because the original is not there for comparison. In film and TV, though, the originals are not only there, they are often front and center, showing right next to attempts at a revival. The comparisons are inescapable.

Creative works are not only the product of people, they're also the products of a time and place. As the world keeps changing, it is impossible to recreate something from the past. While artists often wish to duplicate what they love, they can only approximate it. Paradoxically, the closer they get to it, the more they've succeeded in doing nothing more than an good imitation. And since the originals are everywhere to begin with, is an imitation necessary?

From a corporate standpoint, it's another cartoon to add to the library. From an artistic standpoint, it's a dead end. What could this budget and these creators, including 94 year old Joe Barbera, have come up with if they tried something new?

23 comments:

Steven Hartley said...

Well, it doesn't have Scott Bradley, or even Ken Muse, Ray Patterson, Irv Spence, Ed Barge, Pete Burness, etc. or even Bill Hanna, Dick Bickenbach or even Quimby himself.

It was co-directed by Spike Brandt as well, and he's not very good on those T&J stuff, is he? I would imagine in that cartoon, the only great stuff coming out were probably Joe Barbera's contributions.

Personally, Tom and Jerry were at a perfect streak in the 1940's, and the best era for them was probably around 1943-1951.

Pete Emslie said...

To be fair, I felt it was surprisingly good, much better than I was expecting before I watched it. My criticism is a somewhat minor one, in regards to the drawing itself. Though the drawing of the characters seems fairly faithful to the original cartoons, and the poses and expressions are quite competent and often quite dynamic, everything has been given that rather sterile outline of even line weight. That has always bothered me in modern animation, as it just kills the personality of the line that would be so much better with a more sculptural thick to thin quality like what was accomplished so naturally in the Golden Age shorts through varying pen pressure with the inked cels.

I agree with your assessment that "You can't go home again" regarding cartoons. I had the same feeling while watching Disney's recent Winnie-The-Pooh feature, in that there was so much that was good about it, yet also some aspects that were cringe-worthy, the product of the contemporary mindset with its penchant for ironic dialogue, as well as the tampering with the characters' personalities, most notably Rabbit. When all of the creative team who designed, animated, (and voiced, in the case of Pooh) the original creation are retired or dead, then it really makes no sense to try and revive it. Better off, as you say, to put all that talent and effort into creating something new and original.

Jonah Sidhom said...

I liked it, but I agree the timing is off in many places. It made me laugh a few times, though.

My problem with it was just that it had some weird moments that didn't really make sense. Like why are they suddenly watching the hitman cat gang on a TV at the end?

One of the things I always loved about the original Tom and Jerry's were that everything that happened worked in a logical sense, even if it was cartoon logic.

SparkyMK3 said...

The solution is to not make a carbony copy of the past but combine multiple influences into a product. Thats how many of beloved franchises get made, Mark.

I mean, Looney Tunes can't be pinned down to any one source of influence, can it? Neither can Ren and Stimpy. Even Disney can be traced back to many different artistic influences.

Thad said...

Slow timing... interesting you'd say that, because the recent "Tom & Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes" (the best direct-to-video movie I've ever seen) actually is timed far, far too fast, as if they actually went in and sped everything up electronically.

On the other hand, I caught the new Beavis & Butthead at the gym the other day, and I noticed no lapse in quality. Mike Judge has captured the look and feel of his old works perfectly, and it's a perfect continuation from the original series – as inane and badly drawn/animated as ever. These could be run with the old episodes and no one would know the difference. A milestone in animation.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that something like this would be a breath of fresh air compared to the stuff we're producing at my studio. I'm a great fan of classical animation. And I have no arguments to the comments made on this T&J cartoon. Now I'm fairly new to the industry. And I'd take hand drawn animation (on paper) over any form of digital any day. But from what I've examined so far, the policy of been cost effective and the transfer to digital has been nothing but regressive to the creative process for possible quality productions. Those close to me who are superior in experience and drawing ability have repeatedly reminded me that is just the business.

Like imitating the designs and then trying to create my own, I find myself tweaking them endlessly and needlessly, much like the animation I produce at the studio. I tweek the elements in harmony, body, arms, legs, head, eyes to describe the movement when I know in fact I should be animating the shapes to create the forms in movement, working with depth, space, gravity, force and direction. When coloring I go and open a library in photoshop, browsing for a color and again repeatedly tweaking the percentage of this and that for a color that never seems quite right. It really is quite frustrating. But as I mature I find myself more drawn to actual paints, creating a palette almost instantly with the tip of my brush. Planning ahead not to waste my precious and expensive materials. I am finding the classical approach more enriching. As I flip and animate on my disc, more and more my camera is of little used to me. I've been told to stop digging in the past for answers. But I can't help to think I can learn from it, which is why I continue to imitate the designs. Very little in the past 15 years (especially the last 10) has inspired me and awed me. And to be frank I am not very enthusiastic about the future of the industry, quite depressed actually. Is it possible that this film is an introduction to the business policies and introduction to technology (ink and paint in this case) we've come to know. Are we rushing a process that was never meant to be rushed in the first place. Seems to me that these animators given a little more time and possibly support from veteran animators, preferably those who would have animated on the classic Tom and Jerry feature shorts in the forties, could have created an original Tom and Jerry. But respectively using the similar tools they had at their disposals in the forties, including the inking on cels. And in the future they might have been able to apply their newly found knowledge to making new and exciting characters performing original and imaginative antics that are simply beyond our wildest dreams. I felt the same from the new release of Winnie the Pooh, to the inability to relate Winnie and the gang to the one in previous films. The aesthetics just weren't the same, they had not evolved just simply changed to look more modern and dare I say it, hip. Same goes for the new looney tunes but that's a whole other story.

I believe that going home is what will drive us to understand and exploit the circumstances and opportunities the animators of the golden age came to experience. Isn't that what Bluth's intentions were, to revive the appeal that came from the classic films at disney. Given that he did make original material, but didn't he begin at disney. I believe that's how we will be able to create and advance the animation industry. Not change for the sake of change but progressive change. Isn't that the way the renaissance came to be, by going home, if I recall correctly, the television production of Winnie the pooh was a fair and decent re-production of the classic charcaters. Don't we start by imitating our mentors and slowly evolve towards our own style?

Zartok-35 said...

Spike and Tony just can't keep their Tom and Jerrys pure; as you mention, they are constantly putting in Warner styled expressions, and I think it's ugly.
They need to do something about the glossy blandness that's in all their animation, too.

Michael Sporn said...

An unfortunate attempt to combine Chuck Jones with Tex Avery. That, of course, is only in the posing since the animation, like most animation done today, just pops quickly from pose to pose. The ultimate effect being that all the characters move in the same bad way - thus having no character.
i thought Michael Giacchino's music was a better was a better substitution for Scott Bradley than Milt Franklyn did in replacing Carl Stallings. I thought the music was the only thing that kept this poor cartoon alive.

Brubaker said...

I'm wondering just exactly how hands-on Joe Barbera was in this cartoon? I always presumed that it was Spike Brandt who did the heavy-lifting, but I could be wrong (and I've been wrong before).

I agree with the gist of this post, tho...

Thad said...

Michael, you can't be serious. The music in this cartoon sounds nothing like Scott Bradley. And Milt Franklyn was present at countless recordings of Carl Stalling's, so contrary to popular belief, I've noticed nothing jarring in the changeover between the two.

Rafi said...

Did anyone else notice the extermination cats' entrance at 6:31 is a rip-off of Art Babbit's Mushroom dance in Fantasia? I assume it was meant as a homage to him, but it has nothing to do with the beautiful mood and context of the original, and it isn't animated nearly as well, so what's the point?

Stephen Worth said...

What you say applies to "retro" cartoons too. Instead of using modern animation techniques to animate old characters and stories, we should be using old animation techniques to tell modern stories with relevant characters. There's more to learn from the people who made the cartoons than there is from the characters and stories.

Anonymous said...

Actually, this short feels more like an Animaniacs cartoon rather than a Warner Bros. Looney Tune. And that isn't a compliment.

Stephen Worth said...

One more thing... The problem with this short isn't the timing, posing, animation or music. The production values in this cartoon are quite high, and I wish more modern cartoons had this kind of care put into them.

The problem here is deeper... All of this has been done before by people to whom these sorts of characters and situations were relevant. Today, making cartoons like this is like trying to wear your grandfather's pants. You can fill them out, but they'll never fit quite right.

Instead of bringing back characters that were fully developed and exploited in the past, we should be creating new characters. If anything gets brought back, it should be because it didn't get fully developed in the first place and there's more to say. Just trying to recreate the glow of something that was great doesn't cut it.

Mark Sonntag said...

I think the quality is good and personally I don't think it's a bad thing to make these type of cartoons, but it is really important for a director or artists to put something of themselves into it, their own experiences and observations. That's what makes them relevant and new.

And then there's the gags, way too fast on the delivery not enough build up to appreciate the joke. The classics are fast paced but still allow room to build a gag and suitable expectation of the gag which is where the laughter lies.

Kip W said...

I didn't manage to watch all the way to the end, so I guess this cartoon fails for me. I do have to disagree with a couple of comments, though.

Chuck Jones is inappropriate? I'll agree that his cartoons weren't the strongest in the canon, or second strongest, but I'd call him part of the tradition.

Tex Avery is inappropriate? I really thought that Hanna and Barbera were highly influenced by him once he came to MGM.

That said, I guess timing is one reason I didn't stay with this for the few minutes it would have taken. It looks good, a few seconds at a time, but it's not tight, and it has the annoying feature of having a character sit and explain the whole plot line to Jerry — just like the awful made-for-TV cartoons where bowtie-wearing Tom and Jerry stand blinking like idiots while an authority figure says, "Okay, Tom and Jerry. In this cartoon, you're park rangers or something. Get to work."

Maurice Molyneaux said...

The article and numerous other posts here nail much of what's wrong with this cartoon, but it also suffers because the creators are too busy mashing up styles instead of finding one that works (the weird and inconsistent mash-up of Jones and H&B, amongst others). The timing is too deliberate, and lacks punch. Finally, the filmmakers don't trust their formula. This cartoon smells like "Bad Luck Blackie" at the top, but then fails to stick with the formula of cartoons of that ilk: one gag built on relentlessly and inventively, twisted and turned. Here' there are weird detours like the model plane sequence and the cat mafia, which feels like design by committee instead of unified, focused vision.

Mark 2000 said...

Here's another place where the uncanny valley can be applied. We've got a lot of the trappings of the old stuff, but something is just off. And the closer you get to a pure imitation the more off it will seem. This is a zombie cartoon.

This is exactly the way I felt about Tiny Toons and Animaniacs. They were attempting to closely replicate the source material, but too many of the ingredient weren't there. It's also why I think Pinky and the Brain and Freakazoid were more successful shows.

Anonymous said...

Um, Mark, I'm Actually Not Surprised at all at the Chuck Jones connection, Because Chuck Jones Himself actually did work on and produce a hefty number of tom and jerry's spanning from 1963 - 1967.

Mark Mayerson said...

I'm very aware that Jones did Tom and Jerry cartoons in the '60s. But if you have Joe Barbera co-directing and are attempting to duplicate the look of an MGM Tom and Jerry, why throw in Chuck Jones poses? They certainly weren't referencing Gene Deitch or Filmation, who also did versions of Tom and Jerry. It's because the Warner Bros. style has become so pervasive that the artists include it without thinking.

movieman said...

Well, there is not much to say, every time I see something that is to do with Tom and Jerry, ı feel like ı want to jump out of joy since it reminds me of my very young age when I used to argure with my elder brother about what to watch

Martin Juneau said...

"Karate Guard" is notably a good remarkable pitch but the current cartoon lacks of charm and funniest of the original MGM films. I don't like the stiff WB logo who try to turn as the MGM's Tom and Jerry. (They do the same with the Nutcracker DTV movie) The gags like many said comes too fast and sometimes, it's too low. It don't help that the best of the MGM's Tom and Jerry was made for pure cartoons comedy when the many actual Tom and Jerry counterparts (And i include this piece) doesn't.

Tom Campbell said...

Part of the weakness of modern animation is that, being done using computers, it's too slick. Too perfect. You need the imperfection that doing it by hand gives you.