Say what you will about speech patterns or styles of jeans, but the real generational divide may very well be whether your childhood TV habits included friendly blobs demonstrating the value of teamwork and kindness or an idiot cat’s singleminded quest to murder an adorable mouse. Of course, Tom and Jerry goes all the way back to 1940, and they starred in a feature film (no matter how poorly received) in 2021, so perhaps we are, in fact, all connected by cartoon violence.

Jasper and ???

Puss Gets the Boot

(MGM)

Tom and Jerry weren’t always called Tom and Jerry. In their first short film, 1940’s Puss Gets the Boot, Tom was called Jasper and Jerry didn’t even have a name, though he was called Jinx behind the scenes.

Tom and Jerry

The Midnight Snack

(MGM)

The names Tom and Jerry were decided by a random drawing of suggestions by studio personnel, but the employee who won was clearly playing a prank that nobody else understood. Tom and Jerry were the two main characters of the 1821 novel Life in London, which was basically the Regency era version of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and “Tom-and-Jerrying” became a slang term that meant “to drink and indulge in riotous behavior.”

The Secret Czech Production

It's All Greek to Me-ow

(MGM)

MGM soon “realized that they had made a big booboo,” according to the director who replaced Hanna and Barbera, the leader of a Czech animation team who had themselves just won an Oscar. As they were still living behind the Iron Curtain at the time, they had never even actually seen a Tom and Jerry cartoon and were kind of offended by the whole concept, but they managed to churn out a more emotional interpretation that put the mutual antagonists in increasingly surreal battles in increasingly exotic locations. MGM couldn’t say where these episodes were produced, though, even going so far as giving the animators Anglicized pseudonyms.

Tom and Jerry Go to TV Land

MGM briefly hired Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame to take over the series in the mid ‘60s, but soon after, Tom and Jerry went to television, which was probably what should have happened in the first place. They were even back in the hands of Hanna-Barbera, who had become Saturday morning gods.

They Had a Suicide Pact

Blue Cat Blues

(MGM)

One 1956 short ends with Tom and Jerry sitting together on a set of train tracks with a haunted look in their eyes as an oncoming train blares its horn, then cuts to black. Thanks to a misreading of… oops, it was us, many people believe this was the last episode of the series, and while that’s not true and Tom and Jerry lived on to fight each other another day, it’s pretty clear what their intention was.

The Mammy Problem

Saturday Evening Puss

(MGM)

The original shorts featured a stereotypical black woman named Mammy Two Shoes, so when they were released for television, MGM instructed Chuck Jones’s team to animate over Mammy with different characters, having realized what a bad idea that whole thing was. Later, her voice was redubbed as well.

Tom and Jerry and Hitler

The Lonesome Mouse

(MGM)

Mammy wasn’t their only problem. Several Tom and Jerry shorts have been edited for TV or outright banned, usually because a character’s face gets damaged in such a way that miraculously leaves them wearing blackface but also sometimes for truly excessive violence or general insensitivity. There’s even one where Jerry paints Tom to look like Hitler.

Back to the Big Screen

Tom and Jerry

(Warner Bros.)

Tom and Jerry got their first official movie in 1992, but before that, they made cameo appearances in other MGM movies, dancing with Gene Kelly and swimming with Esther Williams. They got their latest cinematic treatment as recently as 2021, scoring a whopping 31% on Rotten Tomatoes. Oh, how the mighty (mouse) have fallen.

Top image: Warner Bros.

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