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?

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