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Birthday boys

Cat meets mouse. Mouse hits cat. Cat chases mouse. And the game only ends when one of them—usually the cat—is outgeneraled and outwitted.

As Tom & Jerry turns 70,we look at what makes this cat-and-mouse game so entrancing

Cat meets mouse. Mouse hits cat. Cat chases mouse. And the game only ends when one of them—usually the cat—is outgeneraled and outwitted. This is the basic storyline that the iconic Tom & Jerry cartoons have worked and reworked for 70 years. And going by how popular this franchise continues to be,it doesn’t seem likely to get old.

The antics of Tom and Jerry seem as fresh today as they did in William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s 1939 animated short,Puss Gets the Boot. As Monica Tata,vice-president and deputy general manager of Turner International India,says,“Tom and Jerry have made millions laugh for seven decades with their endearing humour and pranks.

Fittingly,Cartoon Network is throwing a country-wide party to celebrate the duo’s birthday which includes 90 minutes of nonstop Tom & Jerry entertainment on the channel,from Monday to Thursday,and a TJ Express that will run between Churchgate and Virar in Mumbai,starting from March 8. These apart from having the duo pull pranks and surprise viewers in cities across the nation.

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But why does thepair deserve such a grand party? There is no doubt that they remain as popular as ever. There is also no doubt that the formula of the animation has pretty much remained unchanged through the decades. In fact,it’s probably this that is responsible for Tom and Jerry’s continuing appeal. Viewer Manav Khadkiwala says,“Tom & Jerry had perfected the art of slapstick comedy in a way very few other cartoons or films have ever managed to achieve. You can watch them even today and still laugh your head off.”

It’s interesting to note that the Tom & Jerry shorts produced in the 1960s (the Gene Deitch era and later,the Chuck Jones era) have been criticised precisely for having plots that are complicated. According to another viewer Aveek Chatterjee,“there were ridiculous sub-plots which felt like they were deviating from the true T&J spirit which was basically about a cat chasing a mouse. Earlier cartoons showed Tom as more of a threat to Jerry,he had more character in those. In the latter ones,Tom became this one dimensional figure who you knew was going to get battered and bruised.” The doing away of Scott Bradley’s instantly recognisable theme music and beloved side characters like Spike the dog,Mammy Two-Shoes and Nibbles didn’t help much either.

Strange as it may seem to diehard fans,the cartoon has often come under fire for its use of violence as a humour device. It’s quite usual for Tom or Jerry to get sawn into two,have their head blown off or land on something sharp. In fact,The Simpsons’ characters,Itchy and Scratchy are meant to be Tom and Jerry spoofs and they often parody the extreme violence of the original,by engaging in even more gruesome and gratuitous violence.

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Actor Arshad Warsi makes it clear that for him,using violence to generate laughs clearly crosses the line. “I won’t even let my kids watch Tom & Jerry. It’s too violent,” he states. On the other hand,there’s Pooja Bedi,who not only has fond childhood memories of being addicted to the cartoon,but also has no problem letting her children watch it. “We’ve all grown up on Tom & Jerry and the violence certainly hasn’t affected us. It’s just simple fun and parents should learn not to analyse too much.”

First published on: 08-03-2010 at 02:08:11 am
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