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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two Unscheduled Flights of LANDING STRIPLING (1962): Part One--Kevin's Review

Foreword from Rachel

We here at the Home For Orphan Toons can't resist a challenge, and today, Thad Komorowski provided us with one. Any cartoon Thad hates that much is definitely worth a second look.

Kevin and I would be the first to admit that the Gene Deitch Tom and Jerry's are animation's equivalent of the crazy relative the family won't talk about--and it's not hard to see why. The animation is odd, the character designs and sound track even odder: Tom and Jerry on a heavy dose of hallucinogens.

But in a few of those thirteen cartoons, those very qualities are what make them worth watching. Today's spotlight cartoon, Landing Stripling, is one of them.

Despite the title, Kevin's review is less that of Landing Stripling than of the Gene Deitch approach to Tom and Jerry in general, but I will follow tomorrow with my own thoughts on Gene Dietch, and a more comprehensive look at Landing Stripling.


By Kevin Wollenweber

I like cartoons, almost any cartoons, especially all or most of these made during the first golden age, that of the very inventive and sometimes iconoclastic theatrical period, when animators indulged their artistic sense and ran with at while the major studios paid the sometimes exorbitant bills.

They created most of these cartoons, perhaps, in hopes that they’d be seen as legitimate filmmakers--as we all know that they should be truly seen.

There are times when an animator from another studio would “visit” the home of a specific character or animator and take charge of that animator’s work or character’s flagging series and attempt to breathe life into it. I continuously wonder why Gene Deitch took over the TOM & JERRY series. The resulting short-lived reincarnation that happened really wasn’t at all about the series as we had come to know it through the eyes and ears of the duo’s original creators, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.

There were reasons why those who even liked the H/B versions of the 1940’s can grouse about how the series did fall into such a formula, a formula that would be somewhat reworked for the PIXIE & DIXIE series for television’s “HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SHOW”--the only difference being that the characters talked. I am so delighted that the theatrical Tom & Jerry did *NOT* talk. This is what made the cartoons interesting to me as a kid. I’d seen some of the earliest Hanna-Barbera talking animal characters *BEFORE* I had ever seen my first TOM & JERRY cartoon; so what a refreshing change to see the actual characters for the first time in a theater!!

The Hanna-Barbera creations were so fantastic to look at and could even be funny at times and, yes, they did occasionally jump out of formula and come up with a handful of titles that were strange as well as funny, like “PART-TIME PAL”, “SLEEPY-TIME TOM”, “BUSY BUDDIES”, “MOUSE IN MANHATTAN” and even “LONESOME MOUSE” in which they *DO* exchange words for a short portion of the title.

Gene Deitch had approached the cartoons with absolutely *NO* regard for the original and, while such an attitude would normally put me off, I think it is a welcome twist. So Deitch’s attitude is one of “anything goes”!

Hey, he began his short series with a title like “THE TOM & JERRY CARTOON KIT”. This is something that I truly wish that Hanna-Barbera themselves had attempted, but then, I guess that the duo wanted to market the characters to kids and, so, could not make any of the cartoons look as if the series was out to promote violent toys manufactured to its intended audience.

But this is why I like the Deitch title. This cartoon alone must have inspired NATIONAL LAMPOON to come up with a truly grotesque and bloody TOM & JERRY parody of their own called “KIT ‘N’ KABOODLE”, in which the two characters attack each other with dangerous implements of destruction and we actually *SEE* the end result as the anatomically correct characters chop each other to bits amid the panels. While the Gene Deitch cartoons are not as violent and contain as much actual blood-letting as the Hanna-Barbera originals, he and his Czechoslovakian animators almost poke fun at two characters being aimed at kids (with all the violence inherent in the original creations) almost as if to make a statement that theatrical cartoons were not just for kids anyway, even if they seem to be aimed directly at that audience!

So Deitch imagined a world where you would sell the most surrealistically violent toys to kids with all the zeal of the cartoons, like the way Disney created theme parks around his cartoon characters—and we all know how questionable that kind of marketing could be at times!

This essay of sorts is not really aimed at any one of the cartoons in Deitch’s series or version of the characters, but instead, this is my cry or open letter to those at Warner Brothers, who now own the series as part of the classic MGM library, to listen to those of us who want to see a disk collecting *ALL* of the titles created during this period with even some background about the Gene Deitch years, if indeed there is anything worth telling about it. I just think the cartoons are strange enough to stand on their own, and I would go so far as to say that I think that Deitch had meant for them to clash loudly with the originals--even at their final stages, before Hanna-Barbera found themselves without a studio and turned to television for a home.

If you look at those earliest TV efforts, you might see animation nearly as bad at times. Of course, though, Hanna-Barbera still had that impeccable sense of timing when it came to a gag; oh, they would miss the timing on occasion due mostly to the limited budget, but the voice actors would pick up the slack there. Deitch just didn’t care and, so, decided to make cartoons that said that animation needs to take some new chances. The era of Deitch came on as abruptly as that of Tex Avery, but he was saying more that animation should not stay in one place. He did what his own budgets would allow and these things are worth taking a longer look at. Sure, I sometimes wish that Deitch had created some one shot cartoons, just as Chuck Jones would create other cartoons outside of the TOM & JERRY series that *HE* had done, so we could see what he was really capable of.

As Thad Komorowski points out, Deitch did do some quality work at the Paul Terry Studios; we know that he is capable of better, but he never saw his time spent at MGM as being some sort of opportunity, unfortunately. Perhaps, if he had taken the reigns and saw in-roads to do with animation as he always may have wanted at a studio that might have allowed for a bigger budget if the cartoons, themselves, had quality to them, the TOM & JERRY series might have been given its due.

Instead, I like their senselessness and most absurd uses of cartoon license ever to be put to film, predating the Sam Singer “COURAGEOUS CAT” series for TV. Worst cartoons ever? Well, not always, but the Gene Deitch TOM & JERRY series is a jarring parody of the accepted norm.



Thad said...

Hi guys-
I don't HATE the Deitch shorts. They're just so badly done all around that they're great to watch as a total mind-f**k. The Jones T&J's I do hate, however.

Rachel Newstead said...

Hi Thad:

Duly noted--I was just kidding you a bit there...=) Nice to see you paying us a visit--I'm flattered. That Deitch's shorts are strange is something we both agree on...I just consider at least some of them to be "strange" in a good way.

To anyone else reading this, my installment of this review is going to be delayed for a short time while I fight off a severe sinus allergy.