The Education of Intern Sara: Lessons Learned from Tom and Jerry [part one]
I’ve had many favorite cartoons over the years, He-man, Jem, and the one with that little boy Simon who had a piece of chalk (if you’re old enough you’ll know who I’m talking about). All fantastic, truly, but there’s one show that I’ve always adored and have never stopped watching and that show is “Tom and Jerry.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there’s something to be said for a tiny little mouse that has been outwitting a cat nearly twenty times his size for seventy-four years. Seventy-four years!!! What is it about this duo that makes them so compelling. The thing that really blows my mind is that neither Tom nor Jerry speak (okay, I remember a voice coming out of Tom once or twice, it always surprises and me and always kinda bums me out). You do hear dialogue from b-characters like Spike the Dog, (and another dog called Butch who looks suspiciously like Spike), faceless humans, little ducky, and that cute little baby mouse but don’t ever speak and they are the ones telling the story.
So here’s the thing, this show has been on in many iterations for over seven decades, with little to no dialogue, relying on a visual story, and often some pretty great music. As a TV producer (what I do in my other life) I’m always in awe of fellow producers, writers and directors who create such iconic characters and keep them fresh generation after generation. It’s a feather I would love to have in my cap so I’ve decided that “Tom and Jerry” is worthy of a good study. I’ve also decided that whatever I learn MUST be useful to me not only as a producer, but also as a writer. After all, dialogue or no dialogue, someone has been writing these episodes for a very long time. I’m on the hunt for a connection between writing a script for a non-verbal animated television show and writing a book. Hopefully it won’t be a fool’s errand.
So and exciting thing happened a couple of weeks ago. I was watching my daily dose of the mouse and cat duo (see how I did that, I noted the mouse first, he’s where it’s at) and I saw what was possibly the coolest episode of “Tom and Jerry.” Even better, it looked like a really old episode that I had never seen before. I can’t even remember the last time that that happened. I feel like I’d seen all the classics. At any rate, the universe smiled upon me and gifted me an airing of an episode called, “The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit”
It starts with a narrator saying,
“Anyone can now enter the lucrative field of animated cartoons with the new Tom and Jerry cartoon kit.”
Oh my God! I’m dying. I sooooo want this kit! It’s a cartoon box (naturally) filled with the following;
ó A cat aka Tom
ó A mouse aka Jerry
ó A cartoon slice of watermelon (why does cartoon food always look like it tastes so damn good?)
ó Assorted tools/weapons (a hammer, some dynamite…)
ó A tea cup and saucer filled with steaming hot tea, along with a packet of sugar and a spoon for stirring (again, why does cartoon food always look like so damn good?
ó And what looks like a pack of cigarettes (can you imagine adding that to a cartoon nowadays? Sheesh!)
The narrator continues,
“This kit contains everything needed for quiet, sophisticated humor. One mean, stupid, cat, one sweet, lovable, mouse, and assorted deadly weapons. The coffee and cigarettes are for the cartoonists. Just follow the simple instructions.”
I’m dying. The secrets to their success are about to be revealed. Ready for it?
The narrator continues once more,
“Just follow the simple instructions. First put the sweet, lovable, mouse into a simple situation expressing a natural human need, such as eating a piece of watermelon contained in our kit.”
Oh, that’s what the watermelon is for. Gotcha.
“The result may not make sense but it will last long enough to make you comfortable before the feature begins.”
Thank you very much Mr. Narrator, I will take over from here…
Jerry eats said watermelon and spits the seeds out machine gun style hitting Tom in the head with every last one (remember watermelon seeds, you don’t really see those much anymore do you, I digress).
Tom then goes after Jerry with the hammer supplied in the kit, but instead of hitting him with the hammer, he flicks him in the butt with his finger (weird, I know) and this causes Jerry to accidentally swallow a mouth full of seeds.
Soon he realizes his body is making maracas type sounds and he starts dancing to generate said sounds to accompanying music. He dances his way into a canister being held by Tom who decides it his turn to do a short dance sequence. When his homemade maracas stops working, he opens it up to see what’ happening and Jerry sprays him with the seeds that were just in his belly (gross).
Next there’s a chase which leads Jerry to a book called, “Judo For Mice” which he speed-reads. There’s some cat-and-mouse judo action, followed by a short scene where Tom goes to a boxing gym, and trains to be a great boxer, and then there’s some cat-and-mouse Judo/Boxing action. Actually, that never really happens, Tom showboats all his fancy boxing moves and wears himself out before he ever hits Jerry.
Next Tom pulls a knife on Jerry but he is unsuccessful. Finally he decides to fight fire with fire and goes to Judo school and graduates with degree in hand.
Now it’s on!
Jerry demonstrates his Judo skills by breaking a wooden board with his hand.
Tom takes it to the next level and breaks a brick with his hand.
Next, Jerry breaks a cement block with his hand.
Finally, Tom tries to outdo Jerry by attempting to break a massive piece of marble in two with his hand.
Sadly this never happens because the floor caves in from the weight of it all.
The narrator returns and tells us,
“Our next film will be for the kiddies and will demonstrate a new poison gas. Thank you and good night.”
The audience gets closure when Jerry finds the lid of the cartoon kit box and slaps it on a defeated and nearly passed out Tom.
HILARIOUS! Not to mention wildly inappropriate for children. Maybe it’s better that I don’t remember seeing this episode as a kid. At any rate, we have a few tips here about what it takes to set up a great story and how to keep the audience entertained but I’ve decided that this requires further study. For one thing, paying attention to an episode to break it down kinda takes the joy out of it but if it gets me the answers I’m looking for, the sacrifice will be worth it. I’ll also say that I realize that reading a play-by-play transcript of a cartoon show was probably equally, if not more painful to you my reader and for that I apologize. That being said, I still believe that there’s something to be learned here. For one thing, if I had intended to write this episode as a book, instead of just giving you a play-by-play of the action, I would have had to think A LOT more about what was happening between these characters and describe it much more differently. I would have to SHOW you what they were doing so you could conjure the images in your mind instead of just telling you what happened. I would also have to give you a sense of who they are, and why they are there together. I took the liberty of assuming that you know who Tom is, what he looks like, how he feels about Jerry and so on.
If there’s a connection to be made between a television script for a no-dialogue program and a book that relies entirely on words to tell a story, I will find it. I don’t have all of the answers right now, but I’m taking the journey, and I’ll send you postcards along the way. Oh, and I also promise to spare you the play-by-play on any more episodes.
Fun Facts About this Episode
The age rating on this cartoon according to my satellite provider is “5” and notes that it may be “iffy for 5+”
This episode had a copyright date of MCMLXII (which I believe is 1962)