Reviews: Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume 2
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Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume 2

DVD Review by Dan Porceddu

The release of the two-disc set, The Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection, last year was viewed as a positive step towards an eventual complete release of all of the classic Tom & Jerry cartoons. Despite the set having three of its cartoons being unforgivably censored, a "disc replacement" program was promised; this never materialized. Expectations were, hence, low for the second installment in the DVD series, and I'll say up front that this set exceeded those low expectations. Yes, many people expected the second volume to be censored, and unfortunately this was correct. (More on that in a minute.) However, this set contains about a dozen cartoons that are new, fully restored prints, and they're gorgeous - the restoration quality is on par with the Warner Brothers shorts on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections.

The first main difference between this set and Volume 1 is, of course, the presense of Mammy Two-Shoes, the black maid (and later, house-owner) who took care of the home and constantly threatened to throw Tom out if he couldn't catch "that mouse." The good news is: most of these shorts with Mammy Two-Shoes have their original, unaltered soundtrack. The bad news is: four o of these shorts don't. Redubbed versions with a less stereotypical voice were produced for Cartoon Network in the 1990s, and four of those redubbed versions managed to creep onto this set. ("The Lonesome Mouse," "Polka-Dot Puss," "Saturday Evening Puss," and "Nit-Witty Kitty.") There are, however, no cuts in the video of these shorts (unlike Volume 1), and the soundtrack for every other cartoon is uncut. For almost forty uncut cartoons at a very decent price, I'd say it's a pretty good deal. Like the previous set, it's going under $20 at most online stores (the retail price is $26.98), so you get more cartoons for your money from this set than, say, the Looney Tunes Golden Collections.

At the right, a still from "Saturday Evening Puss," one of the cartoons to have an altered soundtrack on the set. Note the detailed background, which was one of the great things about the Tom & Jerry shorts (until the series became more simplified in the mid-1950s, in order to cut costs).

The majority of the video transfers on this set are the same as you would generally see on Cartoon Network, without the logo. However, the first five and the last five cartoons presented on the set are new, restored and remastered transfers. The last five shorts are also presented in their hard-to-find original CinemaScope format. The versions shown on Cartoon Network, Boomerang, and most home video releases are "pan-and-scan," where nearly 40% of the pictures are cut off in order to fit a normal home TV screen. It is refreshing to see these shorts presented in their original widescreen aspect ratios. The transfers are also anamorphic, for those with widescreen TVs.

The Early Tom & Jerrys: New Restored Prints

Also, see a still from "Dog Trouble", another one of the first ever Tom & Jerry cartoons, presented in a new restored print on the DVD.

1950s Tom & Jerry: Presented in CinemaScope (2.35:1)

Audio commentaries on selected shorts with Earl Kress and Nicole Parker are presented as special features. Earl Kress, an animation writer, provides the trivia and tidbits while Nicole Parker, co-host of MAD TV, seems to ask the questions and make comments as if she were watching the cartoons for the first time. There are several times where Kress is providing information regarding a subject and doesn't get to finish because Parker interrupts. If Kress had provided commentary alone, they would perhaps be less painful to watch. However, in one section for the audio commentary of "Puss Gets the Boot," Parker asks whether or not Mammy Two-Shoes has a name, and Earl Kress says that she had an unofficial studio name, but declines to actually give the name. We can't be sure why he didn't actually say "Mammy Two-Shoes," especially since Whoopi Goldberg named her in the introduction to the disc. In the disc 2 commentary for "Saturday Evening Puss," the subject is discussed further, although the points Kress tries to make keep getting interrupted by Parker. Again, Mammy's name is never said out loud in the commentary. For all of the dumb questions and comments Nicole Parker makes in the commentary, there are also pretty long gaps in each commentary where no spoken words are uttered.

I was not really sure as to why Parker was providing commentary for Tom & Jerry cartoons at all, especially as she insulted the cartoons and also the viewers (she made a joke about how viewers would freeze frame a spot in the short because they had "the time, especially if [they're] watching Tom and Jerry on DVD"). These quips felt out-of-place, especially when contrasted to Kress' more conservative, informative approach to commentating. Kress provided a lot of good information, and seemed to keep his cool while being continuously interrupted.

Trailers for Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 3, Looney Tunes Movie Collection, Tom and Jerry "Fast and the Furry", and Flintstones Season 4 DVDs are included as special features on disc 2.

All menus on the DVD set are in anamorphic widescreen format.

Whoopi Goldberg provides a three-minute introduction to the set (which is repeated on disc 2), attempting to put Mammy Two-Shoes and other racial gags in the shorts into historical context. I found the introduction rather patronizing, but if that's what it takes to get some uncut Mammy Two-Shoes onto a mainstream DVD release, then so be it. It is similar to the love-hate relationship everyone has with the unskippable Leonard Maltin introductions on the Walt Disney Treasures On the Front Lines set; many people recognized the need for the introductions while being rather annoyed at their patronizing and intellectually insulting presentation.

Aside from the audio commentaries, there are three additional special features. One is the "Silent Pencil Sketch" which features the entire "Midnight Snack" cartoon in pencil sketch format. Despite the special feature's official name, the entire soundtrack to the cartoon accompanies the sketches. There are also two short featurettes starring a host of animation experts; on disc 1, there is a featurette entitled "Animation As Actors"; disc 2 hosts "The Comedy Stylings of Tom & Jerry." Screen caps from these three special features (all of which are generally interesting and worth checking out) are available below.

The set came with a collectable cel, as most other Warner Home Video DVD releases of classic cartoons have come with lately. The cel features a (redrawn) scene from the first Tom & Jerry cartoon from 1940, "Puss Gets the Boot." Tom was drawn in his original style in the cel, while the artist mistakenly drew Jerry in his more modern style, which makes the drawing look awkward and poorly done. The back of the card states that it was drawn by storyboard and layout artist Bob Singer.

Unfortunately, this DVD was underhyped and underappreciated upon its release. Released on the same day as two Looney Tunes DVD sets, this collection was overshadowed by more popular DVDs, and didn't get its chance to receive much more attention after Looney Tunes hype died down due to the immediate release two weeks later of several popular Hanna-Barbera cartoons on DVD. It's a shame, though, because despite the altered soundtracks on four cartoons and the oddly paired Earl Kress and Nicole Parker doing audio commentaries together, this is a fairly nice set, and certainly full of some excellent Tom & Jerry cartoons. Indeed, some of my favorite Tom & Jerry shorts ever created, such as "Mucho Mouse," "Part Time Pal," and "Mouse in Manhattan" are featured on this DVD. Given its relatively low price, there's little reason not to get it. Tom & Jerry have stood the test of time, and this DVD, while not giving it the full treatment it deserves, is suitable enough to gain my recommendation.

Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume 2: Additional Screen Caps

Whoopi Goldberg hosts an introduction (which is repeated on disc 2) that attempts to put Mammy Two-Shoes in context.

"The Midnight Snack: Pencil Sketch"

The Featurettes

All cartoon characters are (c) and TM their respective owners. Images (c) Warner Home Video. Textual content (c) 2005 by Dan Porceddu.

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