“Tom and Jerry,” the classic cat and mouse antagonizers created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera over 70 years ago, return to television Wednesday with two brand new, 11-minute shorts as part of a half-hour premiere on Cartoon Network.
In the spirit of treasuring the multi-generational childhood gem, TheWrap spoke with two key people behind the new Warner Bros. Animation show — creative executive Jay Bastian and story editor Jim Praytor — to talk about the similarities and differences from the classic toon that began making audiences laugh in 1940.
For starters, Tom and Jerry will not be limited to that familiar suburban home setting. The new series, produced in conjunction with Renegade Animation, will introduce three new environments: A laboratory, a witches cabin and even a detective scenario in which the famous “frenemies” will have to put their differences aside to solve mysteries together.
Here’s why they have returned, why they’ll probably never get a live-action movie like “The Smurfs,” and why Tom “isn’t an a–hole,” no matter what he does to Jerry.
Why did you feel it was time to bring “Tom and Jerry” back to television?
JAY: “Tom and Jerry” have never really gone away. Of all the cartoons that we say are evergreen, they are very green. Kids like them, adults like them — it’s one of the only cartoons that you can watch with your dad. Most shows are geared more specifically toward kids, and I think “Tom and Jerry” covers every generation, kind of like Bugs and Daffy do. The classic cartoons, Cartoon Network hasn’t stopped running them since their launch, and they still connect to audiences. Everyone wants to have new stuff to recruit new people into liking them. We also find that when we do a new thing with Bugs Bunny, or something, kids tend to become interested in the classic shorts, as well. So it’s two fold.
How would you describe Tom and Jerry’s relationship in the new version? Has it changed in any way compared to the classic toon?
JIM: I would say absolutely not. It’s exactly the same. The idea here is we play these two characters who are basically frenemies, if you will, and we play that same relationship that we’ve seen throughout the history of the show. The thing that you get from watching the classic episodes, and I hope you get from this, is that there is justice in this world. When one character gets too big for their britches, another character tends to bring them back down to Earth.
I was always curious growing up — what is the end game for Tom? Is he going to catch that mouse and just chomp down on him, or what?
JAY: It’s a very different dynamic then, say, the “Looney Tunes.” In “Looney Tunes,” somebody is trying to kill the other character. Bugs is trying to avoid Elmer because Elmer is genuinely trying to shoot him and eat him. I don’t think Tom is trying to eat Jerry. I think Tom is trying to mess with him like you would your younger brother. They have very much of a sibling rivalry relationship, where they don’t enjoy the other being happy.
JIM: The dreaded note that I would receive from Jay is that he would say, “Tom is not an a–hole. Remember that.” And that’s a great note, because he’s not an a–hole, and I genuinely believe that these two guys love each other. And if they didn’t, it would have ended the series 40 years ago, because it’s just fun when they have that dynamic.
It seems like Spike is trying to keep order in the house in the first episode. What role does he play in the show?
JIM: I love Spike, and the reason I love Spike is that if you look back, not only at what we did, but in the very beginning, Spike is the first single dad. He’s the perfect dad, always taking care of Tyke, and you just didn’t see that at the time, in any media. That’s what I like about him. He’s just this guy that I think is like sheriff of the house. He may not be the brightest sheriff, but he’s the sheriff of the house, and he’s trying to keep order. But it’s impossible with Tom and Jerry around.
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I noticed the dog, Spike, talks in the first episode, “Spike Gets Schooled,” but Tom remains silent. Were there any discussions to give the cat and mouse a voice this time around?
JAY: If they did suddenly talk, they’re not the classic characters. I think there’s a charm that they can’t talk.
JIM: One thing we found is, early on, we tried to honor Tom and Jerry by keeping the dialogue way, way down. But what we found was that it’s super hard to carry a show in 11 minutes. It felt like it would be doable in a much shorter format, the way it used to be done — but in 11 minutes, you need some characters talking. So we found by adding somebody that could kind of be our tour guide in every little story, it helps a lot in terms of the pacing.
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We’ve seen a lot of cartoons adapted as live-action feature films for the big screen over the years, including “The Flintsones” and more recently, “The Smurfs.” Are you surprised that “Tom and Jerry” hasn’t gotten a live-action treatment yet?
JAY: To be honest, I think they work best in just cartoons. I think we’ve done a great job with the direct-to-video movies we make once a year. Even then we’re pairing them up with somebody else that’s doing a lot of talking. “Sherlock Holmes,” “Wizard of Oz,” and other classic stories in which Tom and Jerry can play a role without doing any of the heavy lifting.
The cartoon landscape seems to always be changing and, in my opinion, getting more A.D.D. Things are just happening so much faster on modern shows. Was there any kind of concern that today’s viewers might not appreciate “Tom and Jerry?”
JAY: It is a very different vibe than a lot of other shows that are made by Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network or Disney that are geared toward a certain age. I think the best ones can be enjoyed by all ages. But I think a lot of shows are geared mainly at a target audience.
I think the classic “Tom and Jerry” shorts stand up next to any other cartoon going. I think there is something about those characters and their dynamic that doesn’t really age. It’s great characters and animation.