Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re not part of the population that enjoyed Tom and Jerry during its prime. The franchise was created in 1940 by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, and it ran for almost 30 years until more powerful media franchises took over the market. We understand the TV industry worked differently back in the day, but what many people don’t know is that at some point this small and very basic show was up there alongside Disney’s Silly Symphonies and Looney Tunes. Yes, it was that big.
However, it was through reruns and syndication that the show regained its popularity as decades went by. We were no longer in the golden age of American animation, but Tom and Jerry grabbed our attention every time they showed up on the small screen. It didn’t matter if the short (or “episode,” as we also could refer to them) was one we had seen before, we would watch Tom get humiliated, and Jerry get frightened to death. There were some generations that grew up to this tune. There are some that are still following the cat and mouse’s adventures as movies are still being released to this day. Sure, they’re “redacted” to comply with current expectations, but the spirit of the show remains.
Is there a secret to the show still being so popular? There’s no definite answer. Some still criticize the show for the same reasons as before, and they will probably never stop. We, on the other side, still celebrate the lack of limitations that the era of animation was famous for. But that’s not the only reason why the rivalry is still as present as it is today in the minds of adults that nostalgically look back at mornings when cartoons were simply different.
A Rivalry in the Shape of Anything Goes
We woke up every morning to find a couple of animals trying to exterminate each other. On one hand, we had Tom, a cat whose peace was constantly disturbed by the presence of a small mouse who defied the laws of physics and was able to stand against him with all his might and tools he could get his hands on. Was Tom a victim? Probably.
And then we had Jerry, a mouse whose only goal was to stay inside the hole the house provided. His home looked insanely cozy. His sleep was always interrupted by the shenanigans of Tom wanting to get rid of him. The shorts were based on this premise and this premise alone. Yeah, there were other players in the picture, but in the heart of the show, all that remained was a rivalry that could only be compared to that of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.
There’s no other way to put it. We had fun watching them come up with ways to hurt each other. That creativity went to the extreme when considering the physics of animation and whatever restriction the rating system used back in the day. We’re talking weapons like axes, shotguns, revolvers, etc. Or dynamite, powder, and fire. Everything was good. Even the anger in the dog that sometimes participated in the fight was good.
Every short was a collection of ways you could take down your worst enemy. To say the violence was appealing is to dig into dangerous territory, but it’s the main reason why we were stuck to the TV. When Tom hacked into tiny little bits, we laughed hysterically. Needless to say, such a show wouldn’t exist today. Today’s version of Tom and Jerry doesn’t even attempt to do show this kind of violence.
Beyond that, there was a cleverness to the way Tom and Jerry got away with everything. They even had the capacity to be friends and conspire to fight a common enemy. When this happened, it was like magic flooding the screen as the two very creative animals went to great lengths to achieve their mission. Yes, we loved their rivalry, but their chemistry seems to be the reason why the franchise still has agency.
Can Tom and Jerry’s Popularity Save it From Everything?
Not to say there are no risks. The show may be popular, and it can continue to resonate among fans and newcomers, but this doesn’t mean it can’t be problematic. A very racist depiction of humans and some animals will be a stain on the show that will never be erased. The violence is controversial and perhaps, some of the content will seem like too much for current audiences. But is it worth going as far as to deny its existence? That’s a point for another conversation. One that will probably be started at some point
In the meanwhile, there are only 166 shorts and around 15 feature films for you to enjoy the adventures of Tom and Jerry. More than enough to see why it’s so popular when its premise is so simple. The chaos, the violence, the secondary characters, and Tom’s resilience. Those are the factors that still drive us to stop whenever we’re channel surfing.
Tom and Jerry was part of pop culture some decades ago. But today, it’s embedded in our minds as a media concept that was part of our process of growing up. It’s more present than you imagine. Up to the point where people still name their cat Tom and their mouse… well, we reckon that if mouses start being hailed as pets, a few of them would be named Jerry, in tribute to Tom’s greatest enemy and friend at the same time.