Monday, 4 October 2010

Cartoon Cat & Mice through History

Originally featured at Robert Berry's most excellent RETROCRUSH site.
This version is slightly edited.
I strongly recommend this site to all fans of things 50s thru to 90s counter culture.

The fictional depictions of cat vs. mouse is  a long tradition that spans nearly 100 years. From early comic strips to modern cartoons, there’s something elemental and simple about a cat chasing a mouse around. There’s something about the mouse that we can all identify with. Most of us have a cat of some sort in our life that’s trying to get us, be it an overbearing parent, a school bully, or perhaps the government.
Perhaps the earliest illustrated example of this was the wonderful Krazy Kat, which had an often bizarre storyline of the title character having a crush on the Ignatz Mouse. Krazy’s efforts would typically be thwarted with a brick thrown to the head. This is certainly not a relationship formula that was duplicated again, but it may be the earliest fictional account of struggles between these two species. The strip began in 1913 and was published for over 30 straight years.
But it’s really Tom and Jerry that got the ball rolling on the modern day cat hunting the mouse tradition. Created by the immortal William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in 1940, the duo produced more than 100 short features for MGM in the 18 years that followed. These cartoons set the standard for wonderful cartoon violence that’s still imitated to this day.
I didn’t like Tom and Jerry much as a kid, and though they were kind of boring, but looking back on them now, I can appreciate how beautifully animated they were and complex their relationship was when compared to their copies. Tom and Jerry were sometimes best buddies, and sometimes Jerry was in the wrong, so there at least was some variety to their antics.
Herman and Katnip first appeared together in 1950 and though they were an obvious swipe ofTom and Jerry, they were often more crazy and violent. The theme song was pretty fun, as well. I first watched these as a part of The New Casper Cartoon Show in the late ’70s/early ’80s and saw them in other Harvey Comics, but I didn’t realize that they existed as toons before Harvey bought them in the late ’50s (along with Baby Huey).
Tweety Bird and Sylvester were a bird/cat variant on the theme, and though the duo first appeared together in 1947, they had individual cartoon appearances prior to that. Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote debuted a year later taking the tried and true animal formula and running with it.
In 1958, Tom and Jerry’s creators threw an extra mouse into the mix when they launched the shorts of the awkwardly titled Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks as a backup feature for the Huckleberry Hound cartoon. The episodes were largely forgettable save for Mr. Jinks great catchphrase of “I hate you meeses to pieces!”

Of course, no look at great cat and mouse combos can be done without wrapping it up with the Tom and Jerry on speed tribute The Itchy and Scratchy Show, which was a toon within a toon ofThe Simpsons. With outrageous titles like “Flay Me To The Moon”, “Planet of the Aches”, and “Why Do Fools Fall In Lava?”, the shorts are some of the most insane and gleefully violent variations on the formula to have ever been shown.
There’s something elemental and basic about two animals chasing and/or beating the crap out of each other that transcends the ages. I’m sure some form of cat vs. mouse abuse in media will exist in some form for the next 100 years.