Culture Re-View: Tom and Jerry make their first cat and mouse steps in cinema history

Tom and Jerry get their start
Tom and Jerry get their start   -  Copyright  MGM - CBS
By Jonny Walfisz

10 February 1940: ‘Puss Gets the Boot’ and Tom and Jerry their start

In 1937, Italian American artist Joseph Barbera joined the film company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) to work in their cartoon studio in California. Sat beside fellow animator, William Hanna, the two realised they had a lot in common artistically and started to work together in 1939.

The partnership became known as Hanna-Barbera, and over the following 60 years it would be a fruitful partnership, with their own studio producing a selection of the world’s most iconic animated films including ‘The Flintstones’, ‘Scooby-Doo’, ‘The Smurfs’ and ‘The Jetsons’.

But that all came later. In 1939, while still at MGM the duo started work on their first film. It was called ‘Puss Gets the Boot’ and was released on this day in 1940.

DOUGLAS PIZAC/AP2001
William Hanna, right, and Joseph Barbera pose with some of their cartoon characters at their office in Los Angeles in 1988DOUGLAS PIZAC/AP2001

Under 10 minutes in length, the animated cartoon told the story of a cat named Jasper who gets off on playing pranks and terrorising a mouse called Jinx. It’s not long till the tables are turned though and Jinx plays his own prank on Jasper, making the cat responsible for breaking many of his owner’s possessions.

The film was a hit with audiences and was nominated for an Oscar. But MGM weren’t impressed. They immediately told the pair to focus their efforts on other projects, and Jasper and Jinx would never grace the silver screen again.

That is, until a fan letter from a Texan businesswoman demanding when the cat and mouse would return got the studio interested again. A studio competition renamed the pair, and the next adventures of the cat and mouse was sealed, only this time they’d be called Tom and Jerry.

The first ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon was produced in 1941 called ‘The Midnight Snack’. Another success, Hanna and Barbera would continue to work on the series for another 15 years, creating 114 cartoons, 13 of which were nominated for Oscars, with seven winning for Best Short Subject.

As of today, there are 166 ‘Tom and Jerry’ shorts, two feature films, 15 direct-to-video films, musical adaptations, print versions and any number of other spin-offs you can think of. Tom and Jerry are so iconic, it’s hard to imagine a cat and mouse pairing without them popping to mind.