By 1943, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera’s Tom and Jerry cartoons had reached their peak, especially in their speed, by their eleventh cartoon The Yankee Doodle Mouse, under its working title “Jerry’s Home Defense.” This cartoon stands apart from the other animated films of World War II. It depicts an allegorical battle without alluding to the Axis leaders, as did many other cartoons of the period. The use of firecrackers as a weapon became a bigger staple in animation with the advent of the war; it remained a go-to solution to eliminate adversaries, especially in Warners cartoons.
The only reference that would date the film was a gag involving ration stamps, which is absent from the currently circulating re-issue version. The missing sequence is indicative from an abrupt fade-out during the sequence where Jerry continuously smacks Tom with a board, amidst a flour-encompassing smokescreen. The details of the missing scene can be seen here (below), and in the scene descriptions below that (scenes 31-33); it also explains there were intended to be three war communiqués from Jerry, instead of two in the re-issue version, released in 1951.
Hanna and Barbera’s unit of animators– consisting of Irv Spence, Ken Muse, Pete Burness, George Gordon and Jack Zander—are assigned large sections throughout the film. Spence dominates the opening scenes of combat, including the “hen grenades,” Jerry popping the projectile champagne corks, and Tom sinking into the washtub with his “ship.” Gordon animates the two throwing each other a lit firecracker before leaving an unaware Tom holding it, and Jerry being in the teakettle with another explosive. The original payoff of that sequence, as it reads in the synopsis below, of Tom appearing like a daisy with a goofy grin, reads much better than the gag in the finished film.
Burness handles Jerry’s spying on Tom with a periscope, and his use of a cheese grater, fashioned as an Army Jeep, to drive underneath Tom, with painful results. (The staggered exposure on Tom’s reactions makes the gag more unpleasant.) Zander animates a crucial point in the battle, as Jerry flies a makeshift bomber aircraft, dropping light bulbs and a banana onto Tom, before he fires a Roman candle at Jerry. Zander’s scenes also include the amusing gag of Jerry using a brassiere as a parachute.Muse animates the sequence of Tom receiving an explosive, which unravels like Russian nesting dolls. Tom’s potent shift in emotions during the scene; he is horrified, backing up against a crate as the fuse runs out, but is perplexed, and flinching, as the firecracker decreases to a tiny black pellet. He lets out a derisive chuckle before the gag literally blows up in his face. (This bit was reprised in Tee For Two, released two years later.) Muse also animates the last few portions of the film, when Tom fires off the Roman candle into Jerry’s mouse hole, up to Tom being rocketed up into the sky. Jerry running from smaller, precarious objects would be reprised in entries such as 1950’s Cue Ball Cat, with pool balls taking similar chase in that film.
The Yankee Doodle Mouse was the first in the series to receive an Academy Award for Best Animated Short, with six subsequent victories to follow. (Their debut, 1940’s Puss Gets the Boot and 1941’s The Night Before Christmas were previously nominated, but didn’t win.) Only the second half of an original nitrate print has surfaced, but the cutting continuity indicated the original title sequence started with the animator credits first, followed by a title card of Tom and Jerry, and the main title/director credits proceeded after. The re-issue version touted the film as an Oscar-winning cartoon, displaying the statue and proclamation “Academy Award Winner of 1943,” in its main title card.
The MGM drafts shared in this column, at the moment, will be from Rudy Ising’s holdings from here on. These typewritten (and non-Ising) documents were lent to Mark Kausler from animation collector Mike Glad. It’s unclear if any more from the collection survives or which source it originated. Only the first and third pages of this draft are present, with action description pages as a substitute for the second and Kausler’s notations of the artists credited for each shot. It would be wonderful if more MGM drafts of this kind surfaced, but it’s great to know these could be shared and enjoyed. Since many of the Hanna-Barbera’s Tom and Jerry cartoons can easily be identified by the work of its animation unit, even verified by authentic documentation, a probable series of columns discussing the cartoons–especially during their 1943-48 zenith—might be used in future installments, but with only guesswork and no documentation.
Hope you all enjoyed the holidays! (Of course, I’m aware that a different Tom and Jerry released in 1950, Safety Second, occurs on the Fourth of July—enjoy that one, as well.)
(Thanks to Mark Kausler, Dave Gerstein and Thad Komorowski for their help.)