December 23, 2015 posted by

MGM’s “The Night Before Christmas” (1941) With Tom & Jerry

The_Night_Before_Xmas_Tom_and_Jerry_PosterHere’s an early Tom and Jerry – The Night Before Christmas. It might be two days before Christmas now, but it’s still close!

The draft for this cartoon indicates the original working title was “Not Even a Mouse.” The document was approved on July 9, 1941 (not shown here). The Night Before Christmas was the third Tom and Jerry cartoon from directors Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. Being an early entry, the Disney influence is unmistakable, especially in its picturesque Christmas surroundings. The lighting effects in scene 44 (animated by George Gordon), as Tom thaws out Jerry, seem atypical for the series, but fit quite well with the shot. Such atmospheric flourishes were the norm for most of MGM’s output during the early ‘40s.

Naturally, the chases between the two hadn’t developed their famous speed and intensity at this point in the series. Scene 12, of Tom pursuing Jerry, is more deliberate as he gains traction on the floor, though its animation accurately invokes realistic feline movement. Likewise for Jerry’s punches inflicted on Tom with the boxing glove (scene 21), which seem harmful as a pillow fight on-screen. There is a touch of sharp comic timing in Night Before Christmas. In scene 20, when Jerry hits a model of a train tunnel, there is a moving hold from the impact before he lands. This would be carried over in subsequent entries.

Hanna and Barbera excelled in acting and characterization in the Tom and Jerry series – influenced by the pantomime of Charlie Chaplin’s films, as were many other animators. The Night Before Christmas shifts in tone after Tom locks Jerry outside in the snow; at first, the content Tom rests on a soft pillow by the fireplace, but gradually becomes concerned and remorseful for the little mouse. Tom’s twinge of guilt, as he shivers at the thought of leaving Jerry out in the bitter cold, is a brilliant touch, as animated by Irv Spence. Gags aren’t as bountiful during this latter half, but Spence also animates Tom pulling Jerry out of a snow mound to reveal a snow-covered Jerry as a “Good Humor” ice-cream bar before shaking him off.

mgmtt06Scenes such as the introductory scenes of Jerry reflected onto a spherical ornament like a fun-house mirror, the mistletoe sequence (including Tom’s refusal and reaction to kissing Jerry) and the final scenes where Tom and Jerry make peace with each other display some superb character animation. These scenes were all animated by Jack Zander.

Zander started his animation career in brief stints with Romer Grey, Ted Esbaugh and Harman-Ising at Warners. Zander moved to the East Coast after he heard that former Disney director Burt Gillett needed experienced animators at Van Beuren. Shortly after that studio folded, Paul Terry offered Zander a job. In mid-1937, Zander received a call from production manager Carmen Maxwell, inviting him to MGM’s animation department. He left Terry’s studio, and brought Joe Barbera, among his other fellow artists, along with him (George Gordon arrived later.) Incidentally, Zander directed only one Terrytoon, 1937’s The Mechanical Cow with Farmer Al Falfa.

mgmtt05Zander left MGM, and theatrical animation altogether, in the early ‘40s, when he served in the Army Signal Corps on animated training films. He went into commercial animation after the war as the head of Willard Pictures, where he produced an animated commercial for Chiclets. He became director of Transfilm Inc.’s animation department in 1948, working for clients such as Gulf Oil, Camel, and Shell Oil. In 1954, he formed Pelican Pictures, and as an early president of the Screen Cartoonists Guild (in 1938), employed several animators previously blacklisted from Hollywood.

In the early ‘70s, he started Zander’s Animation Parlour in New York, creating television commercials for Hamm’s Beer, Rolaids, Alka-Seltzer, Crest, Colgate, Raid, Vlasic, Green Giant and more. Among his artists were Tissa David, Dan Haskett, Mark Mayerson, Eric Goldberg, Tom Sito, Emery Hawkins, Nancy Beiman, and Dean Yeagle. Zander also produced a television special, The Gnomes, which aired in 1980. (Interestingly, the special has become a cult favorite in Sweden.) By 1984, Zander animated shorts with a character named Tippi Turtle for Saturday Night Live, before retiring two years later. He passed away in 2007 at the age of 99.

The Night Before Christmas was released on December 6, 1941 – the day before the Imperial Japanese Navy initiated their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. This cartoon’s message of peace during Christmas might’ve been the last semblance of goodwill amongst American audiences before the country entered World War II. The cartoon was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Disney’s Lend a Paw.

Merry Christmas to you all, and enjoy this breakdown video. (Wait until you see next week’s installment. It’s gonna be a great one…)



(Thanks to Mark Kausler and Frank Young for their help.)


  • This is one of the only T & J cartoons that exists with its original credits & end title. Really nice to see on the print!

  • Another one of my favorite Christmas cartoons! Love the scene where Jerry made Tom kiss him under the mistletoe and Tom enjoyed it so much that he wanted a second kiss and resulted in Jerry kicking Tom in the behind causing Tom to screech like a real cat! As well as the scene where after Tom booted Jerry out of the house in a driving blizzard you can hear the choir harmonizing Silent Night and signing a lyric from It Came Upon a Midnight Clear as Tom was being haunted by his actions.

  • It’s worth noting Joe Barbera’s boyhood (and lifelong) idol was Charlie Chaplin. There’s a lot of Chaplin in Jerry’s personality.

  • For the record, the opening narration was reverently intoned by Frank Graham in his first of many MGM cartoons, and the Metro music department sheets list a mixed chorus consisting of two leading session groups, Ken Darby’s Kings Men quartet and the girls trio The Debutantes, led by Dorothy Compton (one of the three little pigs for Disney eight years earlier….it was a pretty small industry back then).

  • You pointed out all the reasons why I liked this cartoon…the character animation is absolutely stunning. It is the oldest of the TOM AND JERRY series to show up on the Saturday morning TOM AND JERRY SHOW that aired theatrical MGM cartoons, and I was so thrilled to have recorded the soundtrack onto reel-to-reel tape back in the day. I couldn’t stop playing it, and I hoped that more of the earliest T&J shorts would have shown up. I think the emotional “punch” (no pun intended) works in this cartoon partially because the cat and mouse resemble more a cat and mouse than anthropomorphic cat and mouse like later shorts. Tom was still very much a cat in most of his poses, and of course, ya gotta love that Scott Bradley score. Just take note of the ways the sound effects sometimes employ the musical instruments.

  • The melody from “Herkimer, the Homely Doll” (a kids’ record by Sterling Holloway, played on Captain Kangaroo a lot) keeps popping up.

  • Mark Kausler posted a breakdown of this cartoon before, and Mark Mayerson made a mosaic based on the information ( Good to see the original draft, though. 🙂 Back then, I had only seen one MGM “draft”, for “The Yankee Doodle Mouse”, which didn’t include the names of the animators, and so I wasn’t sure if Mark Kausler got the names from a draft or figured them out himself.

  • The production number indicates that this wasn’t *quite* as early in the series as the release date suggests. “Dog Trouble”, “Fraidy Cat” and “Puss ‘N’ Toots” all have earlier production numbers.

  • tom and jerry is best cartoons of the you know that when its make it and where i want work on tom and jerry check my work plz

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