Monday, May 16, 2005

Half-Tom and Sorta-Jerry

Remember last year when Warner Home Video released a slapdash two-disc collection of Tom and Jerry cartoons that, despite advertising that trumpeted the cartoons as "uncut," included several edited-for-TV versions (edited to remove blackface gags and such)? There was talk of the time of issuing a replacement disc, but WB decided not to do so. Which is annoying, of course, but what's more annoying is their "official" statement on the issue, as conveyed to a moderator on the Home Theater Forum:

The Spotlight Collection contains a variety of original animated shorts produced between 1943-1956, including uncut versions of some early cartoons that were first shown in theaters, along with some versions edited for television. The DVD packaging correctly refers to the cartoon shorts as "remastered"; it does not state that all the shorts are uncut.

This statement evades about a zillion questions, such as, how and why were the cut cartoons included, why did they include the word "uncut" in their advertising, etc. The recourse to semantics (but we didn't say it on the box!) is pretty infuriating.

However, it's pretty clear what happened here. Originally, WB planned to release the complete Tom and Jerry cartoons in chronological order (they even did an advertisement for this, included on some other DVDs). The executives got cold feet about releasing the cartoons with Mammy Two-Shoes and other targets of "controversy," and instead put out a set with 40 "uncontroversial" cartoons, most of which had been released on earlier DVD collections, using the old DVD masters. Except they didn't know that some of those DVD masters were from edited versions of those cartoons. If they'd known that those cartoons originally contained "offensive" material, I presume they'd just have left them off the set entirely.

A thing that has to be understood here is that for the most part WB's animation releases are not handled by the same division that handles the classic-film releases. As film restoration expert Robert Harris put it in another post at the Home Theater Forum:

As I understand the situation, which is most unfortunate for both the studio and the consumer, the animated shorts are handled as a different product line [from WB's classic features], by different technical people and via different means.

These seem to be treated as "ugly stepchildren," the dregs of WB product, and seem to be considered as virtually disposable kiddy fare...

While those responsible for the classic feature library seem to have some input, this does not seem to be inclusive of either final decision making or quality control.

Hopefully, we'll be seeing more involvment from the folks who have made WB the top studio for home video, and less from those who have been behind the problematic releases under discussion.

The Looney Tunes Golden Collection sets are, for the most part, an exception to this rule, because George Feltenstein (Warner Home Video's VP of Classics), fought to get the cartoons treated as they would treat a classic film -- packed with extras, marketed to adults. And even there, the rather random, haphazard selection and arrangement of cartoons (especially on the first set) signifies the lack of care that often goes into putting together WB's animation releases. But at least those cartoons were lucky. The rest of the WB-owned animation library has not been so lucky, and it doesn't bode well for those of us who are hoping for a complete Tex Avery DVD set or even some Animaniacs DVD releases (why would WB release that show when there's no movie or Cartoon Network promotion to tie it into)?

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