The Tom & Jerry Golden Collection Volume 1 on Blu-ray is a mixed bag. The good news is that the first 37 of the cartoon short films created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera featuring Tom and Jerry are finally presented uncensored and in chronological order in high definition. The bad news is that the video quality of the films varies dramatically, sometimes even within the same film. This should not be surprising since most of the original nitrate negatives for the Tom & Jerry cartoons were destroyed in the George Eastman House fire of 1978. All but one of the shorts included in this collection were transferred to high definition from color reversal internegatives(CRI) which have limitations in present technology. Still, we are fortunate that these early Tom and Jerry cartoons survive at all, and this collection definitely presents a definite step up in quality and presentation from the Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collections previously released on DVD. TOM & JERRY Golden Collection Volume 1 BLU-RAY Studio: Warner Brothers Year: 1940-1948 Rated: Not Rated Film Length: 284 minutes Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Audio: English Dolby Digital 1.0, French Dolby Digital 1.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish Release Date: October 25, 2011 The Films Tom & Jerry began their cinematic career in an MGM cartoon originally intended as a one-shot, Puss Gets The Boot, which was produced in 1939 and premiered theatrically on February 10, 1940. Cartoons featuring a cat and mouse were fairly common even before 1940 and no one expected that Puss Gets The Boot would become popular with exhibitors and even be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoon of 1940. Tom was originally named "Jasper" and Jerry was originally unnamed, although Joe Barbera said later that his original name was "Jinx." Tom was still called "Jasper" during production of the follow-up cartoon, The Midnight Snack, but was named Tom in the final version. (The original pencil test for The Midnight Snack is included as a special feature in this collection and confirms that Tom was still called "Jasper" during production.) William Hanna and Joe Barbera began their collaboration at the MGM Cartoon Studio in 1937. Hanna and Barbera created 114 Tom & Jerry cartoons at MGM from 1940 to 1957. (Their final Tom & Jerry short, Tot Watchers, was unreleased until 1958.) The Tom & Jerry film shorts created by Hanna and Barbera won 7 Academy Awards for Best Short Subject: Cartoon and received 13 separate nominations for that award. Hanna and Barbera created Hanna-Barbera Studios in 1957 after the MGM Cartoon Studio was shut down that same year. Hanna-Barbera went on to be the most successful TV animation studio and created a multitude of cartoon classics, including Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Top Cat, Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, Scooby Doo, and many more. Tom & Jerry have been revived and recreated many times over the years, beginning with new series of theatrical short created in the 1960s by Gene Deitch and, later, Chuck Jones. Hanna-Barbera Studios teamed them up with the Great Grape Ape and Mumbly for a Saturday morning cartoon series in the mid-1970s, and new Tom & Jerry cartoons continue to be created today, as they have been for every generation for the last 70 years. The Tom & Jerry cartoon shorts from the 1940s included in this set continue to be respected and appreciated today as the high point for the cat and mouse team. The cartoon shorts on Disc 1 of this 2-disc collection are as follows: Puss Gets The Boot(7:13) The Midnight Snack(9:13) The Night Before Christmas(9:03) Fraidy Cat(8:15) Dog Trouble(7:58) Puss N’ Toots(7:29) The Bowling Alley-Cat(8:00) Fine-Feathered Friend(7:53) Sufferin’ Cats!(7:56) The Lonesome Mouse(8:08) The Yankee Doodle Mouse(7:33) Baby Puss(8:00) The Zoot Cat(7:08) The Million Dollar Cat(7:13) The Bodyguard(7:26) Puttin’ On The Dog(7:05) Mouse Trouble(7:28) The Mouse Comes To Dinner(7:26) Mouse In Manhattan(8:14) Tee For Two(7:06) The cartoon shorts on Disc 2 are as follows: Flirty Birdy(7:22) Quiet Please!(7:40) Springtime For Thomas(7:46) The Milky Waif(7:28) Trap Happy(7:13) Solid Serenade(7:27) Cat Fishin’(7:46) Part Time Pal(7:58) The Cat Concerto(7:32) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse(7:28) Salt Water Tabby(7:22) A Mouse In The House(7:57) The Invisible Mouse(7:23) Kitty Foiled(7:27) The Truce Hurts(8:02) Old Rockin’ Chair Tom(7:36) Professor Tom(7:37) The first few Tom & Jerry cartoons have the producers still finding their way with the characters and the formula. The defection of Tex Avery to the MGM unit from Termite Terrace at Warner Bros. seems to have had a contagious effect on Hanna and Barbera since their shorts from 1942 and later seem to be faster paced and include more outlandish gags in the Avery style. Although the later Tom & Jerry shorts have their own charm and style, some of the all-time best shorts in this series are included in this collection. It is very nice to see these cartoons uncensored (finally!) and in chronological order. The censorship utilized on the Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collections probably offended more people than would have been offended had the shorts been released in their original form. The original dialogue for Mammy Two Shoes appears to be entirely intact, and the previously censored gags appear to be complete and uncensored in this collection. It bears mentioning that a complete collection of animated shorts demands to be viewed in chronological order. The character designs, animation styles, and even character personalities evolved over time, and that evolution can only be seen and appreciated in chronological order. (It is unfortunate that the studio continues to release, and re-release, its Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies in no particular chronological order at all. May the Tom & Jerry Golden Collection herald a change to that infuriating release model.) Video The Tom & Jerry Golden Collection Volume 1 includes the first 37 shorts in this series for the first time on Blu-Ray in 1080p in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The original Academy aspect ratio for these films was originally 1.37:1. The new 1080p high definition transfers of these cartoons are very good, if somewhat inconsistent. Most of the original nitrate negatives for the Tom & Jerry cartoons were destroyed in the George Eastman House fire of 1978. Original nitrate negatives for 14 of the Tom & Jerry cartoons created from 1940 to 1957 have since been located safe and sound at the UCLA Film Archive in Los Angeles. One of these 14 shorts is Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Mouse(1947) which is included in this collection. The video presentation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse is virtually free of film grain with vibrant colors and no apparent compression artifacts. If the excellent condition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse is the gold standard, then most of the remaining shorts fall well short of this standard. Admittedly, the remainder of the cartoons in this set were transferred to high definition from color reversal internegatives(CRI) which have limitations in present technology. The first 2 shorts, Puss Gets The Boot and The Midnight Snack appear to my eye to be very close to the same high standard of video quality as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse, taking into account the different animation styles and color schemes of those shorts created so many years earlier. Film grain is present but minimal, colors are vibrant, and there are no compression artifacts apparent. After that, the shorts on disc 1 show a change in video quality in which the shorts show an abundance of film grain and occasional digital noise. (The later shorts on Disc 2 tend to be much more consistent and of higher quality.) As one example, the last 10 seconds of Sufferin’ Cats goes from being somewhat grainy in appearance to excessive grain until the fade to black which demonstrates the same pattern of noise in solid black, which suggests it is not really film grain at all so much as an extreme readjustment (or lack of adjustment) of digital tinkering. Digital tools can be very helpful when used properly but stand out like a sore thumb when used inconsistently. Since most of the original nitrate negatives for these cartoons have been long since destroyed, we cannot reasonably expect to have these shorts appear in pristine condition. Many of the shorts in this collection have reissue titles rather than the original titles. Although original title cards are generally preferable over reissues, the fact is that the originals may no longer exist. The shorts with reissue title cards actually tend to have better picture quality than those with original titles in this collection. I have struggled with evaluating the video quality of these discs because I want to give this collection the highest possible recommendation but I cannot. I can say that more than 90% of the video in this collection is excellent. The excessive film grain does not bother me so much even though less is more when it comes to animation on film. The occasional appearance of a hair at the edge of the aperture appearing on screen does not trouble me since I know it must probably have always been there on film. The dirt and debris that was so prevalent on the cartoons in the Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collections on DVD have been cleaned up on Blu-ray so that the remaining appearances of scratches and blemishes are few and far between. My disappointment with the video quality lies with the apparently inconsistent use of digital tools. I will give a specific example in the hope that others will report not seeing this defect and I can conclude that I merely have a defective disc. On Solid Serenade on disc 2, the appearance of Spike at approximately the 0:50 mark has the black definition lines on Spike’s form appearing in alternating pixels of black and white which gives the appearance of digital noise, and that the white dots were intended to be filled in. This goes on for a number of seconds and is not merely nitpicking on one frame of footage. It may be that this lack of definition of Spike’s form appeared on the original negative, however, the alternation of black and white dots has a digital appearance, not a film-like appearance. I have observed similar issues on several other shorts in this collection. I will emphasize that the defects are very short in duration in a 2 disc set nearly 5 hours in length. I do believe, however, that consumers in 2011 have come to expect better and more consistent use of digital enhancement, which is not always a bad thing, than is employed in this set. Audio The Dolby Digital Mono tracks are everything one could hope for on cartoon shorts from the 1940s. This may not be reference quality audio for 2011 but I have no criticism of the audio. There is none of the hiss, popping, or fluctuation in audio level that might reasonably be expected even in the original recordings. The audio is excellent for what it is: an accurate reproduction of 1940s theatrical without any of the possible flaws, which makes it probably much better than what you might have heard while watching these shorts in a theater in the 1940s. Special Features The studio has ported over the special features and commentaries prepared for the Spotlight Collections on DVD, in addition to a new feature created specially for this release. The special features are in 480p, with one exception as noted, and include all of the following: Vaudeville, Slapstick and Tom and Jerry (22:47): This newly created featurette is in 1080p and includes participation from Jerry Beck and others. How Bill and Joe Met Tom and Jerry (27:08): This featurette covers the fortunate union of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera at the MGM Cartoon Studio. The Comedy Styling of Tom and Jerry (5:30): Features discussion by animator Mark Kausler and MAD TV alums Nicole Parker and Ike Barinholtz. The Midnight Snack Pencil Test (9:01): This plays back the original pencil test in real time with audio from the completed cartoon. Tom is still referred to as "Jasper" on the pencil test. "Worry Song" from Anchors Aweigh (8:11): This is a clip from the 1945 feature film in which Jerry performs a dance with Gene Kelly. The cartoon shorts with commentaries are as follows: Puss Gets The Boot: One commentary with animator Mark Kausler and a second commentary with comedienne Nicole Parker and historian Earl Kress. The Night Before Christmas: One commentary with author Michael Mallory and a second commentary with comedienne Nicole Parker and historian Earl Kress. The Yankee Doodle Mouse: Commentary with author Michael Mallory. The Zoot Cat: Commentary with author Jerry Beck. Mouse Trouble: Commentary with author Michael Mallory Quiet Please!: Commentary with animator Mark Kausler. The Cat Concerto: Commentary with animator Eric Goldberg. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse: One commentary with author Michael Mallory and a second commentary with comedienne Nicole Parker and historian Earl Kress. Kitty Foiled: Commentary with author Jerry Beck. Also included is an attractive illustrated booklet that serves as an index with a list of the shorts and special features on each disc. The packaging deserves honorable mention because it actually features character models of Tom and Jerry consistent with their appearance in the 1940s; the studio has too often used generic modern style artwork on past releases that fails to reflect the original character designs. (For example, The Flintstones, Jetsons, and Jonny Quest season sets that had bland and unattractive modern designs on the packaging. The Looney Tunes Golden Collections also had unattractive modern-style artwork.) The cover artwork here is appropriate to its era and pleasing to the eye. Conclusion The fact that these cartoons are presented uncensored and in chronological order for the first time is reason enough to pick up The Tom & Jerry Golden Collection Volume 1. The video presentation is not perfect but is still a quantum leap in quality over the Spotlight Collections, which suffered from an abundance of dirt and blemishes as well as censored audio replacing Lillian Rudolph’s original performance. I still believe that digital enhancement could have been applied more adroitly and consistently but those defects are minimal, and these shorts have never looked better on home video. The audio is as good as or better than theater audiences enjoyed in the 1940s, and the special features offer plenty of context from behind the scenes. The Tom & Jerry Golden Collection Volume 1 on Blu-ray is recommended to casual fans and cartoon aficianados alike, in spite of its video shortcomings.