Dr. Toon: Revisiting Barbera's Swan Song
It is unusual for these veterans to revisit old turf. They typically go on to create new characters and series or turn the reins over to new blood. Joseph Barbera did both. After he was released by MGM his multi-Academy Award champs Tom and Jerry were handed over to Gene Deitch and Chuck Jones, respectively. Joe Barbera never really looked back, creating an animated television cartoon empire with Bill Hanna. He did serve as executive producer on several mediocre television series featuring the cat and mouse, but for Barbera, the book basically closed in 1958 after the theatrical short Tot Watchers. Tom and Jerry went on through several permutations and dozens of directors, but until 2005 Joe Barbera was not among them.
In that year Joseph Barbera returned to the creative forefront for one of the last times in his life; he would pass away in 2006. Fittingly, his final short would feature Tom and Jerry. The KarateGuard, a special short that was actually released under the Warner Bros. studio, gave us a rare glimpse of what a famed director might do after a 40-year hiatus from his iconic characters. For this reason alone, The KarateGuard is a cartoon worth study.
Barbera did not play it alone. Bill Hanna died in 2001 but Barbera was assisted by Spike Brandt, late of Duck Dodgers. Barbera no longer had the experienced and brilliant animation team responsible for T&J's finest cartoons; Irv Spence, Ray Patterson, and Ken Muse had all gone to that Great Inkwell in the Sky by 2005. Brandt, Tony Cervone, and Darlie Brewster were now on board, assisted by veteran animator Wendy Perdue. All three do a very fine job approximating the classic characters in full animation. Since Barbera worked on the storyboard (with HB legend Iwao Takamoto) and co-directed, however, it is mostly his effort that will command our attention for the purpose of this column.
Barbera takes over again at 1:26 when Jerry does a fear-filled take reminiscent of the time that Tex Avery's influence was being felt at MGM. Jerry's eyes bug out and his ears detach from his skull. Even more reminiscent of the classic Barbera style is Tom's exaggerated mocking of Jerry's karate moves, complete with derisive laughter. (1:29-1:35).