Dr. Toon: Revisiting Barbera's Swan Song
There are two possibilities for the critic/analyst to consider: First, Barbera purposely replayed some of his favorite scenes for nostalgia's sake and did not care much whether he taught an old cat and mouse new tricks. The film's title shot plainly states the film is named The KarateGuard, implying a single word like "Bodyguard." Might it be that Barbera was simply presenting a remake of his 1944 film with a 2005 twist?
The other possibility is a bit dampening to fans: Joseph Barbera simply could not adapt to cartoons or audiences as they existed in 2005. It was far more comfortable and much easier to simply go back to a well-established bag of tricks for the grand finale. After all, at age 94 it was probably no easy feat to storyboard and direct much of anything, much less a cartoon appealing to the wired generation.
After reviewing the short dozens of times, I come down in favor of the former possibility. Age was no impediment to Barbera; had it been, it's unlikely he would even have taken oversight and creative control of the project in the first place. There are those to whom retirement holds no appeal, and Joe Barbera proved to be one of them. In fact, The KarateGuard was not even Barbera's final turn with T&J. He served duty on Tom and Jerry: a Nutcracker Tale, which appeared as a direct-to-video release in 2007. It is difficult to accept that Barbera never adapted to the changing world of cartoons; he was the executive producer for dozens of shorts and series that premiered under the Cartoon Network aegis.
Joseph Roland Barbera made the last Tom and Jerry short as a nostalgic piece, one that replayed some favorite scenes and put the characters through their well-developed paces. There is enough modern styling by Brandt, Cervone, and Brewster to make us believe that a 1944 cartoon could be made in 2005 (Brandt would receive an Annie nomination for Best Character Animation). While Michael Giacchio is less theatrical than Scott Bradley, the score is fine indeed. In the final analysis, Barbera had earned the right to direct any sort of cartoon he wished, even if it meant borrowing from his own past ideas for the fun of it. While I found myself wishing he had pushed the envelope at times, The KarateGuard leaves little to be disappointed about. If this film has a place in the Tom and Jerry pantheon, it should most probably be filed after the 1952 short The Dog House, one of the funniest imbroglios featuring Tom, Jerry and Spike. Never mind the chronology; Joseph Barbera wouldn't have.
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.