In the 1960’s the age of the animated theatrical short subjects was near its end. The classic shorts were becoming a staple of children’s television, but most studios were not producing new theatrical shorts. Over at MGM, however, they were continuing to produce films starring their two biggest cartoon stars…Tom and Jerry. In 1963 the cat and mouse duo were turned over to famed animation director Chuck Jones, after his exit from Warner Brothers. A series of 34 shorts were produced over the next five years, including our short today, 1965’s Bad Day at Cat Rock.
The action takes place at a construction site where, big surprise here, Tom the cat is chasing Jerry the mouse. I know, I know, I should’ve said spoiler alert there. I guess I figured since that had been the major premise of most Tom and Jerry shorts for about 25 years at this point I could do without it. The whole thing starts out with a literal bang when Tom stumbles into a storage area filled with TNT and lights a match so he can see. This ends up sending him smashing into a girder. It also sends Jerry flying. When he grabs onto Tom’s tail he ends up pulling the cat’s fur off and using it as a parachute.
More hijinks ensue as Jerry hides inside a glove and uses it to give a right hook to Tom. The later portion of the film deals with Tom’s attempts to reach Jerry, who is sitting on a high beam, using a girder situated like a see-saw and a rock to launch him into the air. Of course, Tom’s efforts have painful results as he is crushed by the large boulders multiple times.
Chuck Jones was a brilliant animation director who created many of the most iconic animated shorts of all time. If I’m going to be completely honest, though, I wouldn’t consider his time with Tom and Jerry to be one of the strongest points in his career. The films have their share of funny moments and artistic skill, but they are significantly lacking in some of the things that made his efforts with the Looney Tunes characters so brilliant. Still, the series does have its strengths.
The artwork in this short, especially the backgrounds, is full of bright colors and unique designs. There is also a lot of creativity put into the camera angles that shows Jones and his crew were still stretching the art of animation in certain ways. The design of Tom and Jerry are quite a bit different in the Jones cartoons than they were in the Hanna-Barbera era. They are more angular here; a step down from their classic design, in my opinion. However, Jones knows how to make good use of the characters’ actions and facial expressions. Though, he does resort to the raised eyebrow and wide grin expression, a la How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a bit too much.
The final minutes of the short are really the strongest moments of the film. The sequence with Tom trying to launch himself with a see-saw feels very much like what you would expect to see in one of Jones’ Road Runner shorts. In fact, some claim this short is somewhat of a remake of Jones’ To Beep or Not to Beep, which features a similar sequence where the coyote struggles with a catapult. The sequence here doesn’t quite have the energy that we would see in a Road Runner film, but it does provide several laughs.
Though Jones’ Tom and Jerry films could never be considered his finest work, they are still often entertaining. Bad Day a Cat Rock is prime example that gives the audience a fair amount of enjoyment, but also leaves us wishing for a bit more.