When you mention that there is a new Tom and Jerry reboot on Cartoon Network to purists, they get mad. People who grew up with the show think that it is classic and should not be touched. But once you give the new reboot a chance, you can see it stands as a love letter and true homage to the original series. Everything you love about the show is there. The characters still have their pronounced personalities, even with most of them not even having dialogue. The slapstick violence is there, though slightly toned back for a generation who has been a bit more protected from that sort of stuff. Heck, even the soundtrack that enhances the action of the show is back. We recently talked with Jay Bastian, Vice President of animation at Warner Bros, about the new Tom and Jerry, what factored into bringing the show to a whole new generation, and how that’s possible without alienating those who grew up on the original.
Hey Jay, I will admit, right off the bat, I was one of the skeptics, originally. I sort of thought there was no way this idea could work, but it works. Those of us who grew up with classic, golden age Tom and Jerry have a real affinity towards the show, and there seemed to be the risk of having to water it down for a new generation. But the violence is in place, and I really wanted to thank you for that. Was it difficult retaining the tone of the original for the new version?
Jay Bastian: I think the only way to do Tom and Jerry right is to do that fun, funny, cartoonish violence. That IS the DNA of their characters. We do have a PG rating, and that gives us some more freedom to do more and get away with a little more with the characters. Not to push the envelope for the sake of doing it, but with Tom and Jerry, you just need to be able to blow things up from time to time.
I can already tell you and I will get along great. If you had to stack them side by side, what would you say is the same and what would you say is different about the new Tom and Jerry versus the older version?
J.B: What people need to understand is, we are just as nervous as the fans. We would not be doing this if we didn’t grow up loving these characters, too. We ARE the fans. Comparing them, I think, they are similar, with each retaining factors that are more signs of the times they were made during. I think a big difference is the animation styles. Sadly, we do not get the feature film budgets they used to get to make those, and this has lead to some creative choices we had to make.
You are speaking of using flash animation, yes?
Jay Bastian: Yes, we knew it would look different. But flash animation in the right hands does not need to look cheap or ugly, and Tom and Jerry proves this. It is a very cool way to do animation, and it ensures we can bring more episodes to a wider audience. So in that sense, it is a win for all. Many of the poses and designs and reactions from the 50’s Tom and Jerry are in there. I think people were afraid it would lose the personality, but I think the end result shows it hasn’t.
I will admit, when I heard it was gonna be flash, I shrugged. In the same breath, I am shocked how well you pull it off. It actually gives it a really cool, stylized looked to the settings and the characters. That caught me off guard.
J.B: *Laughs* That is something we were afraid some people would think, so that is great to hear.
So give me your thoughts on Itchy and Scratchy. As an homage to Tom and Jerry, do you think modern kids will make the connection?
J.B: I love The Simpsons, and Itchy and Scratchy are great characters. But people forget they are just one note characters. It plays off the violence in old Tom and Jerry, but focuses on that. We shift it and try to give the characters a bit more substance. If you look at our new Tom and Jerry, one thing you will notice is that they are not trying to kill each other. Yes, there is violence, but it is far more comical and less life threatening. They are like brothers who live in the same house and get on one another’s nerves. So the comical violence stems off from that boredom for them. But if things get bad enough, they will work together. You rarely see that with Itchy and Scratchy.
So no axes cutting each other in half in this reboot, huh? That is probably for the best. So I had to give you some kudos for keeping the score and music similar to the original. I know it used to be insane, forty piece orchestras playing along to the cartoons and such. Knowing that was impossible, how did you still stay true to the original symphonic score?
Jay Bastian: We are working with a couple composers who don’t have forty piece bands, but the beauty is, I think they did a really good job of tricking people into thinking they were more than just two guys. It is impossible to capture the scoring of the original on the budget we have, so we are lucky to be working with some real talented people in that department. Glad to hear it works.
I imagine a big source of concern had to be the baby boomers who grew up on Tom and Jerry. Did you incorporate them into any of the decisions you made when trying to figure out this reboot? They are a very easy to alienate.
J.B: Yes, timeless characters like Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny have an appeal to both adults and kids, and it can be tough trying to find that balance between the two. We have to remember, kids and adults don’t always like the same things. So of course, you do not want to alienate one or the other. We took all that into consideration when making the new Tom and Jerry.
In the same breath, what from the original did you try to avoid? So many aspects of cartoons are signs of the times, and the old Tom and Jerry represents a different time. What pit falls do you avoid?
Jay Bastian: We just try to avoid any of the old stuff that was not politically correct. There are moments when the show was clearly a sign of the times, and we are in changing times. We knew what to avoid and what to keep, for the most part.
Yes, none of us need to mention the broom wielding maid from the golden age version. Best we just leave that alone.
J.B. *Laughs* Exactly. Going into it you know what you will keep and what you will change. That needed to be changed, and I think we did a good job.
Yeah, I like the new couple. They seem sweet. Far less broom wielding. Great choice. The changes feel organic, which is nice. So I would be silly not to mention your rap sheet. You have worked on some amazing animated shows in the past (The Grimm Aventures of Billy and Mandy being my favorite). What is your favorite aspect of working in animation?
Jay Bastian: Good question! This may sound corny, but I am not an animator, and the best part of my job is being able to work with so many people who are so good at what they do. I love being able to be creatively involved in that. I am lucky in that sense.
Well, you have a cool gig. VP of animation at Warner Bros. If you ever need an assistant or something, hit me up. I am great at getting coffee and agreeing with things.
Jay Bastian: Will do!
Thanks so much Jay, and best of luck on the Tom and Jerry reboot. As a fan, I expected a train wreck, and am delighted you didn’t deliver us one.
J.B: *Laughs* Thank you, Remy. This was fun.
Tom and Jerry airs on Wednesday at 5:30 on your local Cartoon Network provider. Check it out. I think it will pleasantly surprise you.
[Photo via Cartoon Network]