A Year in Shorts Day 135: "The Two Mouseketeers"
By 1952, the Tom and Jerry formula was pretty well established. And after a decade of hijinks (dare I say Tomfoolery?), it ran the risk of growing stale. Perhaps that explains why William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (not to mention producer Fred Quimby, who was the one actually winning the Oscars for these things) decided to shake things up for the duo. Their solution? Planting Tom and Jerry into the Ancien Regime of France by parodying Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. I’ve certainly heard crazier ideas. But did this one pay off? Let’s find out!
Some people say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. That's not always true, but it's certainly the case with Tom and Jerry. At its heart, The Two Mouseketeers isn't that much different from The Little Orphan- Jerry and Nibbles (the titular Mouseketeers) try to steal a table full of food, Tom tries to stop them, chaos ensues. The differences between the two shorts is all in the details, and between the two I have to say that The Two Mouseketeers comes out on top.
MGM wound up making four shorts featuring the Mouseketeers, and I remember really loving them whenever they aired on TV when I was a kid. And who could blame me? They had a great energy to them, and you have to love the refreshing change of scenery. The Two Mouseketeers and other similar shorts give you all the classic Tom and Jerry mayhem you could want, and then adds sword fighting to the mix. What more could you want? And while it's true that Nibbles is still a bit too cute for my liking, he somehow becomes a lot more tolerable when he starts speaking French. I can't explain it, but it just works.
Viewed as an individual short, there's just a lot going on in The Two Mouseketeers that makes it a top tier cartoon. The animation is gorgeous, with a lot of detail put into the backgrounds. One thing I appreciate about the Mouseketeers shorts is their use of colors, which are darker and more evocative than the typical Tom and Jerry short, filled with moody blues and greens. Helping those colors really pop is the short's lighting, which is easily the best of the Tom and Jerry films we've covered so far. Lighting is not something one often considers when discussing a cartoon, but it's the little details like that which can really elevate a short.
Of course none of that really matters if the short isn't funny, so it's a good thing The Two Mouseketeers has more great gags than you can shake a sword at. It's a little slow to get going (a pacing issue which also plagued The Little Orphan), but once it hits its stride it's hilarious. Nothing suits slapstick comedy better than a table full of food, and Hanna and Barbera take full advantage of that fact. And before the food jokes have a chance to get stale, the short mixes it up with swords, axes and even a cannon! And running underneath the entire thing is the darkly hilarious fact that if Tom fails to protect the feast he'll be sent to the guillotine. Tom and Jerry shorts always have a bit of black comedy to them, but the ones where Tom literally dies always get a bonus from me.
Special note must go to the work of series composer Scott Bradley, which has never been better if you ask me. Bradley's music is always great, but here it's pitch perfect, every note accentuating the action perfectly. In the history of animation, Scott Bradley is one of its unsung heroes. While Hanna and Barbera get a lot of the credit (and Fred Quimby got all the Oscars), the Tom and Jerry shorts just wouldn't be the same without Scott Bradley. The short also opens and closes with the song "Soldiers of Fortune" (from the musical Western The Girl of the Golden West), a rousing tune which perfectly prepares you for all the swashbuckling to follow.
The Two Mouseketeers is an exemplary Tom and Jerry film, filled with all the delightful chaos you expect from the duo and a fair bit extra. The short won the pair their sixth Oscar, and it was a well-deserved win, beating out Lambert the Sheepish Lion and Rooty Toot Toot. Just goes to show you can teach an old dog (or cat or mouse as the case may be) new tricks.
Keep up with the Oscar Baiting here on Letterboxd!
For reasons that make sense to SOMEONE, I'm sure, "The Two Mouseketeers" is NOT available to watch on HBO Max.
The Great Oscar Baiter is a not-for-profit work of criticism. All images herein are property of their respective owners and are protected under Fair Use.