Show People: Fifty years of cat and mouse: Tom and Jerry

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The Independent Culture
THEY DON'T drink or do drugs, but no rock star ever trashed five-star hotel premises more comprehensively. As their careworn PR opens the door to their rooms - for some reason they've been booked into the honeymoon suite - you really do feel like you're entering a cartoon world, where the only order is in disorder. Curtains hang half wrenched off their rails, lime green jellies wobble on the Persian rug and a small romanesque arch has been chiselled out of the skirting board.

Tom and Jerry are out of retirement and in town to promote Tom and Jerry - The Movie, and don't the room-service staff know about it. The globally renowned establishment where they're staying, which prides itself on answering to its guests' every whim, is long out of cheese squares, and for the duration of the cartoon superstars' sojourn they've had to put an industrial cleaner, two carpenters and three painter / decorators on 24-hour call.

The history of showbusiness tells of many performing duos who couldn't stick each other and yet were stuck with each other, and top of that list are these two. Between 1940 and 1952 they won eight Oscars, with films such as Cat Concerto and Yankee Doodle Mouse, but even after 53 years together, there is still little love lost between them. 'Did you see that book, 101 Uses for a Dead Cat?' says Jerry, who is clearly no church-mouse. 'I just caught up with it - you can't get it in Beverly Hills - but, boy, what a book. It should have walked off with the Pulitzer Prize. As soon as I've got a dead cat on my hands it'll come in handy.'

Four decades of humiliation and defeat have left their mark on Tom, who is now scrawny and red-eyed, with flecks of white in his blue-grey coat. It is Jerry who does most of the talking - a fact only partly explained by his partner having a croquet mallet lodged in his larynx.

Success, it seems, has gone to Jerry's stomach. Until the film people called them away from the poolside for their first feature-length outing, in which they talk, sing, dance and appear to make friends with each other for the first time, they hadn't lifted a finger in years. It shows. Their new work is more a cute exercise in Forties nostalgia, a pallid shadow of former glory, than a groundbreaking venture of the kind they used to produce.

'Yeah, well,' says Jerry, 'we'd done it all already. We just did this one for the dough. They offered us a lot to read a few lines of dialogue off a prompt, sing a few songs. They can't animate any better now than they could when Hanna and Barbera ('The Girls') first discovered us working joints in Tin Pan Alley, though you have to say the make-up people did a good job on Tom.'

'What about you?' chokes Tom, still wrestling with the mallet. 'They wouldn't let you out of the gym until you'd lost four ounces . . .'

'And anyway,' says Jerry, as he fastens his partner's paw against a steam iron, ignoring the 'Yeeeoooowwwww]]]]]]]]' that follows, 'who cares about now? Our place in motion picture history is guaranteed. It was us who pushed back the boundaries of screen violence - before we came along it just wasn't acceptable to slam a cat's neck in a window.'

'Some would say it still isn't acceptab . . .' suggests Tom but

Jerry, ironing the other paw, carries on through another excruciating 'Yeeeoooowwwww]]]]]]]]'.

'Without us, where would schmucks like Schwarzenegger and Stallone be? Not that their violence is a patch on ours. We used to use brain, not brawn. Not a lot of people know that I never used to work out.'

What about other screen stars? What do they think of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, for example?

Suddenly and for the only time, Tom looks, as it were, animated. 'You mean Who Framed Tom and Jerry?' he says cattily. 'Every cartoon character in Hollywood was in that movie, except us. Mickey was in it, Bugs was in it, the Boop girl . . . For some reason they didn't ask us.'

'You'll have to forgive Tom,' says Jerry. 'We were sent a script, but the money wasn't right. I've seen what happens to stars who sell themselves short, and I didn't want any of it. You remember Spike, the dumb bulldog? When they dropped him from the show he promised to work for peanuts if they'd let him back in. They still said no, and he hit the hard stuff. Died a lonely mutt in some lost-dogs' home, 15, 20 years ago.'

'It's a tough business,' sighs Tom, as his partner plugs his tail

into the light socket. And for a moment, it is just like old times again. 'Yeeeoooowwwww]]]]]]]]'

'Tom & Jerry - The Movie' opened on 2 July in Scotland and N Ireland, and opens nationally on 6 Aug.

(Photograph omitted)