As someone who loves the cartoon shorts produced by Warner and Disney, I sometimes am guilty of overlooking the contributions of MGM from that same era. MGM was a big player back then, and their flagship creation was Tom and Jerry. The cat and mouse pair first debuted in 1940 and were the creation of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, two folks most associated with television creations through their company Hanna-Barbera. Because the quality of those television productions is largely poor, Hanna-Barbera is more of a punch-line in the world of animation which is why I always try to keep things in scope. Their creation of Tom and Jerry is their crowning achievement and their greatest contribution to the world of animation. They were also responsible for bringing animation to television, which is something we can likely all agree was a good thing, even if we turn our noses up at the likes of Jabber Jaw and Grape Ape.
Tom and Jerry’s third cartoon was the 1941 classic The Night Before Christmas. It was nominated, but did not win, an Academy Award and it was once a Christmas staple on Cartoon Network, but is now relegated to home video and streaming services. It was written and directed by the duo of Hanna and Barbera and even features voice work by Clarence Nash, as Tom, who is most famous for being the voice of Donald Duck. He went uncredited in this short, perhaps because of his association with Disney or perhaps just because a lot of folks initially went uncredited who work in animation.
The short opens with a narrator (Frank Graham) reciting the opening to A Visit from Saint Nicholas, more commonly referred to simply as Twas the Night Before Christmas. The camera pans through a cozy home all decorated for Christmas and rests on a mouse nook in the wall with a mousetrap outside it. The trap contains a wedge of cheese with a festive red ribbon placed around. Given the cheese is in a trap, I’m thinking this isn’t the work of one Santa Claus. The narrator ends his narration after the conclusion of the mouse line from the poem, which is Jerry’s cue to emerge from his home.
Jerry is a happy little rodent who seems delighted by the festive decor. He pays the cheese no mind as he happily skips over to the Christmas tree which is loaded with gifts and treats. He finds a candy cane and licks the stripe off of it and also manages to get his head stuck in the mouth of a stuffed lion. He soon discovers that same lion has a squeaky toy in its belly, and he delights in bouncing up and down on it to make it squeak. The force of his bounce causes him to bounce off of the lion and come to rest on a soft, furry, gray surface. Mistaking this for another toy, he bounces up and down trying to make it squeak, only to come to find he’s actually bouncing on the rump of one Tom the cat.
Upon being woken up by the careless mouse, Tom takes a swipe at him only for Jerry to avoid him and slap a Do Not Open Until Christmas sticker over his mouth. It’s a frequent gag in old cartoons, even in ones not taking place at Christmas (Daffy Duck Hunt). Tom chases Jerry around the Christmas tree and through the various toys where the characters pause for comic hijinks. Jerry uses the various toys to his advantage, and even demonstrates how cartoon science works. Upon noticing a missing bulb in a string of Christmas lights on the tree, Jerry jumps into the exposed socket and immediately glows like an angel atop a tree. When Tom grabs Jerry he’s immediately electrocuted though Jerry is unharmed.
Jerry is able to escape through more toys and comes to rest atop a model train. Tom is forced to stop when the crossing bar for the train is lowered and Jerry goes on by. He’s a bit careless though as he’s knocked from the train when he fails to duck for a tunnel giving Tom an opening. Jerry hides in a boxing glove and is able to jab at Tom who grabs the matching glove. He gives chase once more and Jerry takes shelter in a box, which turns out to be a jack-in-the-box which belts Tom in the face.
After recovering from the blow of the toy, Tom gives chase once more and Jerry arms himself with a piece of mistletoe he plucked from a wrapped gift. He stands there holding it over his head while making kissing faces towards Tom. Tom pauses in his pursuit to fold his arms across his chest and feign indifference to Jerry’s advances. He soon softens and appears to be flattered at Jerry’s proposal, eventually giving in and kissing the little mouse. While Tom is basking in the the afterglow of the smooch, Jerry slips behind him and kicks him in the butt.
Tom, now wounded both physically and emotionally, chases Jerry once more who jumps through the mail slot in the door and escapes outside. From there he’s able to pelt Tom with a well-aimed snowball through the mail slot, but it’s his final act of mischief as Tom simply piles household objects in front of the door to prevent Jerry from getting back in.
Satisfied he’s dealt with the mouse, Tom grabs a fluffy pillow and prepares to lay down beside a roaring fire. As he does so the mournful tunes of “Silent Night” begin to play, and Tom looks over at the blocked mail slot with some concern. Jerry is shown pacing back and forth in the snow outside. The camera jumps between the two as the volume of the music increases. Tom tries to distract himself, but it’s clear he’s experiencing some guilt over trapping the mouse out in the cold. Jerry continues to pace as the snow accumulates around him eventually overtaking him. When Tom can’t stand it any longer, he races over to the door and removes the blockage. He then hides behind a corner and waits for Jerry to come back in. When he doesn’t, Tom opens the door and sees a snow-covered object sticking up from out of the snow. He grabs it and it at first resembles a popsicle. He shakes it to reveal a frozen Jerry and he races back inside.
By the fire, Tom thaws Jerry out by the tail and places him on his pillow. As Jerry comes to, he’s at first scared to see Tom but is soon gifted a candy cane from the now softened cat. He happily licks it while Tom goes over to a bowl of milk to indulge himself. Jerry then races over to stop Tom from drinking the milk. He plunges the candy cane into the milk splashing Tom in the process, but also triggering a mouse trap he had apparently hidden in the milk for his adversary. Tom smiles and returns to his milk while Jerry heads for his nook. He pauses outside it and takes note of the wrapped cheese wedge on the mouse trap. Using the hooked end of his candy cane, he safely removes the cheese only for the trap to snap-back and reveal it wasn’t a trap at all, but a music box which plays “Jingle Bells.” As the song plays, Jerry looks to the camera with glee as the short ends.
The Night Before Christmas is a delightful little short starring Tom and Jerry. It contains the chase scenes the duo is known for while also putting a Christmas spin on everything. The layout of the home and the various Christmas decorations creates a very festive setting. It’s a home I want to visit for Christmas. The sweet conclusion of the short is also the right note to strike for a Christmas themed cartoon. It’s interesting that MGM was willing to show Tom and Jerry in such a light after only a few shorts, but it’s still sweet nonetheless and for most people who actually view it today I doubt it feels too soon. There’s plenty of festive music as well, and I’m glad the short didn’t include the entire poem it borrows its title from. This is also the only post this year that is duplicative of acartoonchristmas.com, but it’s so wonderful I think there’s plenty of room for many posts like this.
Visually the short is near breathtaking. Jerry is so plump and happy and his expressions feel authentic and genuine. I love how happy he is just checking out all of the Christmas toys under the tree and his expression to close short is perfection. Tom has a nice scruff to his appearance, considering he is a tom cat after all, but he too is capable of all manner of expressions. I really enjoyed the back and forth between he and Jerry during the mistletoe scene, and Tom’s anguish over Jerry being locked out in the cold was played well. The characters do not speak, so it falls on the animators to make sure we understand what they’re experiencing in the moment. A particular triumph is when Tom removes the obstruction from the door in hopes that Jerry will return. He hides behind the wall likely because he’s not entirely sure he’s comfortable with Jerry knowing he extended such a courtesy to him, but all the while the look of fear is etched on his face that the little mouse is no more.
Tom and Jerry cartoons may not air on television much anymore, but they’re still easy to come by. This particular short has been released several times on home video including the Christmas themed Tom and Jerry: Santa’s Little Helpers and the Blu-ray release Tom and Jerry Golden Collection Volume One. If you just want to see this short and aren’t interested in purchasing a DVD or Blu-ray, you probably won’t have much trouble finding it online for free to stream. And I totally recommend it as this is right up there with my favorite Christmas shorts from Disney.