5. Muscle Beach Tom
- Original Release Date: September 7, 1956
In most Tom and Jerry cartoons, one of the enemies comes out the winner. Muscle Beach Tom, however, concludes with both characters defeated. Hoping to enjoy a nice beach afternoon with his girlfriend, Tom soaks up some sun and makes a little kissy-face with his gal pal. When he drops their gear atop a sunbathing Jerry, the two fall into their usual routine. While they’re busy, along comes the only creature Tom hates more than Jerry: Butch the Cat.
The three rascals go round and round, attempting to show off their muscles via various weight-lifting exercises. The second that Tom’s girlfriend seems impressed with one, the other takes the championship to the next level. They tackle strength as if it were a mental state, but at every turn, gravity and their flabby muscles do their worst. Tom’s girlfriend is the only winner, quietly taking delight as the three animals embarrass themselves spectacularly.
4. Barbecue Brawl
- Original Release Date: December 15, 1956
For most of this short, Tom and Jerry take on a supporting role, as Spike and Tyke shine as father and son. It’s a bright, warm, and sunny day. Spike anxiously instructs Tyke in the proper methods of constructing a barbecue. Like all over-eager movie-dads, he goes a little overboard using too much lighter fuel and a ridiculous amount of kindling. Woosh!
To make matters worse, while Spike flails in his barbecue attempts, Tom and Jerry bring their chase to his backyard. A frustrating but pleasant afternoon erupts into hostile combat between all parties. The brawl is all very expected until a climactic army of even tinier interlopers invades.
3. Trap Happy
- Original Release Date: June 29, 1946
You can only chase a mouse for so long before you scream for help. Years later, Jerry would call upon his cousin Muscles for backup, but Tom was the first to dial 911. His sometimes nemesis Butch arrives with a bag of deadly goodies to aid in the mouse hunt. Together, the two cats make Jerry’s life hell. They pump toxic gas into his mousehole, feed him metal bolts dressed as cheese, and plant explosives at his doorway. In the process, Tom and Butch nearly bring the entire house down upon their heads and fuel the hate between each other that will carry into many more cartoons. Jerry gets his exercise, but his extreme heartrate pays off when the two cats turn their war into a civil one.
2. Heavenly Puss
- Original Release Date: July 9, 1949
Which cat is the more sinister? Tom, or Looney Tunes‘ Sylvester? Well, when Tom croaks in Heavenly Puss, his soul is greeted by a golden escalator that takes him well beyond the clouds. When Sylvester buys it in Satan’s Waitin’, his escalator points south, and a parade of demonic dogs meets him. It seems like a clear open-and-shut case until Tom meets his heavenly gatekeeper, who explains he must get Jerry to write him a pass, or he’ll descend from the clouds and boil in Hell’s lava. Oh, shoot. Both cats are damned.
Heavenly Puss, like Satan’s Waitin’, places its protagonist in a terrible spot. Tom has one shot at convincing his mortal enemy that he’s a good guy. If he can show Jerry that he is swell, then Heaven awaits. If he falls into his old habits of mouse-gnashing, then hell will be all too happy to swallow him down. Fighting his ruthless nature proves to be nearly impossible for Tom, and his inevitable destination hangs terrifyingly over his head. The audience takes notice. Tom has nine lives, we only got one.
1. The Cat Concerto
- Original Release Date: April 26, 1947
Tom is never better than when he’s in a tux and on a stage trying to show off his stupendous skills before a complementary audience. The set-up occurs throughout the Tom and Jerry saga, but The Cat Concerto is its finest rendition. As a pianist, Tom wows and woos. Of course, Jerry will always take a chance to demolish Tom’s ego when it’s at such a peak. He scrambles inside Tom’s piano and wreaks utter havoc, revealing the demon within Tom. And Jerry.
Minus a few gasps, we never witness the crowd’s reaction to the torment on stage. The camera remains fixed on the terror between Tom and Jerry. Keys are smashed, strings are torn, but mostly Tom’s tux disintegrates into shreds as he flails against his enemy, all the while trying to complete Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No.2.”