Tom Terrific was one of the early stars of American television animation. He was created in 1957 by Gene Deitch, and served as the hero, with his canine sidekick, Manfred the Wonder Dog, in a series of five-minute shorts produced by Terrytoons for CBS. The shorts were broadcast as part of the long-running Captain Kangaroo show. Each short served as part of a weekly storyline. Twenty-six such storylines ("episodes") had been completed when production ended in 1958. That is 130 five-minute shorts. They were regularly broadcast until 1961, and received reruns over the following years.
The story of Tom actually began a couple of years earlier, in 1955 to be exact, when Deitch created his own comic strip, ''Terr'ble Thompson". The eponymous hero, Thaddeus "Terr'ble" Thompson, was a 7½-year-old boy who spent much of his time in his treehouse. There, famous historical figures would come seeking his help. He joined them in their time period and helped resolve their problems. While his mother and other boys would scoff at his adventures as make-believe, Thaddeus would be running around with the likes of Christopher Columbus and George Washington. It was left to the reader to decide whether the tales were real or not. Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane. The strip only lasted from October, 1955 to April, 1956. Deitch had trouble with a rather hectic schedule, serving as an artistic director at UPA animation studio, sole creator of a daily strip, and a family man at the same time. He decided to drop the comic strip.
A year later, serving at Terrytoons, Deitch decided to rework the "boy hero" concept into a new animated character. The result was Tom Terrific. There were a number of key differences between the two series. Gone was the time travel aspect, Tom would only have adventures set in the present (the exception being "Go West, Young Manfred"—Tom turned himself into a clock, and with Manfred went backwards in time to the California gold rush). Also gone was the notion of parents. Tom actually lived in his treehouse and the only adults in his life were his opponents. More importantly, Tom had superpowers. He had a Transformation Trinket, a funnel-shaped hat, which allowed him to transform into any form, a power needed to solve problems and save the day. As his theme song went If you see a plane on high/A diesel train go roaring by/A bumblebee, or a tree/Its me! The only limit to his power seemed to be the limit of his creativity.
Tom was constantly accompanied by his sidekick, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog. Manfred was a Talking Animal, but actually had no skills to speak of. He was a rather lazy dog with a big appetite. When not sleeping or eating, Manfred would only offer some random comments on the plot of the week, but Tom took them as genuine suggestions and came up with his own ideas, which he would attribute to Manfred. The other characters of the series were its villains, most notably Tom's Arch-Enemy, Crabby Appleton, an adult man, "rotten to the core", whose motivation for causing trouble was really simple. "I'm fond of gloom, impending doom/I think good deeds are sappy!/I laugh with glee, it pleases me/when everyone's unhappy." Other foes included Isotope Feeney, Sweet Tooth Sam, Captain Kidney Bean, The Silly Sandman, etc.
Drawn in a "simple black-and-white drawing style with minimal backgrounds", the series was not noted for its lavish animation but, rather, for its imaginative scripts and tongue-in-cheek approach to storytelling which made it a favorite for many Baby Boomers. Even today, the character has some presence online with fans seeking out old episodes and conversing over their fond memories of it. The character briefly headlined his own comic book series in 1957 to 1958, but only six issues were ever published. His comic book stories were less fondly remembered. Most comic book histories simply mention that some of them were drawn by novice Ralph Bakshi.
Tropes Related to this series:
- Accidental Hero: Manfred in "Sweet Tooth Sam". Tom Terrific manages to retrieve bags full of candy from Sam's hideout. Having Manfred transport them. What he doesn't know is that Sam had placed an explosive device within one of the bags. Sam is gleefully waiting for the sound of the explosion. The sound does come. But the audience soon finds out that neither hero was nearby. Tom praises Manfred for dropping the bags and saving his life, paying no attention to Manfred pointing out why he had dropped the bags: simply because they were too heavy.
- Alliterative Name: The title character's first and last names both begin with T.
- Animorphism: In "Big Dog Show-Off", Tom transforms himself into a cat. Amidst a dog show. Not his brightest idea, as every dog present soon chases after him. Except the sleeping Manfred.
- Arch-Enemy: Crabby Appleton is Tom Terrific's main foe.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- In "Sweet Tooth Sam", the eponymous villain explains his plans to the audience. Then concludes with: "You kids that are watching, don't tell Tom Terrific about this".
- Isotope Feeney does something similar in "Isotope Feeney's Foolish Fog", saying "Don't you T.V. viewers tell Tom Terrific".
- Comically Missing the Point: In "Sweet Tooth Sam", the eponymous bandit steals candy from children. Tom discovers a group of crying kids. He promises them in a heroic tone: "Don't worry, kids. The youth of America will be served justice". Only to be answered with a whining: "We want candy".
- Continuity Cavalcade: The series' final episode, "The Everlasting Birthday Party", brings back several villains from previous episodes (Isotope Feeney, Captain Kidney Bean, Mr. Instant, and Sweet Tooth Sam) as the invited guests of Crabby Appleton's birthday party.
- Early-Bird Cameo: The elephant Tom and Manfred encounter in "Elephants Stew" is a clear prototype for Terrytoons character Sidney the Elephant, also known as Silly Sidney.
- A Good Name for a Rock Band: A group from the 1970s named itself after Crabby Appleton.
- Hoist by His Own Petard:
- "Instant Tantrums" has Mr. Instant fall victim to his own instant tantrums at the end of the episode.
- "Isotope Feeney's Foolish Fog" ends with Isotope Feeney being made a moron by his own foolish fog.
- Kid Hero: Tom Terrific himself. With an emphasis on idealism and enthusiasm for the hero job.
- Limited Animation: The cartoons have very imaginative use of it, due in part to Tom's shapeshifting abilities.
- Mad Scientist: Isotope Feeney. With an emphasis on madness.
- Mission Control: Tom and Manfred's "world headquarters" is a treehouse.
- No More for Me: A gas station attendant in "Isotope Feeney's Foolish Fog" comments that he's got to stop inhaling all those fumes when Manfred pulls up in an invisible car (actually Tom, who turned himself into a car and made himself invisible).
- Non-Human Sidekick: Tom is human, while is companion Manfred is a dog.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Crabby Appleton occasionally shows signs of being childish. For instance, "Crabby Appleton's Dragon" has him react to losing control of his dragon and his controls not working by crying like a child who broke his favorite toy, while "Who Stole the North Pole?" has Tom persuade him to retrieve the scattered pieces of the North Pole and put it back together by threatening to tell on him to Santa Claus. The greatest example of his immaturity, though, is in "The Everlasting Birthday Party", where he traps everyone else in a loop so he can celebrate his birthday forever and even gloats how no one else will be able to celebrate their birthdays.
- Spiritual Successor: Adventure Time could be seen as this.
- Talking Animal: Manfred is eloquent enough, but has all the thoughts of your average dog. More concern about food and sleep than anything else. Once he did fuss about Tom turning into a cat, but cooled off at once over getting a bone.
- Time Stands Still: "The Everlasting Birthday Party" has Crabby Appleton freeze time so his birthday can last forever.
- Transformation Trinket: The funnel-shaped hat which allows Tom to shape-shift.
Tom. That was a great adventure! Manfred, you're terrific!
Manfred. No, you're Terrific. I'm Manfred.