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Pan playing cat gets the gal in vintage cartoon

Published: 
Wednesday, January 3, 2018

While the steelpan can be heard on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there has been pan in the movies for decades. One of its earliest appearances is an animated cartoon short, Calypso Cat. Until a few years ago, Calypso Cat was only available in an expensive DVD boxed set but now it is freely available on the web. There is almost two minutes of solo pan—more than in The Last Jedi—and a profound message for today as the pan playing Caribbean feline wins out in love and war.

The cartoon starts with the normal chase and back and forth antics of Tom and Jerry on a boat dock next to the soon to disembark Caribbean Queen cruise boat.

When the young stylish female cat boards the ship, first Tom in love boards, only to be followed by Jerry out to cause maximum mischief.

After on board adventures, the female cat disembarks followed by Tom, she and Tom seem to get together but are diverted by a pan-playing cat.

As normal, a fight ensues—aggravated by the efforts of Jerry the mouse—and after beating his pan sticks on Tom’s head, the pan playing cat eventually bashes the top of the pan into Tom whose body takes on a turtle shape from the impression of the pan notes.

Then the pan-playing cat walks off with the gal and Tom and Jerry return to the ship.

One of the series of Tom and Jerry cartoon, Calypso Cat features the ongoing slapstick antics between a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry.

The original series started back in 1940 and ended in 1958.

A few years later it was farmed out to a production team in Prague in then Communist Czechoslovakia for 13 new episodes including Calypso Cat.

Released to theatres in the summer of 1962, the cartoon premiered just a few months before T&T Independence.

Who performed the pan solo on the soundtrack? Not known.

If it was recorded in LA then perhaps a member of Hill 60 recording and performing in Los Angeles at the time as Calimbo Steel Band.

If it was in Prague, then maybe a member of Southern Symphony who would perform a concert with the Beatles around that time in Spain.

Calypso Cat is officially the 121st Tom and Jerry cartoon and it is almost the only known use of steelpan in cartoons other than a few seconds of the 2004 Team America: World Police feature with a pan-playing marionette in a scene set in Panama (where the pannist appears to get blown up).

At first blush, Calypso Cat may seem to be a simple action adventure cartoon. But with a close critical eye, a subversive—dare we say “communist” message—appears.

A hard working Caribbean musician wins the lady’s hand rather than the lazy American cat that has nothing better to do than chase a mouse.

Is it a subtle attack on American decadence? And while the pan playing cat does resort to violence, violence gives way aa romance triumphs to the sweet sound of pan.

As more young women take to playing pan, this cartoon can serve as a previously untapped educational resource to remind young men of one of the benefits of playing pan.

n RAY FUNK is a retired Alaskan judge and a Fulbright scholar who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas. Dr Andrew Martin is an ethnomusicologist, percussionist, pannist, and Professor of Music at Inver Hills College in St Paul, Minnesota

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