Live Cartoon Characters -- Tom and Jerry aren't just for Saturday mornings anymore

By Tricia Laine
Updated April 03, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

See if you recognize a rather animated pattern: In Good Will Hunting, math prof Stellan Skarsgard and his assistant are named Gerry and Tom, respectively. Noah Wyle’s stoner buddies in The Myth of Fingerprints were named Tom and Jerry. The hot comedy picked up by Miramax at Sundance in January was Jerry and Tom, starring Sam Rockwell and Joe Mantegna. And, come to think of it, Tom Cruise was nominated for an Oscar last year for Jerry Maguire. Why the sudden cat-and-mouse games? Hunting star and cowriter Matt Damon says his reference was simply ”an inside joke. We didn’t think anyone would get it.” But for Rick Cleveland, Jerry and Tom‘s screenwriter, the cartoonish allusions were part of the plot. ”The film is about the consequences of violence. I grew up on old Tom and Jerry cartoons and there was something totally violent about them — but in a fun way,” says Cleveland. T&J‘s creators, meanwhile, appreciate the homage. ”I take it as a compliment,” says Joe Barbera, 87, cofounder of Hanna-Barbera Productions. ”But if Jerry and Tom has a cat-and-mouse chase, we’ve got a problem.” No word yet on any upcoming film characters named Heckle and Jeckle.