Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
Before their jump into television with a library of characters, William Hanna & Joseph Barbera were considered pioneers of cartoon slapstick and violence. During their early years at MGM Studios, they pitched a cartoon idea about a cat and mouse outwitting each other after the studio lacked success with earlier shorts. After their short "Puss Gets the Boot" was a hit, more requested shorts about the cat & mouse were made, and thus, Tom & Jerry was born. Thanks to the influence from colleague animator Tex Avery, Tom & Jerry became iconic for their energetic, slapstick comedy and violence. The duo has evolved and adapted throughout different periods of animation history, such as the works of Gene Deitch and Chuck Jones, with a mixed reception. Not to mention the countless merchandising, several television shows, comics, video games, and recently a musical...in Japan.
In terms of feature films, that's a different story. During their prime years, Tom & Jerry themselves have made special appearances in a couple of movies. A prime example is the live-action/animated dance sequence between Gene Kelly and Jerry in Anchors Aweigh. To date this review, Tom & Jerry have released a lineup of direct-to-video movies, including crossovers between Wizard of Oz and Johnny Quest.
However, there was one time in 1993 when Tom & Jerry made their jump into the big screen with their first full-length animated film. It was released under Miramax with animation producer Phil Roman taking the director's chair and a cast of recognizable names. These credentials would help make the cat and mouse stand out among the others. It can work...if given in better hands.
Tom (voiced by Richard Kind) and Jerry (voiced by Dana Hill) must put aside their differences to save an orphan (voiced by Anndi McAfee) from her greedy guardian (voiced by Charlotte Rae).
A Potentially Wasted Story
The first ten minutes of this movie went off to a promising start when Tom & Jerry were accidentally left by their owners during moving day and stranded on the streets. During that time, it is visually told well through body language and facial expressions. There's even a nice in-joke about a restaurant named after Hanna-Barbera where Tom tried to enter. However...once they enter the alleyway and meet two new characters, the major problem of this movie starts to unravel: Tom and Jerry start talking.
For those who have seen the cartoons, Tom & Jerry are like 90% silent of the time where they would occasionally say something for either a joke or punchline. Admittedly, it could work if they would only talk with other animals as their way of communication. Unfortunately, it gets thrown out the window when they casually talk with the main human character, Robyn, and she doesn't even bother questioning it. They even sometimes repeat what the other characters just said earlier as if the movie itself thinks the audience wasn't listening. It makes the main character's extensive dialogue become distracting after a while.
As for the story itself, the concept of Tom & Jerry learning to get along and testing their new friendship helping Robyn remains intact. This could've given us a deeper look between these two and become developed across their journey. But, that leads to its major second issue: the execution. Once they meet Robyn, the movie suddenly focuses on her and a bunch of other new characters more than Tom & Jerry themselves. It's almost like the original draft was an original movie centered on Robyn and Tom & Jerry were added in at the last minute. The concept and story almost worked but were completely wasted under studio inference.
Regardless of what you think about the movie, there is no denying that the animation is easily one of the movie's strengths. The animation was being produced and outsourced at Wang Film Productions where the results came out decent. Not on the same levels as Disney or Don Bluth, but the effort shows to be cinematic enough. The character designs on Tom & Jerry remain faithful while the other characters have an appealing Hanna-Barbera style looking between realistic and cartoony. In terms of the character animation, the movements are smooth, making human characters more down-to-earth while the animal characters are more energetic with the use of squash-and-stretch. Even the choreography in a couple of the musical numbers does show a bit of talent when the characters bust a move. There is also a bit of computer animation implemented on some transportation objects, such as cars and the paddle steamer during the climactic chase scene, which is a tad noticeable but not out of place.
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There are two major setbacks in the animation. One is the limited use of slapstick violence which is a major staple of what the franchise is known for. When it does occur, it is obviously not as fast enough as the original due to the characters having more fluid and natural movement. Outside of the opening credit sequence and the ending scenes, Tom & Jerry barely chase and hurt each other. Most of the time, the slapstick is more catered to the new characters, particularly Aunt Fig's dog Ferdinand. In other words, the slapstick and violence were toned down for younger kids. Granted, the movie does make up for it with an exhilarating chase scene between the main characters and villains. It is an insane ride full of action and slapstick. Yet, like the story, it was wasted. Another setback is the background animation. While the places that each character visits are nicely drawn and detailed, they felt basic and deserted half the time with no extra insight. It's almost like watching a direct-to-video movie. Despite the setbacks, the animators did their best with the materials that were given.
More Side Characters, Less Focus on Tom & Jerry
As mentioned before, the story was meant to focus on the main characters and their struggle of survival. Too bad the movie wants to its audience to pay attention on the new and generic characters instead. To start off quickly with Tom and Jerry themselves, they are basically the homeless pets who dislike each other, with Tom being a selfish, reluctant cat and Jerry being a kind, brave mouse. Other than that, they take a back seat as supporting characters helping Robyn. Speaking of Robyn, she is is basically a good-hearten kid who is in custody and determined to find her father. In theory, Robyn's father sounds like an interesting character since he is a wealthy, adventurous man. Yet, due to the poor writing, he is used as a plot device through exposition. We also have Puggsy and Frankie, a stray dog and flea that Tom & Jerry occasionally meet up with and constantly remind them to become friends...and the ones who triggered them to talk in the first place.
And then you have the villains, starting with Robyn's guardian Aunt Fig and her lawyer Lickboot. They are the typical greedy caretakers that desire Robyn's family wealth as long as Robyn is under their belt. Their dog Ferdinand is a fat, skateboarding dog that acts as the comic relief sidekick. Dr. Applecheeck is a veterinarian who is secretly a cruel animal kidnapper that sells them back for profit. Captain Kiddie is an eccentric amusement park owner with his hand-puppet Squawk, who plans to turn Robyn back for a money reward. By these descriptions, these villains don't offer any subtlety and share one word: greedy.
Although the characters may be flat, the voice acting is, at least, the most entertaining aspect about them. Yes, the script is weak but you can tell they gave out their all. Richard Kind and the late Dana Hill are surprisingly fitting voices that match the personalities of the cat and mouse duo. Charlotte Rea and Rip Taylor can be enjoyable with over-the-top performances. Even the late Tony Jay spoke one line that is so sinister that it ironically sums up how a bad film adaptation is made nowadays. It is said that the movie is supposed to be about Tom & Jerry, yet we never have the time to know them much.
One unexpected component that the movie offered was musical numbers. This was among many other animated movies as copycats desperately attempting to capitalize on how Disney succeeded with their animated films at the time. Honestly, the songs themselves aren't that bad but they feel unneeded for a movie like this. "Friends in the End" is the typical motivational number that pushes Tom & Jerry into being friends. "What Do We Care?" is a turf musical number sung by a cast of alley cats that are actually a few minutes of filler. "Money is Such a Beautiful Word" and "God's Little Creatures" are basic villain songs that describe them and their goals. "Till I Miss You" is an emotional, tender song about Robyn missing her father. Finally, "I've Done It All" is an upbeat number about Captain Kiddie's show career. While the songs would be considered forgettable, the musical orchestration by Henry Mancini, the same man who wrote the Pink Panther theme, is the polar opposite. His score is executed well enough to fit the Broadway tune that each song has presented. It is a shame that this movie is one of his last known works to end on. This is what happens when a movie should be better off as its own thing instead of being a copycat.
Overall, Tom & Jerry: The Movie is currently the only theatrical film based on iconic duo that had potential to be a great movie. Yet, it is wasted with a unfocused plot, over-used dialogue from the main characters, generic characters and pointless songs. While the animation, voice acting and musical score are serviceable, they are not enough to make it worth watching. If you are a huge Tom & Jerry fan, it is highly recommended to skip this one and stick to either the cartoons or direct-to-video films. At least, they would provide some substance and enjoyment. For those that are curious, it would considered a rental for younger viewers as a harmless, distraction for the slapstick and musical numbers. With the new Tom & Jerry movie in development, let's hope it'll be better than this.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Alex Skrapits