Number 08 -- Tom and Jerry: The Movie
Director: Phil Roman
Richard Kind, Dana Hill, Anndi McAfee
Release Date: July 30, 1993
Posting Date: September 1, 2008
I've heard Doug Walker mention time and again about how this is among his all-time favorite reviews (although Moulin Rouge is now his absolute favorite). There is plenty of good reason for this, since Tom and Jerry are amongst the world's most iconic, instantly recognizable cartoon characters. In one of his vlogs, Doug cited the series as his number five biggest comedic influence (tied with another character known for manic slapstick, Goofy), and gave a detailed explanation about why the slapstick is as effective as it is. The opening turns out to be one of the few times we really see sincerity in the Critic, who even pulls out his Spotlight Collection DVDs of the original shorts. (I also recommend his review of Dunston Checks In for a further discussion, equally as sincere.)
And why not? I love cartoons, and I really appreciate the works of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. They may have honed a cheap craft upon entering television, but they've contributed a real legacy to the history of the medium. Their best work are these shorts, which boil a concept down to it's basic, pure elements. We get fantastic animation associated with the quick, flawless timing associated with the chase between a cat and a mouse. That wit would even inspire the cheaper animation that Hanna and Barbera took into TV, and would contribute to punching up what's otherwise poorer quality material and keeps it from being bland.
But this movie? Oh, boy...
The only thing to have inspired the movie was the success of Disney's Rennassiance-era musicals, and even that element is so painfully rushed. (We'll get to that.) This movie completely misses the point of Tom and Jerry, only acknowledging the slapstick with inferior recreations of some of their classic bits in the opening credits. The first ten minutes have the cat and the mouse bouncing off of each other, with Tom wanting no help from Jerry on figuring out their next move after their home is destroyed. All of that has no dialogue, but then the two meet a dog named Puggsy who attempts to mediate between the two. The result is a conversation between Tom and Jerry.
Let's make one thing clear, this is not how these characters are supposed to work. In the original shorts, Tom would say a few things on occasion, but only to stretch a punchline or to accentuate a situation (ie, "Don't you believe it"). Otherwise, they are only supposed to let their actions say everything for them. Instead, this movie is completely devoid of slapstick and it utilizes the ability to have the characters speak to each other so they can take a backseat to the "main" plot, essentially serving as supporting characters in their own film.
And what is the "main plot" of this movie? Well, remember when I said it was a Disney knockoff, a cash-in on their successful musicals? It turns out the plot is lifted from one of the movies from the Ron Miller era, The Rescuers. We follow a little orphan named Robin Starling, who remains certain and hopeful that her father (a blatant expy for Indiana Jones, if Tom Selleck played him) is still alive. Meanwhile, she is constantly exploited by her evil aunt, Prestine Figg who seeks to make a lot of money from the custody of her. As the story progresses, other exploitative people enter as villains, including a veterinarian named Dr. Applecheeks who intends to make money from kidnapping lost pets. And there's Captain Kiddy, who mostly speaks through a puppet of a parrot and holds Robin prisoner in the hopes of gaining some reward money from Aunt Figg.
There are plenty of bizarre, inexplicable moments throughout the film, including the way Dr. Applecheeks walks up to an ice cream cart, and I didn't even mention Aunt Figg's dog, who she clearly overfeeds to the point of needing a skateboard to get around. And then you have the musical numbers. The first one has Tom and Jerry singing about being friends, and even then you can sense that they don't want any part of it before they engage in the song! Each villain gets at least one number, none of them with any value or purpose. Aunt Figg and her valet, Lickboot (yes, that really is his name) have a song all about how transparently evil they are, and how they only care about making money. Hell, Lickboot actually declares so bluntly in a manner that has inspired an internet meme, "We've got to have...money!" And then you have some alley cats who come in, and sing a similar song about how tough they are and how little personality they have.
And what do you know, Jerry just leads them into a manhole and we never see them again after that!
Let me tell you, I first saw this movie probably before I started grammar school. I saw a little bit of the number where Tom and Jerry sing about friendship, and I immediately turned away. There were other bits and pieces I saw over time, and they all played to that stupid Rescuers-wannabe plot, doing nothing to keep my interest. Even before I had any modicum of taste, I could tell just how off this movie was. This should give you an indicator of just how pure and basic Tom and Jerry are, and just how blatant this movie is.
Now, there have been other projects that got the characters so wrong before. There have been works that had Tom and Jerry as kids, in the gradually-flowing animation of Chuck Jones, and even in shorts by Gene Deitch that downplayed their slapstick and displayed a keen sense of miscommunication between crew members. And even all those still got Tom and Jerry right, in ways this movie failed so blatantly at. In 1976, Hanna and Barbera made an infamous show starring the two wherein they became friends full-time (animation restrictions also gave Jerry a bow tie). That is just how wrong this movie is, and how much of a miscalculation everything was.
Everything about this ripping was so richly deserved and should satisfy any Tom and Jerry fan.