Tom and Jerry, that feuding cat and mouse duo, have a show-biz career that rivals Bugs Bunny’s for longevity; they’ve been making audiences laugh with their Oscar-winning antics for more than 50 years now. With that in mind, you’d think that Tom and Jerry: The Movie would be a surefire hit — a fun cartoon experience for the kids, a laugh-filled trip down memory lane for you. But it misfires: While mildly amusing, Tom and Jerry is hardly destined to become an animated classic.
The film opens with Tom (voice by Richard Kind) so busy barricading Jerry (Dana Hill) in his hole-in-the-wall hideout, he doesn’t notice his owners are accidentally leaving him home alone when they drive off to their new house. The next morning Tom awakens to find a wrecking ball demolishing the empty building. Homeless and on their own, this animated odd couple must now learn to cooperate if they are to survive in a harsh world.
Just when we think they will embark on a series of adventures worthy of top billing, Tom and Jerry meet Robyn Starling (Anndi McAfee), a poor little rich girl who has run away from her evil guardian (Charlotte Rae) to search for her long-lost father. From then on Robyn’s melodramatic story drives the movie.
Still, young kids probably won’t mind that the story shifts gears or care that the animation is uninspired and that the handful of song and dance numbers (cute but not catchy music by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse) woven into the story are slightly labored. Instead, they’ll delight in watching Tom and Jerry fight the bad guys — and torment each other.
The spurts of predictable cartoon violence thoughout the movie may bother you. But young children are more likely to be disturbed by Tom and Jerry’s scenes with Dr. Applecheek (Henry Gibson), who snatches people’s pets off the street and holds them for ransom.
Older kids and parents will have to savor the occasional creative crumbs thrown their way, such as the animators’ consistent cartoon reality (cute little Jerry is always in scale: He sleeps in a sardine can, and to get down from a table, he has to shimmy down a telephone cord). The experience of witnessing Tom and Jerry’s first-ever extended screen conversation is underwhelming.
Overall, though, the well-intentioned filmmakers work hard to send a positive message about the value of friendship. Despite Tom and Jerry’s history of hyperactive antagonism, it is their true friendship for each other and for Robyn that brings about the happy ending.
In the end, Tom and Jerry isn’t exactly an animated sensation on the order of Aladdin, but it isn’t a bad way to spend a hot afternoon with the kids, either. C