Trouble-free 'Tom & Jerry' falls flat

July 30, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

In "Tom & Jerry, The Movie," that may be Tom and that may be Jerry, but that sure isn't Tom and Jerry.

MGM's answer to Mickey Mouse made their debut in 1937 and, like all true radicals from Tom Paine to Che Guevara, got in trouble almost immediately. Tom was sour and mean; Jerry was fast and clever and together they defined the subversive possibility of the cartoon and its giddy ability to bend and braid the laws of physics and taste for years to come: the big brute trying to get the best of the small adversary in an arena of explosive but consequence-free violence and always failing. Think Bugs and E. Fudd, Sylvester and Tweety Pie, Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.

Of course moralists were outraged at what producer Fred Quimby and cartoonists William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had wrought, exactly as audiences were delighted. The pieces were brilliant and won eight Oscars between 1940 and 1952, an extraordinary accomplishment. I suspect that Quimby was the true auteur as nothing that Hanna and Barbera ever did -- from "The Flintstones" to "The Jetsons" -- ever had that energy and edge.

And now . . . they're not back.

Not really.

That sprit of anarchism and insanity, the energy, the sheer meanness of spirit, has been utterly drained from this tepid version. It's like running into Laurel and Hardy at some human potential seminar, and hearing them blather about sensitivity and male bonding.

Movies aren't moral, not really. They're actually fascistic (Hitler loved them) in that they by their very nature (they ape the eye being drawn to movement) tend to admire aggression far more than passivity. That reality is amplified in the realm of the animated cartoon, so Tom and Jerry could stand for all that is pagan and aggressive in man, and be loved not in spite of that but (subversively) because of that. But if you loved the old Tom and Jerry and secretly celebrated their barbarianism, best to stay far clear of this politically correct and artistically gelded fable.

Tom and Jerry aren't even antagonists any more; somehow, they've buddied up and they've been spayed into little helpers and set free in a generically imagined TV-like universe. Utterly without distinction, the story watches as they assist Robyn, a saccharinely conceived Little Orphan Annie-type figure who is being hunted by her irritating aunt and uncle while her real father, a mysteriously wealthy but vanished power figure has gone missing.

The artwork is drab, to say the very least, just as the color scheme is mind-blowlingly puerile. The "villains" in particular have a sad, Saturday Morning el cheapo look to them and the voices behind the flat drawings seem to represent a spectacular collection of burnt-out cases: Charlotte Ray, Henry Gibson, Rip Taylor, Howard Morris.

The movie left me not so much angry as utterly defeated. I just wish it would go away.

"Tom & Jerry, The Movie"

Animated Feature

Directed by Phil Roman

Released by Miramax

Rated G


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