“Tom and Jerry Talk” won’t go down in film history as a slogan to rival “Garbo Talks.” Though slickly animated, this first full-length pic featuring the vintage cat and mouse characters is misconceived from start to finish, full of gooey sentimentality and relegating Tom and Jerry to supporting characters in a banal melodramatic plot. It’s serviceable fare for TV and homevideo, but theatrical potential is limited. The pic opened yesterday in Germany and doesn’t yet have a U.S. distrib (Live Entertainment has domestic theatrical rights).
The essence of the Tom and Jerry characters created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in 1940 was their endless cycle of conflict, their archetypal battle between malevolence and innocence. The most egregiously bad idea in “Tom and Jerry: The Movie” is to turn them into buddies singing, dancing and doing battle together against the world.
There’s always been a symbiotic relationship between Tom and Jerry that could have served as the basis for an extended plot–their compulsive need for each other’s antagonism–but changing their feud into a plea for fellowship is ridiculous. What’s next, a “Roadrunner Movie” in which the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cuddle and start housekeeping?
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The decision to make a full-length movie about Tom and Jerry was fraught with unusual creative perils. Having a cat simply chase a mouse for 80 minutes would get numbingly repetitive. And keeping them mute, as they have been for more than half a century, could mean making a silent movie. Even Chaplin had second thoughts about that issue.
Following an enjoyable, fast-paced 10-minute opening that recalls the best of the old cartoons, the movie does a screeching about-face when Tom and Jerry suddenly burst into words, surprising even each other. Though Tom is given the requisite wiseguy voice by Richard Kind and Jerry is sweetly vocalized by Dana Hill, the feeling persists that the chatter should have been left to the human characters.
But the baddies in Dennis Marks’ homiletic script are gratingly villainous, and their grasping designs on a child heiress friend of Tom and Jerry are cornball Saturday ayem cartoon stuff. Evil Miss Figg (voiced by Charlotte Rae) is a shameless knockoff of the villainous octopus Ursula in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” but without the wit and panache Pat Carrollbrought to that character.
Director Phil Roman has kept the animal sections supple and lively, and the art direction by Michael Peraza Jr. and Michael Humphries is attractive, but the human characters tend to look wooden. Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse contributed an energetic but mostly unmemorable score, aside from an amusing ditty about greed.