BY JOHN BILLINGER
I grew up a Tom and Jerry fan. I would watch all the Cartoon Network marathons of the original Hanna-Barbera shorts from the 40s/50s. They have excellent animation, great comedic timing, and were just funny in general. And whenever any of those full-length Tom and Jerry movies(that were made in the 2000s) were on tv, such as “Blast Off To Mars” or “The Fast and the Furry,” I would watch them as well. However, when most people discuss any Tom and Jerry movie, there is one that is particularly infamous: “Tom and Jerry: The Movie” (1993).
The road to getting a Tom and Jerry movie made was an eventful one, dating back to the 1970s. The original shorts were very popular on television on reruns, so various attempts to get a full-length film about the iconic duo started to turn up as a result. For example, famed animator and director of the 1960s Tom and Jerry shorts Chuck Jones wanted to do one, but couldn’t find a script he liked, and MGM (then the owners of the IP) wanted a live-action movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Chevy Chase (I’ve got no idea how that would’ve gone down).
In the late 1980s, animator Phil Roman got on board to direct the film under his company. This was Roman’s second animated film he directed after co-directing “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” with veteran “Peanuts” director Bill Melendez. Roman was a fan of the original shorts and even got series co-creator Joseph Barbera as a creative consultant. This movie was going to be Tom and Jerry’s first theatrical release since 1967, and to make this return big, Roman and his team decided to do something that would make this film stand out for the ages. But what exactly did they do? We’ll get to that.
The plot is as follows:
Tom and Jerry’s owner (more specifically, Tom’s) leaves them behind as she moves away from their house. Said house is soon demolished, leaving them without a home. The titular duo soon meets another duo, a stray dog and his friend, who is a flea. They advise Tom and Jerry to put aside their differences, work together, and be friends. It is also at this point in the film, that Tom and Jerry (after many years of being a silent duo) talk. Like, have actual full dialogue. This movie is also a musical, so not only do they talk, but they also sing. Anyway, Tom and Jerry soon meet a runaway girl named Robyn, who has left her evil guardian Aunt Figg in order to find her famous explorer Dad. Tom and Jerry decide to help Robyn reunite with her Father, as they go on an adventure and meet all sorts of weird people; all the while, Robyn’s Aunt tries to hunt her down.
Now, one of the biggest issues with this film is that Tom and Jerry talk to each other. In the classic shorts, Tom and Jerry almost never talk, and on the few occasions where they ever did talk, it was for a gag. And you know, having them not talk is a good thing. Sometimes, you don’t need to have a dialogue to convey what a character is thinking or feeling. Body language and facial expressions can do the same job, sometimes better. The old shorts were great at that, and as a kid, I never cared that Tom and Jerry didn’t talk because I knew everything about them by just watching them.
As one can imagine, one of the main points of criticism towards this film (actually, pretty much the main thing most people talk about) is the fact that they talk, and yeah, it’s a problem. It kind of takes away from the identity of Tom and Jerry, and makes it seem like they’re any other cartoon character. The dialogue that they’re given isn’t practically interesting either and didn’t reveal anything we didn’t know about the characters before.
With that said, I do understand why the filmmakers decided to make them talk. This was Tom and Jerry’s first big full-length movie. You have to do something to make it stand out, but I definitely wouldn’t call it a good idea. Again, the end result of having them talk just takes away the identity of the original source material. They probably could’ve had them not talk, and it would’ve been fine. For example, in the first 10 minutes of the film, Tom and Jerry don’t talk, they just use expressions, and it’s way better. Future Tom and Jerry movie productions clearly took a cure from the first 10 minutes and avoided talking scenes like the plague.
Another thing in this movie that people like to criticize is the fact that Tom and Jerry are friends. Again, this is also a change in the usual formula that the filmmakers thought would be a good idea to help the movie stand out. I see what they were trying to do, but when you have to hear friend this and friend that, you’d just want to hand them each a mallet just so that they could kill each other like in the old days. Actually (spoilers), the end of the film ends with them chasing after each other again. I guess even after going on an epic adventure, they didn’t learn anything at all about being friends. I suppose the filmmakers thought it’d be a cute way to end the movie, but you just end up thinking either, “Why couldn’t they do this throughout the movie?” or, “They went through all these hardships just to go back to where they were before? What a waste.” It’s kinda like at the end of Pinocchio; after becoming a real boy, he just went back to Pleasure Island.
Then, there’s the story. The entire plot is not that interesting and includes elements seen in other animated films. The film’s main conflict is getting Robyn, the little girl, reunited with her father, who looks an awful lot like Indiana Jones (except with a mustache, so he looks more like if Tom Selleck was cast as Jones). Robyn is not that unique of a character. She’s just another poor, helpless little girl character in an animated film, no different from Penny from “The Rescuers” or Jenny from “Oliver & Company.” The film shares other elements from those films as well. The villain of the movie, Robyn’s Aunt Figg, is a similar sort of character that was seen with Madam Medusa in “The Rescuers,” and Aunt Figg trying to capture Robyn in order to gain fortune reminds me of a similar scheme in “Oliver & Company.”
I also feel like the film introduced too many wacky side characters, some of which don’t come back or get any closure. There’s one scene involving a singing gang of Alleycats that sing a song, and they’re never seen again. Then there’s the ensemble of villains. It’s not just Aunt Figg that Tom and Jerry must face off against. They also have other adversaries, including Aunt Figg’s lawyer Mr. Lickboot, Aunt Figg’s dog, a pet kidnapping veterinarian named Dr. Applecheeks, his henchmen, and a traveling carnival sea captain by the name of Captain Kiddie (who has an annoying puppet sidekick). Most don’t really add anything, and make the film feel more convoluted than it has any right to be.
Now onto the things that I like, because there are actually things that I liked in the film. First off, the animation. This movie’s animation looks and feels like the classic shorts from the 40s and 50s. I have a soft spot for that era of animation, so it’s cool to see a film try to match that art style. They even included period stuff like white picket fences and woody station wagons. Secondly, the music is also pretty good. The score was composed by classic Hollywood composer, Henry Mancini. This film was one of the last films that he did the soundtrack for prior to his death in 1994, and he delivered a fitting soundtrack. As stated earlier, the film is also a musical, and while some of the songs are a bit distracting, they aren’t bad. They’re trying to emulate the classic Hollywood musicals of the 50s, and they fit the style they’re going for.
Finally, there’s the voice work from all the actors. Despite the fact that Tom and Jerry speaking is a bit distracting, I thought that the actors that they got to do Tom and Jerry’s voices, Richard Kind and the late Dana Hill did a good job with what they were given. While watching this, one can also tell that all the actors playing the villains had a lot of fun voicing the villains. The rest of the cast is average; nothing really more to say.
While this film gets a lot of hate, I think it’s mostly undeserved. Sure Tom and Jerry talking and being friends was a bad idea, but once you get past that, this is just an average, if otherwise, unremarkable animated film. It’s fine for kids, but there’s nothing much to see for adults. In the following 30 years, there has been a slew of direct-to-video Tom and Jerry movies, which featured no Tom and Jerry talking, and (at least from what I can remember about them) kept Tom and Jerry in conflict. There was even a return to the big screen for them back in 2021, in live-action, no less. But regardless if that film is better or worse than this one (I haven’t seen the 2021 movie), I can say one thing for certain, at least this one has superior animation.
Side Note #1:
This film has spawned this internet meme.
Side Note #2:
This film features a cameo appearance from Droopy, who is a depressed cartoon dog created by animator Tex Avery in 1943. Droopy had his own series of shorts that were produced and distributed by MGM Studios, who also distributed the original Tom and Jerry shorts. He’s only in the movie for a few seconds, and yet he’s on some versions of the poster as if he’s a supporting character.