Judge Clark Douglas hopes his own wacky hijinks will one day be narrated by Garrison Keillor.
Fe, Fi, Fo, Fun! Tom and Jerry are on the run!
It's generally hard to get too excited about much of the straight-to-DVD Tom & Jerry stuff that has been released over the course of the past decade or so, as much of it is a disappointingly pale imitation of the vibrant original shorts. Besides, given that both of the title characters are silent, they're generally better suited to slapstick-driven shorts than to narrative-driven features. Still, I was curious about Tom and Jerry's Giant Adventure, as it was penned by the generally reliable Paul Dini (who has done a great deal of fine work in the realm of animation, penning episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Animaniacs, Duck Dodgers, Superman: The Animated Series and lots of other Warner Bros. stuff). As one might expect, Dini and co. aim a little higher than these films usually do, but it's still not worthy of the best stuff these characters have done.
The film opens in enchanting fashion, as narrator Garrison Keillor (A Prairie Home Companion) spins a melancholy tale about the rise and fall of a fairy tale-themed amusement park called Storyville. Once upon a time, Storyville was a rather charming place, but after its creator passed away, things fell into disrepair. Now the creator's widow (Grey DeLisle, The Fairly OddParents) and her young son Jack (Jacob Bertrand, Rise of the Guardians) are struggling just to make mortgage payments on the park (which also happens to be their home). In fact, if they can't muster up some money within the next twenty-four hours, an evil banker (Tom Wilson, Back to the Future) is going to foreclose on their property. As such, Jack's mother instructs him to see how much cash he can get for the family cow, but Jack winds up trading the cow to a friendly farmer (Keillor again) in exchange for some magical beans. Needless to say, Jack's mother is upset, but things take a surprising turn when Jack's beans transform into a giant beanstalk leading to a magical land.
You may have noticed that I haven't even mentioned Tom and Jerry. That's largely because the title characters are basically supporting players in their own movie, scurrying around in the background as the film tosses out a lightweight-but-likable variation on the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Save for a fun little early sequence in which the two inflict great violence upon one another, for the most part the cat and mouse begrudgingly work together in order to help Jack achieve his goal of saving Storyville. There are some cute gags here and there, but the animation budget simply wasn't large enough to permit the sort of frantic, ridiculously colorful action sequences that define these characters. As such, perhaps it's for the best that the focus is on a more traditional story.
Despite some cutesy cameos from other beloved animated characters (Droopy plays the role of Old King Cole in the magical world Jack visits, plus Spike the Bulldog has a couple of fun scenes), Tom and Jerry's Giant Adventure is a mostly-straightforward take on a familiar fairy tale. Yes, Tom and Jerry manage to get involved in a variety of ways, but the story still comes down to Jack frantically chopping at the beanstalk with his axe as an angry giant (Wilson again) climbs down. It's kind of forgettable, honestly (as are the musical numbers that pop up here and there), but it's much easier to tolerate than a great deal of what's available for the youngsters these days.
Though the story is pretty kid-centric, there are a few things older viewers will appreciate. I was particularly fond of a sequence in which all of the assorted characters band together to perform a variety show for the giant, with Keillor's character delivering a fairy tale-themed version of one of his Lake Wobegone stories ("The frost is on the pumpkins, and the winter doldrums are making Cinderella restless…"). Honestly, Keillor's participation in general gives the whole thing a sort of easy, laid-back vibe that works well for the film as a whole (not something I thought I'd be saying about a Tom and Jerry movie, but there you are). There are some clever visual gags throughout, including a wonderfully subtle nod to The Aristocats (of all things). I will note that one supporting character (a good-natured fairy named Red) seems a bit oversexualized for something this kid-centric—her proportions and outfits are closer to Jessica Rabbit than Tinkerbell.
The 1080p/1.78:1 transfer is solid enough, offering strong detail and bright, vibrant colors. The animation is on the cheaper side and HD only accentuates that, but that's the case with pretty much any straight-to-DVD animated release this side of some of the better DC Animated Universe outings. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is nice as well, though I wish Warner Bros. had been able to spring for a real orchestral ensemble (those synthetic strings just sound so tacky). Sadly, no supplements are included on the disc, though you do get a DVD copy and a digital copy.
As the film wraps up, Jack gets his happy ending (that's not really a spoiler, is it?) and Keillor tosses off a typically chipper message about believing in your dreams. "As for Tom and Jerry," he sighs as the two begin chasing each other, "Well, they went back to being Tom and Jerry. But that's another story." So it would seem. Tom and Jerry's Giant Adventure isn't going to satisfy those seeking cat vs. mouse mayhem, but it is a rather pleasant way to entertain the youngsters for an hour. Proceed accordingly.
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