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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Tom and Jerry': A Bland Cat-and-Mouse Chase : The formulaic story feels like a rerun and borrows characters from many other classics.

July 30, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Tom and Jerry--The Movie" (citywide) feels like "Tom and Jerry--The Rerun," as every element in the film seems to have been borrowed from some other animated feature.

The title duo is taken from the Oscar-winning cartoon series Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera directed at MGM from 1940 to 1958. All that's missing is the polished animation, razor-sharp timing and slapstick humor that made the cat-and-mouse team so popular. In their place is a formulaic story about a little girl finding her missing father with some help from her animal friends.

Tom and Jerry are left homeless when their owners move out and their old home is razed. After getting heavy-handed lessons in the value of friendship from Puggsy (voice by Edmund Gilbert), a goody two-paws street dog, and a gang of nasty alley cats, the pair meet Robyn (Anndi McAfee), a little girl fleeing her nasty guardian, Aunt Figg (Charlotte Rae), to search for her missing explorer/gazillionaire father. A series of stock adventures bring them together--to no one's surprise.

Parents who feel obligated to sit through "Tom and Jerry" with their kids can pass the time by noting what's been taken from where. The design of Aunt Figg is copied from Ursula in "The Little Mermaid," but she acts like Madame Medusa in "The Rescuers." Puggsy seems to have walked in from Don Bluth's "All Dogs Go to Heaven"; amusement park owner Captain Kiddie (Rip Taylor) has a hand puppet who makes sarcastic comments like Iago in "Aladdin." Robyn is a composite of Penny in "Rescuers" and every other spunky cartoon girl who's appeared on the screen in recent decades.

For the first time in their 53-year career, the pantomime characters of Tom and Jerry talk (Richard Kind and Dana Hill, respectively); they also sing some strikingly unoriginal songs. There's one about friendship, one about Robyn missing her father, one for Aunt Figg about loving money and more--all with banal, cat-and-doggerel lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Director Phil Roman robs the minimal physical comedy of its punch by pacing everything too evenly. The animation remains at the level of a television special.

Like hospital food, "Tom and Jerry" (MPGA rated: G) contains nothing that could be construed as harmful, but it's bland, pedestrian fare to offer a child. If the original Tom and Jerry had been this uninspired, the series would have ended with the first cartoon.

'Tom and Jerry--The Movie'

A Miramax Films release Live Entertainment Company in association with WMG presents a Film Roman production. Director Phil Roman. Producer Phil Roman. Executive producers Roger Mayer, Jack Petrik, Hans Brockmann, Justin Ackerman. Screenplay by Dennis Marks. Music Henry Mancini. Creative Consultant Joseph Barbera. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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