Has there ever been a longer-lived comedy team than Tom and Jerry? I don't think so. They've been going strong for over seventy years now, and this newest movie, "Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes" (2010), proves there is no end for them in sight.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera brought the animated characters Tom (the cat) and Jerry (the mouse) to the screen in 1940 for MGM, and the pair have continued in one medium or another ever since, notably the many film shorts, the various television series, and the television and direct-to-video movies such as this one from Warner Bros., who now own the rights to the characters.
But more important than "Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes" as a new Tom and Jerry cartoon is the fact that it boasts probably the most-impressive voice cast in years. Starring as the voice of Sherlock Holmes we get Michael York; as Dr. Watson we get John Rhys-Davies; and as Holmes's archenemy, Professor James Moriarity, we have Malcolm McDowell. While they don't play a huge part in the show (the movie is only fifty minutes long, and most of it centers on the shenanigans of the cat and mouse), it's fun knowing these people are involved.
The movie never specifies the setting, but since Arthur Conon Doyle tells us Professor Moriarity died going over the Reichenbach Falls in the story "The Final Problem" in 1891, we can safely assume the movie's setting is sometime before that date. In the cartoon, a gang of jewel thieves is plaguing London, and as the film opens they have just stolen a fabulous pink diamond (shades of the Pink Panther).
Jerry is Holmes's tiny assistant in the movie, the mouse living and conducting his own experiments in a hole in the wall at 221B Baker Street.
The plot begins in a somewhat convoluted way, with Jerry showing up at Holmes's flat with a message from his mistress, a beautiful young music-hall entertainer named Miss Red (Grey DeLisle), whom somebody is blackmailing. Holmes invites both Tom and Jerry along for the sleuthing, admonishing them that they "shall have to learn to coexist for the sake of this investigation."
It isn't long after questioning Miss Red that Holmes concludes that her being blackmailed and somebody committing a string of jewel thefts must somehow be related. This one still has me baffled. Anyway, Holmes makes the deduction from the fact that the Punjab Embassy is displaying the "Star of Punjab" diamond, and he figures Moriarity is after it. Moreover, after Moriarity does steal the diamond, the villainous criminal frames Miss Red for the deed. So Holmes and his assistants--human, feline, and rodent--must find Moriartiy and clear Miss Red's good name.
While Holmes and Watson go off searching in one direction, Tom, Jerry, and Miss Red go in another, which means that Tom and Jerry pretty much take over the show, and Holmes and Watson get left in the dust. (I'm not sure that John Rhys-Davies says more than two words in the entire movie.) It's OK, though, because this is, after all, a Tom and Jerry cartoon, complete with Butch, Spike, and even Droopy.
The movie's gags are cute, although they're not exactly original, mostly of the usual slapstick run, chase, and fall variety, with directors Spike Brandt and Jeff Siergey doing their best at least to keep the action moving forward instead of becoming stagnant. If much of Tom and Jerry's clowning seems extraneous to the plot, we shouldn't find that too surprising.
The screenwriter, Earl Kress, throws in a few names that will undoubtedly go over the heads of young viewers, but maybe their parents can explain them to them; things like the Rathbone Inn, the Bruce Nigel Music Hall, and a tailor named Brett Jeremy.
Adults will see a bit of the old 1939 "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" in Moriarity's attempted theft of the crown jewels from the Tower of London, and they will also see a modicum of Robert Downey Jr.'s "Sherlock Holmes" movie as well. Aided by a reasonably effective musical score by Michael Tavera, the whole show moves along with commendable efficiency.
What's more, there is some fine animation in the film, especially in the backgrounds, which can look quite detailed. Although the character drawings are rather simplistic, that's true, we have to remember that this is not a full-scale, feature-length theatrical film but a direct-to-video and download product, so it's easy to cut it a little slack.
Trivia: The movie's closing credits prominently display William Hanna's first name as "Willam." I'm not sure why. Is this the actual spelling of the name, is it a European spelling, or is it a glaring mistake? The keep case and slipcover both spell it "William," as does almost every reputable Web site I could find that lists it, including the Internet Movie Database. Input on this mystery gladly accepted.
The movie's video quality is excellent on this direct-to-disc product. The screen size is 1.78:1, so it fills a widescreen TV nicely, and, more important, its colors are bright and vivid but never too garish. One notices almost no noise, grain, jaggies, or moiré effects anywhere in the image, just a clean, clear picture, as we have come to expect from new animations.
There is not much to say about the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. It does it job quite efficiently, but little else. There's a wide front-channel stereo spread; a smooth, well-balanced midrange; and some pleasant ambient bloom in the music. Otherwise, the soundtrack leaves the rear and side channels alone and doesn't attempt too much in the way of dynamic range or frequency extremes.
You wouldn't figure on a lot of extras accompanying a movie that's only fifty minutes long in the first place, and you'd be right. The primary bonus item is a seven-minute special feature, "How to Draw Tom and Jerry," in which animator and co-director Spike Brandt does just that, with pencil in hand.
Beyond the one special feature, you get a few trailers at start-up and a few more in the main menu for other WB animated movies; English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages; Portuguese and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. There is no scene-selections menu available, but during the film you can click through half a dozen chapter stops using your remote. The keep case comes housed in a most-attractive slipcover, which may be the best-looking extra of all.
"Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes" will probably win no awards (at least none from me) for originality or laughs, but it does uphold the grand Tom and Jerry tradition of chases and pratfalls, and it's nice to see the pair of rascals grabbing the coattails of Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes to entertain old fans and maybe win a few new ones.