The adventures of the William Hanna and Joseph Barbera creations, Tom the tomcat and Jerry the mouse, or rat, or whatever small rodent he may be, began in 1940, before Tom even got his name, in an MGM short cartoon titled "Puss Gets the Boot," and the animated characters have been going strong ever since in over 170 films. "Shiver Me Whiskers" is their latest adventure, a full-length release that premiered on the Cartoon Network in August of 2006 and made its DVD debut a week later.
Although the director of this outing, Scott Jerolds, has done a number of other direct-to-video cartoons--"Superman," "Scooby-Doo," and the like--so he has the experience, he doesn't seem yet ready for the big screen. "Shiver Me Whiskers" plays like a television product all the way.
The first thing we notice is that the animation is about what we have come to expect from a relatively low-budget TV production. There isn't much detail in the background layouts, and most of the characters show little movement and even less facial expression beyond the obvious. The animators draw the two main characters well enough, to be sure, but the characters betray their origins as children's favorites in almost all of their actions.
The movie is little more than a typical eight-minute short subject blown up to the size of a feature-length film. This means the movie is short on plot and characterization and long on running, chasing, and falling down. Again, in a typical Tom-and-Jerry short cartoon this would be fine, but, for an adult viewer at least, it's simply tiring stretched out over seventy-one minutes.
In this adventure, Tom and Jerry are crew members aboard a pirate ship sailing the Seven Seas. They engage in the usual hijinks, with Jerry usually getting the best of his big buddy, Tom, and the ship getting the worst of their pranks.
One day a wave washes a bottle on deck, and inside they find a treasure map. At first, they fight over the map, and we get typical Tom-and-Jerry, Roadrunner-and-Coyote type shenanigans while they wreak havoc aboard the ship. Then Tom learns the map comes with a curse; he's got to put it back in the bottle by sunset or face dire consequences. The rest of the movie involves Tom, Jerry, the ship's captain, Red Pirate Ron, and others trying to find the map's treasure, the "treasure of the Spanish Mane," hidden away by the most-famous wig maker in Spain. OK, that's about the extent of the film's humor.
Red Pirate Ron has two brothers--Blue Pirate Bob and Purple Pirate Paul--who also want to get their hands on the treasure, and the three of them plus Tom and Jerry all vie for possession of the map. The cutest, if most overdone, part of the film involves the first two brothers' parrots, who translate their masters' garbled English for everyone to understand: "Yar, har-har!" Pirate Paul is the only one of the three who speaks clearly, which gives his parrot little to do. Pirate Paul is also the only one who doesn't buy into the whole brotherly color scheme, preferring to be called "Barnacle Paul."
The Red Parrot, especially, will remind viewers of the bird Iago in "Aladdin," and much of the film is obviously meant to remind viewers of "Pirates of the Caribbean." There is no doubt the filmmakers were trying their best to capitalize on the popularity of Disney's pirate movies, filling their own film with skeletons, ghosts, talking skulls, even a treasure grotto reminiscent of the one in "Pirates of the Caribbean."
The gags are routine, mostly slapstick, but not very imaginative slapstick. I'm sure the movie will entertain the youngest members of the family, for whom the filmmakers intended it, but there probably is not enough originality to any of the tomfoolery to interest most adults. About the only other things of interest in the film I haven't mentioned are an erupting volcano and a rock rooster.
The film boasts some good voice talents in some mundane roles. Kevin Michael Richardson plays Red Pirate Ron and Blue Pirate Bob; Charles Nelson Reilly does Red Parrot Stan; Wallace Shawn is Barnacle Paul; and, best of all, Mark Hamill voices the Skull, possibly the most-interesting character in the story, which, unfortunately, is not saying a lot.
There is nothing particularly funny or clever about "Shiver Me Whiskers." It's just another throwaway television cartoon, all motion, frenzied activity, and loud music, with little regard to wit or whimsy. Although the movie seems primarily designed to keep the younger ones occupied, it gives little offense, so I suppose one could do worse. But why not try for better?
Because WB made the movie for television, it comes in a standard, 1.33:1 ratio fullscreen television size. The colors tend to fade in and out of muted pastel shades and bright, vibrant hues. A high bit rate ensures that the colors are solid and the definition crisp. The transfer keeps grain at a minimum, as well as other noise, halos, moiré effects, and whatever.
The keep case and my DVD player claim the sound is in Dolby Digital 5.1, but there are only a few places during the movie when it even sounded like two-channel stereo. In other words, the center channel gets a workout. The audio not only has a narrow front-speaker stereo spread, there is only a touch of musical ambience in the surrounds. If there was anything more, I didn't notice it. In its defense, however, the sound is nicely dynamic, clear, and quiet.
The single extra of interest is a bonus ending, "Where Be They Now?" It's about three minutes long and tells what happened to the characters after the movie's story concludes. The other extra, a two-minute featurette called "The Animation Process: From Storyboard to Filmed Picture" provides a split-screen of storyboard and finished product to compare. Then, there is a series of eight trailers for other children's films from Warner Bros., and English as the only spoken language. There is no chapter insert because there are no chapters. Seventy-one minutes of film and zero chapter stops; WB must suppose that children would never stop in the middle of the film and want to return to where they left off; or maybe they suppose children just like playing with the remote control and fast forwarding.
I suppose we shouldn't expect too much from a made-for-television cartoon, but, in fact, I did expect a little more in the way of creativity here, given that it comes from the studio that brought us some of the best short cartoons ever made. But maybe that's the problem: I mean, Tom and Jerry are now a part of the WB stable of animated characters, and they work best in brief spurts, seven or eight-minute features. Stretching what the filmmakers could easily have fit in an eight-minute short into a seventy-one minute feature film means that "Shiver Me Whiskers" rather overstays its welcome.