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Thursday, June 18, 2015

TOM & JERRY: SPY QUEST -- DVD Review by Porfle

When the evil Dr. Zim's henchcats kidnap Dr. Benton Quest and his pilot/bodyguard "Race" Bannon, along with Quest's powerful energy-generating invention, the "Q Sphere", it's up to Quest's son Jonny, his Indian friend Hadji, their dog Bandit, and new friends Tom & Jerry to find their way to Dr. Zim's volcano hideout and save the day.

That's right, Tom & Jerry, the cartoon cat-and-mouse team who've been chasing each other around our movie and TV screens since King Kong was underage.  It seems  they've been getting paired up with a series of unlikely co-stars in TV movies these days, from Sherlock Holmes to the Wizard of Oz, and in the original feature-length cartoon TOM & JERRY: SPY QUEST (2015) they inadvertently fall in with one of the most action-prone animated clans to ever grace Saturday mornings. 

"Jonny Quest" started out in primetime back in 1964 with surprisingly violent and adult-tinged adventures that we kids went crazy over.  The show seems to have been influenced by James Bond's 1962 movie debut DR. NO--the Quests' main adversary is Asian baddie Dr. Zim, who is often found hanging out in an empty volcano and doing things like toppling rockets.  In the episode "The Fraudulent Volcano" (included on this disc), a sleeping Dr. Quest is even threatened by a deadly tarantula as is Bond in his first film. 

TOM & JERRY: SPY QUEST continues this Bond vibe but with additional elements from such films as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, CASABLANCA, and even Rob Zombie's own full-length cartoon THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO. The latter two are particularly evident in sexy leading lady Jade's big song-and-dance number which she performs in her nightclub, Jade's Cafe' Americain.  (Jade, it turns out, is one of Race Bannon's old girlfriends, and their breakup wasn't on good terms.)  This elaborate sequence, with MGM star Droopy putting in a droll cameo appearance, is one of the film's highlights.

The RAIDERS influence is the most obvious--the action sequences are fast and furious, packed with plane crashes, chases, hand-to-paw combat, et cetera.  Everything zips along as though the filmmakers are deathly afraid we'll doze off if things slow down for five seconds.

Of course, the juxtaposition of all this with comedy stars Tom & Jerry is sometimes just as awkward as it sounds, but there are stretches in which either the Quest bunch do their thing or Tom and Jerry go about their business as though they were back in one of their regular cartoon shorts. 

Actually, the combo isn't really all that bad once you get used to it--it's kind of like one of those Colgate Comedy Hour sketches in which Martin and Lewis are their usual wacky selves while guest stars such as Humphrey Bogart or Burt Lancaster spoof their own serious personas. 

The pre-titles segment of the movie is a separate Tom & Jerry short unto itself, with the adversarial duo getting in each other's way while hanging out at the beach.  It isn't until Jonny and Hadji show up, followed by a trio of Zim's attack cats (Tin, Pan, and Alley--get it?) in power suits, that the odd clash of sensibilities begins.  The titles themselves harken back to the original Jonny Quest show's classic opening sequence and thrilling musical theme. 

Strangely, we get the same unequal relationship between housecat Tom and the talking, uniformed bad-guy cats that exists between Disney's canine characters Goofy and Pluto.  (One of Dr. Zim's feline henchcats is even based on Dustin Hoffman's "Rain Man.") 

Dr. Zim and his gang are played for laughs more here than ever before, although the final phase of his scheme turns into a thrilling suicide attack on Washington D.C. in which his entire volcano hideout takes off and is set to crash into the White House with all of our heroes aboard.  (Dr. Quest's solution to this, involving the Washington Monument, is a bit of a stunner.)

Once again, Tom gets the brunt of the most sadistic gags--and for no apparent reason, since he's mostly just minding his own business while Jerry's being his usual insufferable, hateful little self.  One running gag has the starving Tom being constantly denied food while Jerry, of course, gets to gorge himself.  (A scene in which Jerry snatches a juicy steak right out of Tom's mouth just before he bites down on it--and then SLAPS him with it--is especially galling.) 

This is partially made up for by having Dr. Zim mistake Tom for a fearless, super-efficient action hero thanks to the hapless cat accidentally defeating Zim's henchmen during their various attacks while wearing one of their power suits.  Still, this movie only serves to increase my utter hatred for Jerry the mouse while causing me to cringe every time Tom is unfairly made the brunt of the usual sadistic and humiliating gags. 

The character design and backgrounds are eye-pleasing, with Tom and Jerry looking much like they did back in the 40s and 50s and the Quest crew rendered better than in previous reboots of the original series.  The story zips along with nary a slow spot to catch our breath, culminating in an effectively suspenseful climactic sequence that's very nicely done. 

Voice talent includes original Jonny Quest voice actor Tim Matheson (ANIMAL HOUSE, A VERY BRADY SEQUEL) as the President, James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) as Dr. Zim, and Tia Carrere (WAYNE'S WORLD) as femme fatale Jade. 

The DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is in matted widescreen format, with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles available in several languages including English, Spanish, and French.   Extras include four recent "Tom & Jerry" cartoon shorts ("Birthday Bashed", Feline Fatale", "For the Love of Ruggles", and "Sleuth or Consequences"), an episode of "The New Jonny Quest" ("Deadly Junket"), and, best of all, an episode from the classic original series entitled "The Fraudulent Volcano" which beats "You Only Live Twice" and its secret volcano bad-guy lair by several years. 

TOM & JERRY: SPY QUEST isn't nearly the mutant mess I was expecting, although funny animal comedy and hard-bitten action and intrigue being shoehorned into the same frantic film does lead to a somewhat uneasy alliance.  Still, I got a kick out of the novelty of it all and enjoyed seeing these characters given such a lavish vehicle that's worthy of their stature. 

Buy it at
Street date: June 23, 2015


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