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Review: “Tom & Jerry: Robin Hood and His Merry Mouse” Robs from the Past and Gives Nothing in Return

by on October 8, 2012

At least the title gets it right: Tom & Jerry: Robin Hood and His Merry Mouse is at least as much about the famous outlaw of Sherwood Forest as it is about the famous cat and mouse duo. So it gets points for truth in advertising. The rest is mostly muddle.

Plot-wise, this seventy-minute DVD feature is just another highlight reel of the usual Robin Hood antics. Evil Prince John is scheming to usurp the throne from his virtuous brother, Richard the Lionheart, who is away from the kingdom on a crusade. He levies exorbitant taxes. The thieves of Sherwood steal the gold back and distribute it to the poor. Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham conspire to trap Robin with a fake archery contest; Robin is captured; he escapes, and then goes off to save King Richard, who is about to return to the kingdom, from an assassination attempt. The end credits roll, but not quickly enough.

The film casts Tom and Jerry (and most of the rest of the old MGM cartoon contract players) as supporting characters. Jerry plays one of the merry men; Tom works for the Sheriff. Spike and his son are also “merry men”; Droopy is on hand as a kind of mini-me to Friar Tuck; Barney Bear hangs out with King John; the “wolf” plays all the Sheriff’s soldiers. The only quasi surprise (though it’s an obvious casting decision in retrospect) is “Red” as Maid Marian. Slapstick hijinks ensue.

So the first thing to understand about this movie is that you are basically getting “Robin Hood” in cartoon form, and are getting it pretty straight, much in the way that Disney delivered the Robin Hood story straight in its 1973 film. There is much less comedy in the actual plot than you might hope (certainly less that Disney gave it), and the slapstick feels shoehorned in, almost as though the filmmakers were trying to make a straight treatment and then threw in some anarchic bits when they found themselves at a loss for material. Still, there’s enough of it that children and other viewers won’t find themselves wondering where the “stars” of the picture have gotten themselves off to during the expository bits.

The result is a story that can’t quite make up its mind whether it wants to be a crazy, anthropomorphized version of the famous legend (again, like Disney provided) or a loose framework on which to hang some cartoony sequences. Tom and Jerry have appeared in “costume” stories before, most notably in “The Two Mouseketeers” and “Robin Hoodwinked”, which are two classic shorts included as extras on the DVD (along with the contemporary “Medieval Menace”). The difference is that in those pictures the “story” is just a pair of thin bookends with a lot of fat and juicy slapstick in between. In “The Two Mouseketeers”, for instance, the “story” is only that Tom has to guard the king’s feast, and everyone except the cat and the mice quickly disappear. There are a few spots where Robin Hood and His Merry Mouse almost adopts this form, but the characters keep intersecting with the human players, and the latter are never off screen for very long. You keep wanting the picture to turn into a series of seven-minute shorts, with the cat and mouse fighting it out in different settings with different gags; instead we just get a minute or two here and there, and it’s mostly just characters rocketing through the air or falling on their faces. It is dismaying to get to the end of it and realize how little visual invention went into the picture.

Nor do any of the other characters have much to do. This is emphatically true of the human characters, who are mostly there to deliver exposition for a plot that we don’t (and shouldn’t have to) worry about, but it’s also true of the others. Spike and Barney basically make cameos, and Droopy gets to do none of the “white magic” that he is famous for. “Red” as Maid Marian is swaddled in clothes and (sigh) never gets to take them off. There is one sequence, in which the wolves compete for Red’s favor, that almost achieves escape velocity, but it ends far too quickly when it should have been a short subject in its own right.
Technical merits? Eh. The animation is functional without being dazzling, and the humans are dull to look at. (At least the designers can draw the animals well.) There are a couple of forgettable songs, and the voice performers wouldn’t have any lift even if they weren’t burdened by their dialogue.

When all is said and done Robin Hood and His Merry Mouse really is just another “Robin Hood” picture with some subsidiary and not very bright star turns by Tom and Jerry. It’s not an embarrassment by any means, but it is wholly imitative of better things, and clumsily imitative at that.

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