Saturday, June 20, 2015

Animated Discussions: Tom & Jerry: Spy Quest

Comics and animation fans love odd mash-ups; Dark Horse's current mash-up of Archie Vs. Predator attests to that. So when I got a preview copy of a direct-to-DVD feature from Warner Home Video called Tom and Jerry: Spy Quest, that teams animation's original cat and mouse duo, Tom and Jerry, with Jonny Quest and his family, I was both curious and a bit dubious, as these crossovers can go horribly wrong. Fortunately, this one works pretty well.

What starts out as a normal Tom and Jerry cartoon with Tom and Jerry on the beach quickly turns into something more as Tom's hijinks makes the pair bump into Jonny Quest, his best friend Hadji, and his dog Bandit. Robots attack, and Jonny takes in Tom and Jerry. Quickly it's revealed that the robots are actually cats in armor working for Dr. Zin, arch foe of the Quest family, and when Zin's cats are able to infiltrate the Quest's home (thanks to Tom turning off the security systems to get a snack) and kidnap Dr. Quest, Jonny's father, and their bodyguard Race Bannon, along with Quest's new invention, the Q-Sphere, it's up to Jonny, Hadji, Tom, Jerry, and Bandit to save the day.

The movie does a good job of balancing the tropes of both of its characters. While many scenes are high action, with Jonny and Hadji in real peril, or Race fighting actual robots, and an elaborate evil plan by Dr. Zin, this is balanced by typical Tom and Jerry antics. One particular bit of shtick has Tom completely panic and freak out at the sound of any dog barking, usually to some catastrophic consequence that coincidentally interferes with Dr. Zin's machinations. This leads to a sort of classic spy comedy trope, that the cowardly Tom is thought of as a deadly threat by the villains, despite never intentionally doing anything.

The movie does embrace fully the Jonny Quest world of mysterious spies and foreign countries, so there are a couple of moments that seem out of another era. The country of Moldovistan, where Dr. Zin has his base, has snake charmers, evil spies in fezzes, belly dancers, and bazaars, seeming like something out of the less enlightened moments of the old cartoon. It does avoid most of the worst of this though, meaning that the principal characters of color aren't straight up stereotypes. While Hadji usually was presented as well rounded, even in the older episodes, the classic Dr. Zin was a typical Yellow Peril character. Here, his posture and manner is not stereotypical, and legendary character actor James Hong provides my favorite performance in the movie. A very funny exchange between Zin and Dr. Quest is steps away from being one between The Venture Bros. Dr. Venture and his nemesis, The Monarch, and while Zin's origin as he tells it melds that of Dr. Doom and Lex Luthor (a great bit for the in the know comic geek), his monologuing and back story spouting more resembles Dr. Doofenschmirts of Phineas & Ferb.

There are also tons of nods to both of the classic shows. Tom's dog nemesis, Spike, and his son pop up the opening scene. And when Jonny and Hadji need help in Moldovistan, they go to Jezebel Jade, Race's old flame, and a minor recurring character from the classic show, who happens to own a club right out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Jade's right hand man... er dog id Droopy, the melancholy sounding Basset Hound from classic Hanna Barbera cartoons, who I've always had a soft spot for. It's things like this, along with a retro opening that adds Tom and Jerry into the classic Jonny Quest opening sequence, that stirs my geek heart.

But let's be honest, here: for all my analysis, this movie is geared towards kids, and that's who will enjoy it. There's tons of laughs and action. There are cool robots. For all of the thoughtful stuff, it's really just a fun action cartoon that you'll be able to sit and enjoy for 75 minutes with your kids. Tom and Jerry and The Adventures of Jonny Quest both have places in my childhood, and it's nice to know that this generation will have an in to enjoy them as well in Tom and Jerry: Spy Quest.

Oh, and as one final geek history p.s., the president of the United States is voiced by Tim Matheson, who says that Jonny reminds him of himself when he was that age. Matheson was the original Jonny Quest. I love that kind of stuff.

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