As Jerry Mouse and his adorably (if inexplicably) French-accented little nephew Tuffy (voiced by Chantal Strand) sit watching a Christmas ballet in New York City the stage magically transforms into an enchanted kingdom. Toys come to life including La Petite Ballerina (Tara Strong) who joins Jerry in a dance. Suddenly Tom and his fellow alley cats raid the stage, terrifying everyone in sight and making mayhem. They also kidnap La Petite Ballerina, imprisoning her in a faraway castle. So Jerry joins Tuffy and their living toy friends, Nelly the pony (Kathleen Barr) and Paulie the pixie (Ian James Corlett) to save the day in a magical, musical adventure.
Joining the eclectic animated ranks of Nutcracker Fantasy (1979), The Nutcracker Prince (1990), and Barbie in The Nutcracker (2001) here Hanna-Barbera's immortal, eternally-feuding cat and mouse duo take on Tchaikovsky's cherished Christmas-themed ballet. Of course Tom and Jerry have a long history of making mischief with classical music: e.g. The Cat Concerto (1947), Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl (1950). So the revelation of Jerry's twinkle-toed dance dreams will come as no surprise to fans (hoofing around on-screen with the likes of Gene Kelly and Esther Williams clearly fueled that drive). The fifth straight to video film from Warner Brothers Animation and Turner Entertainment Co., Tom & Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale was sadly the last outing with creative input from co-creator Joseph Barbera, prior to his death in late 2006. Thanks to sound archives, Barbera's late animation partner William Hanna contributes to the gasps and yelps that serve as Tom and Jerry's dialogue, preserving the integrity of these classic characters.
Ignoring the sanitized versions that left fans unsatisfied through decades prior, the Warner films set out to recapture the style and tone of Hanna-Barbera's classic shorts at MGM. Thus Tom & Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale endeavours to balance the familiar zany slapstick violence with the heartwarming magic and wonder associated with Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet. Employing a sort of Brechtian conceit (ain't that a high-fallutin' word to use in a Tom & Jerry review), the plot stages a sort of play within a play. However the film ignores one inconvenient facet of E.T.A. Hoffmann's original story. There the mice are the villains. Here, of course, the cats take on that role with poor old Tom relegated to long-suffering henchman of the hectoring Cat King (Garry Chalk). Co-director and screenwriter Spike Brandt sets lyrics to the Tchaikovsky's score with mixed results but the music retains its timeless appeal.
While aimed squarely at young children the simple story-line proves suitably magical with funny albeit juvenile gags along with a handful of sequences that prove surprisingly dramatic. Even suspenseful: e.g. Jerry trapped under a frozen lake or the scene where our heroes sneak through a cave full of sleeping dragons. Compared to the cheap, pandering dross all too often served up as children's entertainment, the film was obviously crafted with no small amount of loving care. With seemingly no expense spared on its lavish backgrounds, engaging character designs and genuinely inventive musical sequences (the clock-tower scene where mechanical birds pound Tom to the sound of 'The Chinese Dance' strongly reflects Barbera's input), it is one gorgeous looking cartoon. Upholding the Yuletide theme the film also features a cameo from none other than Santa (Richard Newman). Here referred to semi-ambiguously as 'The Toymaker', he serves a plot function oddly similar to his role in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If the sight of Tom and Jerry bashing each other over the head to the strains of Tchaikovsky's enchanting music fills you with Christmas cheer, give this a go.