The Animated Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Animated Adventures of Tom Sawyer Movie Poster Image
Sanitized musical adaptation of the Mark Twain classic.
  • NR
  • 1998
  • 73 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Though kids will be introduced to characters from classic literature, the plot varies significantly from the source material.

Positive Messages

No matter what, it is always better to tell the truth. Being loyal to friends is a top priority.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite their mischievous behavior, Tom and Huck are good kids who put friendship and loyalty above everything else.

Violence & Scariness

Some cartoonish violence. A character is thrown from a barn. Another character is hit over the head with a shovel and killed. Imaginary sequences feature cannonball fire. One character shoots at another with a handgun.

Sexy Stuff

While exchanging a vow not to tell what they've told, Tom uses the expression "bit by bitches."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character is seen very drunk, stumbling around, slurring his words, and imbibing from a bottle marked "hooch."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this animated adaptation of the Mark Twain classic takes considerable liberties with the original work. Some of the more realistic (and therefore potentially unpleasant) portrayals of mid-19th Century Missouri -- slavery, racism -- are avoided or only mentioned in passing. Tom and Huck witness a man killed by being hit over the head with a shovel, and one character shoots another. An adult appears very drunk.

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What's the story?

Tom Sawyer (Ross Malinger) is always getting into mischief. After putting a frog in his Aunt Polly's soup, he must whitewash a fence, but he gets out of that by tricking his goody-two-shoes cousin Sid. At school, he gallantly takes the blame for classroom shenanigans, thus saving new girl Becky Thatcher (Kirsten Dunst) from facing the schoolmaster's wrath. With his best friend Huck Finn, they witness a murder, and as the wrong man is accused, the boys must decide on whether to tell the truth or stay quiet to avoid getting in trouble for sneaking into the cemetery at midnight and facing the vengeance of Tattoo Joe.

Is it any good?

This is a kid-friendly introduction to the classic Mark Twain book -- devoid of deeper meaning and taking considerable and questionable liberties with the original. THE ANIMATED ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER avoids raising questions from young kids that parents might be not ready to answer. The character "Injun Joe" is changed here to "Tattoo Joe," for instance, and Jim's slavery is mentioned only in passing. Instead, the fertile imaginations of Tom and Huck are explored here in greater detail -- typically through musical numbers of mediocre quality.

While some of the changes in the film make sense out of concern for younger viewers, other liberties are just plain weird and bizarrely self-indulgent. For parents who are fans of Mark Twain's work and want something closer to the original story, this movie something to avoid. For parents who want a very basic introduction unconcerned with how closely it adheres to the original and not ready to confront the realities of pre-Civil War America -- with lots of cheesy show tunes -- this is a tolerable venture.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the character Tom Sawyer. Despite the trouble he gets into, Tom is still a likeable guy. Where does he show himself to be a good person?

  • Does the violence in this movie make less of an impact because it's animated?

  • For parents and older kids familiar with the book Tom Sawyer, how does this adaptation remain true to the original? Where does it change things?

  • How accurately do you think this shows what it was like to be a kid in Missouri over 150 years ago?

Movie details

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