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Friday, February 26, 2021

Tom & Jerry


The makers of 2021's live action/animation hybrid Tom & Jerry movie avoid the key mistake that 1993's fully animated Tom & Jerry: The Movie made.  Namely, the previous film had the famous cartoon cat and mouse able to talk throughout almost the entire movie.  And no, giving the characters the gift of constant speech did not improve or add anything.  They remain mostly silent here, save for a few screams and yelps that seem to be sampled from the old cartoons from the 40s and 50s.  For this, fans will no doubt be grateful.

That being said, director Tim Story (2019's Shaft) and screenwriter Kevin Costello have made a lot of new mistakes here.  So many that the film will probably only be enjoyed by the smallest of children, or those with the least discriminating of tastes.  This movie ends up being a bizarre mix of bland cartoon-style slapstick that tries, and mostly fails, to recreate some of the classic gags as Tom the Cat and Jerry the Mouse chase one another through a luxury Manhattan hotel, and an even more bland story about a young woman trying to con her way into a job, which requires her to pull off an elaborate wedding for a power couple.  There are a lot of times when the movie feels like the Studio just took an old romantic comedy script that they had lying around somewhere, and then threw in some Tom and Jerry antics into it.  Needless to say, these elements don't quite mix, and the movie never comes to life in the roughly 100 minutes that it runs.

I understand that you need a lot of human characters and plot to fill up an entire movie to go with the cartoon fights and gags.  But why make the human elements so aggressively forgettable?  Have anyone who watches this film take a quiz about what happened and who these people are 24 hours after watching it, and they're sure to flunk.  That's because, despite a talented and game human cast, they're given nothing to work with.  20-something Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) lives in a New York City where all the animals are cartoon characters. (Something the movie never has as much fun with as it should.) She's out of work, so she manages to talk her way into a job at a ritzy hotel that is gearing up to hold a wedding for a couple that are on all the magazine covers, Ben (Colin Jost) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda).  She has no experience, but manages to swipe someone else's resume that impresses the hotel manager (Rob Delaney), who hires her on the spot.  The hotel's lead event planner Terence (Michael Peña) is suspicious of her skills, and aims to get rid of her.

At that same moment, both Tom and Jerry end up in Manhattan at the same time for reasons the movie doesn't clue us in on.  Tom wants to make it as a street performer, while Jerry is looking for a new home, and ends up moving into the hotel.  When it's learned that there is a very clever mouse disturbing the peace of the place, Kayla is placed in charge of getting rid of it.  She hires Tom to help her, and we're off and running on what should be some lively classic slapstick from the cat and mouse duo, but feels rather flat.  It's not just the fact that the human actors and cartoon characters never quite look right together.  So much so that the special effects sometimes looks like a demo of what a live action and cartoon hybrid could be.  It's also that the timing and the pacing of the gags are low energy.  They recreate some of the classic cartoon gags, and throw in small roles for some of the old supporting toon characters like Spike the Bulldog (voiced here by Bobby Cannavale).  But it never adds up to anything worthwhile.

Tom & Jerry would be bizarre if it weren't so boring.  There are a flock of cartoon pigeons who show up once in a while to provide a hip hop soundtrack for absolutely no reason, and play no part in the story.  There's a woman who works at the hotel named Joy (Patsy Ferran) whose sole character trait is that she likes to pop up out of nowhere and startle people.  Why?  Never explained.  She's not a weird or bad employee.  The movie just wanted to give her a quirky running gag, and it falls on its face.  There are also some oddly dated movie references thrown throughout the film, including 1989's Batman, The Silence of the Lambs and The Warriors.  But the most bizarre aspect is how the movie gradually seems to focus less on the cartoon stars, and more on the human relationships.  The soon to be wed couple are having problems, because he wants a big, lavish wedding with elephants and tigers, and she feels he doesn't listen to her.  Kayla also strikes a possible relationship with the hotel bartender who teaches her to be proud of herself and who she is.  That's great and all, but who watches a Tom and Jerry movie for this stuff?


Watching the film, I was reminded of 2010's largely forgotten and equally boring live action/animated take on Yogi Bear.  That was the movie that decided to put the cartoon bears, Yogi and Boo-Boo, increasingly in the background so that it could focus on the love life of Ranger Smith.  Both films make the exact same mistakes.  Neither fully understand what made the original cartoons enjoyable, both get largely distracted with unnecessary outside elements, and both are bad ideas that probably should have been rejected scripts.

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