Tom & Jerry
Movie execs should really stop taking properties about cartoon animals and using them to make films about boring, poorly-formed human characters.
This weekend’s Tom & Jerry is the latest to make this tiresome mistake, but the gripe goes for everything from Sonic to Godzilla as well.
An early entry in Warner Bros’ ambitious and unique plan for 2021—as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the movie theater industry, they’ve opted to put pretty much their entire slate of films on HBO Max simultaneously with their theatrical release—Tom & Jerry seeks to yet again rejuvenate a classic property for a new age. This time, they’re doing the live-action thing: cartoon animals interacting with real actors in live-action environments—a fresh idea that has so rarely been done before and always produces great results.
The beloved cat and mouse aren’t even the main characters in their own movie. Tom and Jerry play second-fiddle to Chloë Grace Moretz’s Kayla, a down-on-her-luck woman attempting to con her way into a high-up management position at a five-star hotel in New York. Jerry is the hotel’s “mouse problem” that Kayla is tasked with solving after faking her way into employment, and Tom, already bent on catching Jerry anyway, winds up being the cat she “hires” to help her hunt him down.
This, of course, leads to a series of hotel-obliterating scraps between the two cartoons. Unfortunately, the animated action feels all too meager amidst the shocking abundance of time we spend watching Kayla try to hide her lack of job qualifications from Terrence the events manager (Michael Peña) who is on to her from the start.
In case, for whatever reason, you’re wondering: no, this A-plot is not interesting or worth the wait to get to the cat-and-mouse shenanigans. At all. Please, just give me more of Tom and Jerry hurting each other.
Director Tim Story (responsible for such classics as Fantastic Four, Ride Along, and the 2019 Shaft reboot) has somehow managed to suck all the life and fun out of a property that revolves around animals hitting each other in the face with different household objects, and turn it into a dry, overacted, less-than-half-assed attempt at a story about a person lying to get a high-level job and then colossally failing at it. With animals hitting each other in the background.
Oh, and there’s a bunch of out-of-touch jokes about gender identity, TikTok, and Facebook! And Tom and Jerry take a selfie together! Bravo, Tim.
It’s also no surprise, but nonetheless draining, that here’s not a believable or engaging performance among the human cast. The only really likable one comes from Rob Delaney (who many may recognize as the endearing Peter from Deadpool 2) as the aloof but good-natured hotel manager—Kayla and Terrence’s boss. Honorable mention goes to Colin Jost as an airheaded, ultra-rich goober getting married at the hotel. He’s almost likable.
The Saturday-morning slapstick we do get from our titular characters is pretty good—on par with (or at least close to) the creativity of the classic cartoons, often aided by a bigger budget, higher stakes, and a combination of CGI cartooning and live-action camera angles to sell big, goofy stunts and sight gags with just a little extra oomph. It’s just sad we couldn’t get a whole movie of that, rather than a 70/30 ratio of drab human plotting to animated critter-on-critter violence.
There really just isn’t much to pick apart here. Even if you’ve been chomping at the bit for more Tom & Jerry content (and that’s a big “if”), I can’t imagine this will do much for you. That being said, I leveled the same complaint at the last two American Godzilla movies, and Godzilla fans have let me know time and time again how wrong I was about that. (Mind you, I’m hyped for Godzilla vs. Kong regardless.)
If you do need that fix for Tom & Jerry mayhem, just re-watch the old cartoon. Or find some of the hilarious meme edits on YouTube. Just steer clear of this one. I don’t think it would even pass muster for basic stimulation for your children. I can’t imagine four-year-olds being that engaged by Moretz and Peña when Tom and Jerry aren’t around.
Here’s hoping WB’s all-streaming catalogue for 2021 is just warming up, and that the whole thing wasn’t just an internal realization that none of their movies for the rest of the year are worthy of a theatrical-only release.
But I’m sure Justice League: The Snyder Cut will turn the ship around later this month. Right?