Review: Tom & Jerry (2021)


Tom & Jerry (2021)

Directed by: Tim Story | 101 minutes | animation, comedy | Actors: Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Jordan Bolger, Rob Delaney, Patsy Ferran, Pallavi Sharda, Colin Jost, Somi De Souza, Ajay Chhabra, Patrick Poletti, Janis Ahern, Ken Jeong, Camilla Arfwedson, Joe Bone | Original voice cast: Bobby Cannavale, Nicky Jam, Joey Wells, Harry Ratchford, Will ‘Spank’ Horton, Na’im Lynn, Lil Rel Howery

Since the 1920s, filmmakers have been experimenting with merging live action and animation into a hybrid film form that offers plenty of creative possibilities. For example, in the period of the silent film, pioneer Max Fleischer already made a series of animation films in which the drawn character Koko the clown interacts with living beings. For example, there is a video of a boxing match between Koko and a kitten. Walt Disney was also early, with the ‘Alice Comedies’ in the late 1920s. Much better known are the ‘hybrid’ films that Disney released from the 1940s, such as ‘The Three Caballeros’ (1945) and the ‘Song of the South’ from 1946, which is now disclaimed because of racist stereotypes. Later the absolute classic followed. ‘Mary Poppins’ (1964), culminating in the improvised scene in which Dick van Dyke aka Bert the chimney sweep has a blast with a bunch of happy penguins. A new barrier was broken with ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988), in which millions were pumped into (for the time) state of the art special effects. In the 1990s, fans of the genre got their money’s worth with films such as ‘The Mask’ (1994), ‘Mars Attacks’ (1996) and ‘Space Jam’ (1996), after which the development of digital techniques pushed the boundaries between animation and live action became increasingly blurred.

Many well-known cartoon characters have been brought to life in live action movies in recent years, some with more success and persuasion than others (Paddington, for example, came out a lot better than Garfield). And now Tom & Jerry have to believe it too. Created in 1940 by the famous animation duo Hanna-Barbera, the cat and mouse still appeal to the imagination of the current generation of youth. And what’s not to like about it: a desperate cat who comes up with the most creative – and often quite violent – ways to finally get hold of that twisted mouse, which, to his great frustration, never succeeds (hands up who is not Team Tom!). The entire furniture is brought in to set the ultimate mousetrap, but often poor Tom gets the lid on his own snout. A colorful spectacle of chases, chaos and pure slapstick ensure that Tom & Jerry have been working on the road for more than eighty years. Although new or updated versions were regularly released, it is the classic shorts that Hanna-Barbera made between 1940 and 1958 that we can all remember, not least because of the music and the iconic sound effects.

‘Tom & Jerry’ (2021) had been in the pipeline for years, but just didn’t want to get off the ground. Should it be an animation film (‘in the spirit of the original short films), or a combination of live action/animation? It wasn’t until filmmaker Tim Story, best known for ‘Fantastic Four’ (2005) and the most recent ‘Shaft’ film from 2019, joined the project that things got moving. Story thought it was an interesting challenge to merge live action and animation and expressed the ambition to stay as close as possible to the original. As a self-confessed fan of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, just like in that film, he wanted his drawn characters to actually communicate with the flesh-and-blood characters. But you don’t have to worry that Tom and Jerry will suddenly speak in full sentences, because fortunately that is not the case.

In this film, the illustrious pair end up in one of New York’s swankiest hotels, where the society wedding of the year is about to explode. Wealthy Ben (Colin Jost), coincidentally also the owner of dog Spike, is getting married to his fiancée Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) and he can’t do enough to impress her family. But with Tom and Jerry around, things naturally go awry. Jerry in particular has it on his hips: a mouse in the kitchen, with all those delicious cheeses up for grabs, is of course not wanted. After chef (Ken Jeong, who can really only play one – rather annoyingly – character) discovers him, hotel manager Dubros (Rob Delaney) sends newfangled wedding planner Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz), who has used someone else’s resume to get a job get to the hotel, head out to catch Jerry. She convinces him that she needs Tom’s help, much to the frustration of event manager Mendoza (Michael Peña), who would like to get rid of both Jerry and Tom and Kayla.

The story has little to offer and is just as flat as the five-minute Tom & Jerry movies. There is no depth in the human characters. These are also very overplayed. You can expect more from people like Moretz, Delaney and Peña. The most convincing is the cat-and-mouse game between Tom and Jerry, here Story stays pretty close to the source material. It is in fact old-fashioned slapstick and the famous arch-rivals make a pleasant chaos in the hotel. Tom and Jerry are not the problem. Where it goes wrong is in the interaction with the actors. In any case, the human characters are not a success, most are too grotesque (only Delaney still seems somewhat normal) and exaggerated. Perhaps that was the intent of Story and screenwriter Kevin Costello – after all, characters in cartoons are also grotesque – and in a film like ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ it works out well. But here Story misses the mark miserably. The human characters are boring, bland and uninspired. The makers will probably focus mainly on the youngest viewers and for them ‘Tom & Jerry’ has enough fun to offer, although they also prefer to fast-forward the scenes in which only people can be seen and no animated characters! Dear Tim Story, if you had just made a long animation film, you would have looked better.