Tom & Jerry (2021)
Director: Tim Story
Screenwriters: Kevin Costello
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Colin Jost, Rob Delaney, Ken Jeong, Pallavi Sharda
What could one hope to expect from a Tom and Jerry “live-action” film? Most animation-meets-reality films are rather bland, formulaic cash-ins on famous cartoon characters, and it’s hard to say Tom & Jerry is much different. The film is basically 100 minutes of corny slapstick comedy trying its best to support a weak plot that technically makes this a movie.
Tom & Jerry is the story of a young woman named Kayla (Moretz). After conning her way into a job at a hotel, she strives to prove she is worthy of employment. She has to help Terrance (Peña) and Mr. Dubros (Delaney) with the wedding of two celebrities, and her main duty is hiring Tom to catch Jerry so that he doesn’t ruin the reputation of the hotel. Meanwhile, Tom wants to catch Jerry and play piano, and Jerry wants to live in the hotel. Unfortunately, establishing goals for characters isn’t enough to create the sort of dimension that should exist in film, and thus Tom & Jerry meanders from set piece to set piece, with little but the need for things to be happening on screen driving the course of events.
The most important thing to know about Tom & Jerry is that it doesn’t simply place cartoon characters into our world – every animal in Tom & Jerry is a cartoon. This world is a nightmare hellscape where every animal is some kind of wacky, outlandish character. The humans don’t want Jerry gone because rodents spread disease or breed at absurd rates, the real problem is that he’ll steal people’s property, float around on the scent of cheese, and get into whirlwind-inducing fights with cats, dogs, and elephants. There are a decent number of ‘Tom and Jerry’ characters in the film, but their roles are as shallow as the cartoons – the dog is violent and dumb, the female cat is there to be Tom’s love interest, and while the mean alley cats barely feature, they are solely villainous for no reason.
Overall, the animation looks pretty good. The cartoon characters were 3D figures that perfectly resemble the old art style. Cartoon motions and actions translate well through this method, preventing any sort of uncanny valley effect more “realistic” characters could have caused. This also results in confusing fourth-wall interrupting moments when animal slobber or breath gets on the camera. There are moments where humans acting with something that isn’t there doesn’t look great, but the animation does well to keep focus on itself during the most chaotic moments where an extra’s cue doesn’t fit perfectly with what was inserted in post.
Cartoon violence can only carry a movie so far, though. The absurdity of the story may cause a momentary chuckle, but it begins to wear thin after the fourth or fifth scene of animals chasing each other. It’s hard to become invested in the celebrity wedding because the two are so vapid and cartoonish themselves. Every conversation any character partakes in becomes some mixture of decent improv and lame exclamation of feelings. Chloë Grace Moretz is somewhat believable and likable as someone trying to make her way in the world with ambition and street smarts, but then she also has to convincingly talk to a CG cat and FaceTime people who aren’t really there. Michael Peña’s character is completely unlikable; though he has his moments if you like him as an actor. There’s hardly any meaningful tension before the neatly sorted third act finally ties the whole script together, mercifully offering an end.
What audience was Tom & Jerry even made for? Millennials who watched the cartoon shorts as a kid? Maybe it’s just something new that millennial parents can turn on for their kids? The dynamic between the human actors is only occasionally funny, and it’s hard to argue that a film capped off with a dog fart is a movie made for adults. This movie cost $50 million to make, and it certainly isn’t going to be raking in loads at the box office for Warner Bros – if it wasn’t released for “free” on HBO Max, this review would probably be by a different author.
Don’t bother with Tom & Jerry unless you’ve seen everything else good on streaming. Nomadland is on Hulu. Stop reading reviews of mediocre films seeking to exploit your love for a cartoon from seventy years ago and go watch that.