TOM & JERRY

★★

A SPIRITLESS REIMAGINING OF A CLASSIC CARTOON

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Joel Kalkopf
31st March 2021

I remember so vividly sitting down on a Sunday morning, turning on Cartoon Network, and enjoying all the wild nonsense it could throw at me. 'Tom & Jerry' was a particular favourite of mine, and from memory, it was on after 'Scooby Doo', and before 'Dexter's Lab' - all classics in their own right. 'Tom & Jerry' was often a favourite in our house, probably for the same reason that they became animated legends in every household - seeing that cat and mouse go at each other was funny. Physical, slapstick comedy was greatly appreciated. There was no dialogue and no real story, but their endearing personalities shone through in what was essentially just a series of animated shorts where animals got hurt.

But now it's time to take off my nostalgia cap, and put on my critic hat, as I must warn anyone that although 'Tom & Jerry' still holds a place in their heart for the classic cartoon, that this modern retelling is just not good.

Everything that made the 'Tom & Jerry' cartoons memorable and entertaining is lacking here. Heavy plot points and an abundance of side characters are not why this cat and mouse were so beloved, and it's the major reason why this film just doesn't work. Not to mention - for reasons that I can't fathom - Tom and Jerry actually spend more screen time either apart or as friends than they do chasing each other around.

Tim Story ('Ride Along', 'Fantastic 4') takes the helm for this modern retelling, as he brings these beloved characters to the big screen for the first time in 20 years. The film opens in New York City - with sweeping helicopter footage of Manhattan in case you weren't sure - where Tom is trying to make it as a pianist. His busking in Central Park is going well - until he meets his old foe Jerry, who immediately makes it his mission to ruin Tom's dreams. It's unclear in this version of proceedings if Tom and Jerry know one another from before, but either way, anarchy ensues and a series of events leads Jerry to take up residence at the Royal Gate Hotel, and Tom being hired by Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz, 'Kick-Ass 10-Year Anniversary', 'Hugo') to track Jerry down and remove him from said hotel.

'TOM AND JERRY: THE MOVIE' TRAILER

To complicate things further for our furry little friends, Kayla is actually pretending to be an experienced hotel employee, doing her utmost to fool events manager Terrance (Michael Peña, 'Ant-Man'), and owner of the hotel, Mr Dubros (Rob Delaney, 'Deadpool 2'). Of course, the Royal Gate Hotel happens to be hosting the wedding of the century, and everything simply must be perfect. Jerry's constant shenanigans of stealing - along with Tom's various failed attempts at seizing his antagonist - pits everyone at odds with each other in this cat and mouse family adventure.

It was up to Story to bring these characters back to life and introduce them to a new audience, and I can't help but think that he spent far too much time focusing on the latter. There are countless references to TikTok, Instagram, and other such similar youthful pass times, and trying not to sound too much like an old man who yearns for the golden days, they are cringeworthy in their efforts to attract a younger audience. When I used to sit down and watch the cartoons, it was the '90s, sure, but I had no idea that I was watching re-runs from the '50s! Nobody did, and nobody cared, because it was entertaining - and most importantly, its spirit felt timeless. It gives me no pleasure to predict that this film will have references that in even ten years time will feel outdated.

Everything that made the 'Tom & Jerry' cartoons memorable and entertaining is just not here.

Likewise, when it comes to the accompanying music, they really missed the mark. The classic overtures of the old cartoons are hinted at throughout, but most the soundtrack is remixed hip hop beats and heavily autotuned vocals. I'm sure it's another attempt at bringing in a new audience, and perhaps I'm being too harsh, but it really felt over commercial and spiritless.

The other major problem that prevents 'Tom & Jerry' from really capturing any magic is the complete lack of motivation. It may seem innocuous for a family film, but it makes a difference to an audience. Kayla makes it her mission to catch Jerry, and even puts her job on the line for it, but it's unclear why, as she appeared in no real danger of getting fired. It's these little details that can make a difference.

Contrary to my rants, this film is not a complete disaster. I really liked the animation and how they approached animating Tom, Jerry and all the animals. It's not quite hand-drawn 2D, but still feels classic in a way. Delaney and Peña are really great here too, bringing great energy and laughs to the fold, in a way that suggests they know exactly what they're acting in. I wish I could say the same for Moretz, who I'm usually a big fan of, but unfortunately looks uncomfortable throughout the film, both physically in costume and acting opposite nothing. It's not an easy skill, but Moretz displays no real conviction at all as the young streetwise employee who befriends a cat.

When it comes to the classic cat and mouse chases, the action set pieces are decent, especially when Spike (Bobby Cannavale, 'The Irishman') gets to join in on the party, but they just don't happen enough. There is a sweet story at the heart of this film, but you have to navigate your way through all the side characters and subplots, and forget everything you know about the old 'Tom & Jerry'.

I've used the word before, but the spirit of the old cartoons is nowhere to be seen here, and that's the biggest disappointment. There is certainly enough here to entertain families - albeit probably not the parents - and I can envision this film playing on repeat for certain kids. Alas, for anyone looking to recapture the magic of the cartoons and revisiting some old favourites, it's best to look elsewhere.

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