Tom and Jerry Review
Published on March 14, 2021
Rating 1 /5
Tom & Jerry remains the quintessential and literal cat-and-mouse cartoon dynamic. Their many shorts of slapstick feuds have made them iconic. Those cartoons, however, were only a few minutes. Turning their antics into a feature film is no easy task. After seeing this latest iteration, merging live-action with 2D/3D animation, the question still lingers how their antics could ever be placed in a film.
The problem is that both Tom & Jerry can’t occupy their own long-form narrative. This theory has been proven time and time again. You need only look to 1992’s Tom & Jerry: The Movie to see how it can’t work. Even when the cat Tom and mouse Jerry were given voices, they had so little to say and so little character to be invested in to care about their arcs. The plot of that film was a standard and tired plotting of an orphan and money being sought by greedy villains. The involvement of Tom and Jerry in such a story is very limited, reduced more to being outsider villains than anything.
That limitation continues with the latest film. The story involves a celebrity wedding due to commence at a high-profile New York City hotel. Kayla Forester (Chloë Grace Moretz) is the latest hire of the hotel and is hoping to make a good impression with the scrutinizing events manager (Michael Peña). The wedding would seem like a perfect opportunity to prove herself as a reliable employee.
The wedding proves to be a slapstick nightmare when Tom and Jerry are thrown into the story, both acting as destructive forces. It’s also really hard to like either of them. Jerry isn’t some struggling mouse just trying to find a bite to eat and some rest from his races with Tom. Instead of being the clever mouse to root for, he takes up residence within a hole of the hotel and resorts to stealing for his own amusement. His latest theft just happens to be the engagement ring for the wedding. So, yeah, Jerry seems to be the biggest antagonist of this story.
But is Tom any better? The film makes it appear as though Tom has moved onto other aspirations of becoming a piano player but just can’t seem to stay away from Jerry, constantly angered by the mischievous mouse. He stalks Jerry to the hotel with plans for revenge but is roped into helping Kayla get Jerry out of the hotel. Of course, Tom is absolutely the wrong cat for the job, causing far more damage to the hotel than the staff would have guessed.
The entire premise of the film serves as little more than an excuse for Tom & Jerry hi-jinks with a weak narrative to pad out the running time. I don’t know who I’m supposed to care about in this film. I certainly don’t like Jerry because of his uninhibited kleptomania that results in the carnage. I can’t be invested in Tom getting revenge on Jerry because it only brings more harm to himself and everyone and everything around him.
Perhaps there could be some humanity within the human story but the plotline can’t even muster an ounce of engagement from the dry and dull scenes. Kayla should be someone we want to see succeed as the underdog but she seems to exist for the only reason any human exists in this film: to react to Tom & Jerry’s slapstick. They dare not attempt to be as comedic as the cartoon duo which only begs the question of why they’re even in this film. They don’t even attempt to show any signs of character arcs, as Kayla’s relationship with the charming bartender Cameron (Jordan Bolger) goes absolutely nowhere. By the time Ken Jeong shows up as the aggravated baker, it becomes pretty clear that the human story is more of an afterthought, despite occupying a hefty portion of the picture.
It should be noted that none of these aspects of lacking personality would be an issue if the film were just funny. The appeal of what made the cartoons work so well was the exaggerated physical humor. Most of the comedy feels sadly reduced in favor of technology that can better integrate the cartoon characters into live-action.
Despite how technically pleasing this appears in the more frenetic scenes, most of these scenes are jarring for the obvious 3D aspect. The cartoon characters just don’t seem as fluid when they’re placed within the scenes where they maintain too much of a consistent shape. The animated characters inserted into Who Framed Roger Rabbit felt alive and vibrant while still interacting with the live-action world. By comparison, Tom and Jerry seem far too restrained.
And speaking of the integration of cartoon characters, there’s an uncomfortable questioning that comes about when realizing that ALL of the animals in this world are cartoons. Everything from the cats running the streets to the birds flying in the sky (that rap for some reason?) are all animated in that marriage of 3D modeling and 2D texturing. Does that mean that everything from animal meat to animal fur appears cartoony in this world? These are not questions one should be asking while watching a Tom & Jerry movie!
There was a time when it was exciting to see the mouse Jerry dancing alongside a live-action sailor in 1945’s Anchors Away. This latest iteration doesn’t even have the technical wonderment for the surreal attempt at dimension merging amid a script of dead-on-arrival jokes. I doubt there will be as much astonishment over time for Tom tinkling the ivories considering this isn’t the only film Warner Bros will be releasing this year that blends 2D and live-action with Space Jam 2 on the horizon. Without such appeal, Tom & Jerry has nothing to offer compared to the other Hanna-Barbera live-action retoolings.
There may come a day when we finally do get a compelling Tom & Jerry narrative. But considering it’s been nearly 30 years and we still haven’t achieved such a picture, it may be a fool’s errand of trying to shoehorn the cat and mouse onto the big screen.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.