Tom & Jerry (2021) Review

A BLAND ENDEAVOR THAT

DOESN’T QUITE PAN CORRECTLY


 

Tom & Jerry. The beloved and iconic cartoon cat and mouse duo has been in the public for nearly 80 years; spanning a wide variety of programs to keep their shenanigans acts very much alive from one generation to the next. For those who don’t know these particular animated characters, the cartoon, which was originally created by Hannah Barbera (William Hannah and Joseph Barbera), hijinks centers around the rivalry between the titular characters a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry, with shorts also featuring several recurring characters every now and again. Most of the Tom & Jerry cartoon shorts (as a whole) are considered violent cartoon gags in animated history, with the pair usually going at it with a variety of weapons and objects in retaliation against one another. Although, no blood or gore is ever depicted. In addition, since the pair don’t talk (beyond a few screams, squeaks and some brief dialogues), music plays an important part by emphasizing the short’s action and emotional bits, with usage of traditional sound effects. Like the Scooby Doo property franchise, Tom & Jerry have been endured throughout the years, with multiple studios producing their animated shorts, including Hannah Barbera (the original creators), MGM Cartoon Studios, Rembrandt Films, Chuck Jones, and a few more; spanning multiple animated shorts, TV series, and feature films. Now, the cat and mouse team of Tom & Jerry returns for a theatrical presentation as Warner Bro. Pictures Studios and director Tim Story present the live-action / animated hybrid project titled Tom & Jerry. Does the film find a proper balance between nostalgia and relevance in today’s movie landscape or does it fail to make a lasting impression with its hybrid feeling?

THE STORY


Being enemies for their entire lives, Tom and Jerry experience another rivalry in their relationship as the feline cat is hoping to earn a living as a musician in Central Park, while inventive mouse is looking to find a proper home dwelling within the vastness urban landscape of New York City. After a recent spat run-in with each other, Jerry finds his way into The Royal Gate Hotel, a uber posh establishment in the “Big Apple” that is soon to host the high-profile wedding of mega social media tycoons of Ben (Colin Jost) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda). While Jerry makes himself at home at the luxury hotel, Tom remains on the outside, dealing with pressure from rival cats, including Butch (Nicky Jam), inspiring him to get off the street. Such an opportunity arrives when Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz), a local young adult who is down-on-her-luck, sneakily is hired by Royal Gate Hotel Manager, Mr. DuBois (Rob Delaney), conning her way into becoming a power player at the hotel, which upsets the second-in-command, Terrance (Michael Pena). Tasked with catching Jerry, Tom is made a hotel employee, working with Kayla to get rid of rodent before the big wedding, and all of its animal shenanigans begins.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Growing up, I remember watching a lot of cartoons shorts and animated films during my childhood, especially a lot of the “classic” like The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, and Tom & Jerry. With that particular cartoon series of animated shorts, I always enjoyed them, especially seeing what both the cat and mouse team would do to each other. When I was younger I did actually feel sorry for Tom a couple of times, especially since he got hurt more of the two and sometimes got hit with a broom by cartoon character Mammy Two Shoes, a heavy-set middle aged black woman, which is now considered a racial stereotype (always felt it was a bit off with this character and I was right about that). Anyways, as I mentioned above, I do remember that some of the earlier cartoon shorts for Tom & Jerry were a bit violent than most, which is probably why the pair went through a bit of “branding” throughout the years; toning down the violent gags a bit than what it used to be. Of the various spin-offs, I do remember liking the Tom & Jerry Kids Show (1990-1993) and that opening theme song always rocked! Also, I actually do remember the first cartoon feature film that the pair starred, which was the 1992 film Tom & Jerry: The Movie, which had Tom and Jerry actually having dialogue talking lines for majority of the film. Definitely a first. I haven’t seeing that movie in quite a while (might have to revisit sometime soon), but what I can remember is that I liked it and it had its moments of levity and dramatic cartoon scenes. After that, I didn’t see much of Tom & Jerry besides the occasional old cartoon reruns and a few of their DTV (Direct-to-TV) movie releases like 2013’s Tom and Jerry’s Giant Adventure and 2001’s Tom and Jerry: The Magic Ring. In the end, it’s quite amazing that this animated duo has survived the changing of cartoon eras; providing the antics of Tom & Jerry will never get old.

This, of course, brings me back to talking about Tom & Jerry, a 2021 release that sees to return the two iconic cat and mouse characters back to life and within a new cinematic medium. I can’t remember when, but I do remember hearing that a Tom & Jerry was in the works and that it was gonna be a 3D animated / live-action hybrid…. something similar to 1996’s Space Jam and 2011’s The Smurfs. I was a bit leery, especially since that the idea of bringing Tom and Jerry to the big screen and for a live-action animated hybrid endeavor sounds a risk. However, people and moviegoers usually will go to see a old property in a revamp / reboot endeavor for the pure sense of nostalgia, which is probably one of the reason why they (the studio) decided to revive these two animated characters…. much like what they did with the Scooby Doo franchise. After a while, I didn’t hear much about this upcoming project until I saw the film’s movie trailer, which showcased what how the film was gonna be presented. Judging from the trailer alone, it looked like a bit of mixed bag; promising a lot of the classic Tom and Jerry shenanigans, but also adding the human “live action” element, which (to me) doesn’t look right. Still, it looked like a promising children’s movie, so I did plan on seeing it when it was set to be released on February 26th, 2021 and a part of Warner Bros. simultaneously release line-up of having the movie playing in-theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service…. due to the events of the COVID-19 pandemic. While I could’ve gone and see the movie in-theaters (it was an option), I decided to watch Tom & Jerry in the comforts of my own room and, after a few weeks after its initial releases, finally have the time to give my opinion on the film. And what did I think of it? Well, as I original thought, it’s kind of a mixed bag. While not completely deplorable as some are calling it, Tom & Jerry is very much a middling endeavor that has sparks of amusement and entertainment, but nothing spectacular or memorable about it. Tom and Jerry are back, but, given their involvement in this movie and the film itself, that’s nothing to get really excited about.

Tom & Jerry is directed by Tim Story, whose previous directorial works includes such movies like Fantastic Four (and its sequel) as well as Barbershop and Think Like a Man. Given his attachment to many comedy feature film endeavors, Story seems like a suitable choice to bring something like Tom and Jerry to silver screen, especially given the fact that the animated cat and mouse are well-known for their cartoon antics of going at it with each other in broad (yet physical) acts. In this regard, Story does a pretty good facet; approaching Tom & Jerry with a sense of kids in mind as well as his target demographic, which is a combination of the juice box crowd (maybe a little bit older) as well as those who had grown up with the two characters and the many misadventures they had across the decades. Yet, to be sure, Story makes Tom & Jerry a kid’s movie…. through and through, with plenty of large-scale characters and sequences of events that are very much lively and colorful; offering humor a plenty and deserving a sort of silliness. I felt the movie itself was pretty cute and fun, especially with that in mind. It’s definitely not a perfect movie in the world of children’s entertainment as the feature does have numerous problems (more on that below), but Tom & Jerry (like the character themselves) should be taken as “face value” and not so much delve deep into something like a Pixar endeavor.

Perhaps the best strength that Story does with the property is both honor the characters of Tom and Jerry (in what parts they are in) with both nostalgia and updating duo for the modern times. While there are faults with the movie, what actually stands out the most is the rivalry mischief that Tom and Jerry get into, with plenty of acts of shenanigans and cartoon violent fun that the two are well-known for. Of course, they are toned down from the original animated shorts, but their inclusion in this new property, especially considering the altercations made in their direct-to-video films, are a welcomed one and gives that nostalgia feeling. There are even a few callbacks to couple of scenarios where Tom and Jerry find themselves trying to get back at one another. This did put a joy on my face as it was kind of a little bit traveling back down memory lane in my childhood with these two characters. Additionally, Story decides to modernize the film’s setting; creating a very lively and updated iteration of Tom and Jerry characters and I think that was a smart move. Naturally, there is lessons to be learned and comedy abound, but the nostalgia refences in Tom & Jerry are the best aspect that Story makes within his movie. I think everyone can agree with that.

As for the film’s presentation, Tom & Jerry actually does a good job….and that’s kind of surprising. To be sure, I wasn’t expecting anything grand and / or blockbuster-ish, but for what it is worth, I think that the movie did a pretty decent job to make its background setting and visual appeal quite colorful and alive; utilizing the New York City urban landscape as the main backdrop for most of the film’s setting and have a nice polish to it all. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including James Hambidge (production design), Niamh Coulter (set decorations), and Alison McCosh (costume designs) are pretty good throughout the movie and do strengthen the project in my opinion. In addition, I do have to praise the film’s visual effects team for bring these cartoon characters to life. Rather than making Tom and Jerry (and all of their side character animal friends) more of a hyper-realistic look (something that I feared), the film renders these cartoon iterations in a more traditional animated fashion to their original cartoon counterpart. The concept can be a bit jarring at first, but the overall visual look of all these characters is pretty solid and I like how the movie keeps original looks mostly intact (just updating them slightly for better graphics). Lastly, while the film’s score, which was composed by Christopher Lennertz, does give a good musical composition to the movie’s various scenes, the music soundtrack selection for Tom & Jerry gives the project plenty to like about; providing a plethora of modern style music that plays up the urban style of this cartoon world. I liked it.

Unfortunately, Tom & Jerry isn’t the “big hit” that I think was indeed promise, with the project offering more perplexing notions of lackluster and overall blandness to the feature’s proceedings. How so? Well, the biggest hurdle that the movie can’t overcome is the simple fact that Tom & Jerry doesn’t feature a whole lot of…well…. Tom and Jerry. To be sure, the two iconic cat and mouse duo are there and do bring the film plenty of animated levity within their rivalry mischief, but they are mostly pushed aside or play second fiddle to much of the human cast in the film. This ultimately makes them almost a secondary character. Furthermore, this also creates a certain feeling that the movie itself seems like a product of two different cinematic stories that were jumbled together (haphazardly) to create Tom & Jerry. We (as viewers) spend more time feeling for Kayla’s misadventures at the Royal Gate Hotel and her dealings with the big upcoming wedding of Ben and Preeta that the movie sometimes forget to bring in Tom and Jerry; showing up just to feel relevant to the picture. Heck, even the whole idea of including all the various Tom and Jerry side characters is a bit mispresented in the movie and, while drawing and voice fined, get shortchanged for the most part and almost feel superfluous throughout. There kind of like “window dressing” nostalgia and that is it. All of this makes Tom & Jerry feel like two different ideas that are forced to work together, but don’t exactly gel well together.

Part of the problem with this stems from Story’s direction of the project. While Story is good at bringing lightheartedness in comedic levity, he often makes it in very broad strokes; casting a wide tent through humor and up-to-date pop culture references to fuel the gag meter. This is almost a “double edge” sword as it can be seeing in many of his past directorial works (i.e., Ride Along, Think Like a Man, Shaft, etc.) and most of the time ends up being wonky in setup and poor in its execution. Such is the case with Tom & Jerry; finding Story framing the feature within a broad landscape that can’t really hone in on what it really wants to examine. Perhaps it is for this reason why the movie itself feels like a hodgepodge of idea and characters, with Story trying to juggle a lot of the various viewpoints and characters in the movie in a very broad sense that doesn’t really resonate…. even for a kid’s movie. In truth, a lot of the film just feels half-baked, with Story not really taking to account of the feature’s crazy antics and continues to keep the movie wide when it really should be more of a smaller endeavor; most notably in focusing on Tom and Jerry than the rest of the cast. To be sure, Story knows how to stage big events in the film, but it all feels messy and ends up being more noise and chaotic. This is most apparent in the film’s climatic moments towards the latter half of the feature, which fail to bring any sense of urgency to the proceedings and almost feel a bit lackluster. And that’s basically everything about Tom & Jerry….nothing really stands out. Well, maybe the animation, but that has to do with visual effects rather than the actual shaping of the film. Overall, Story doesn’t really know how to land his own plane with this movie.

Another big point of criticism has to come from the film’s script, which was penned by Kevin Costello. Of the story itself, its perhaps half-baked at best, with plenty of plot holes and haphazard narrative paths that takes the movie to some unnecessary. There just a lot going on throughout the movie that most of the film’s characters (and their respective storylines) fall to the wayside; rendering a lot of what happens in Tom & Jerry very bland and uninteresting. Basically, the movie could’ve been (or perhaps should’ve been) more streamlined and taking a better approach to the IP. Even beyond that, the script itself is pretty bland and formulaic to the touch, which personifies the overall broadness that plagues Story’s directing as well as a half-baked concept. The biggest problem of this notion is found within the sub-plot thread of millionaires Ben and Preeta and their big wedding. It’s all presented badly and almost seems like a distraction for what the movie really should be focusing on, which is on Tom and Jerry themselves or even on Kayla’s story. Its all rendered in a very superfluous manner and it comes across as such. In the end, Tom & Jerry’s script is punctured by trying to serve too many masters and coming off as predictable and very vanilla in its execution.

The human cast in Tom & Jerry is, much like Story’s past comedy efforts, are a bit of mixed bags, with make of the selective acting talents involved being either a bit broad in their acting talents / characters and a being a bit corny (in a groaner type of way). This is most prevalent within the film’s protagonist and antagonist characters of the film, with actress Chloe Grace Moretz playing the lead role of Kayla and actor Michael Pena in the villian role of Terence. Moretz, known for her roles in Kick-Ass, If I Stay, Neighbors 2, has been in many films throughout the years and has certainly built up quite a reputation as a somewhat rising star for a young actress. In Tom & Jerry, however, she’s merely okay. Moretz certainly is fine as the wide-eyed yet young con-artist girl of Kayla and she commits to that persona throughout the entire film. Unfortunately, it still comes off as a bit conventional for a kid’s movie and again (like Story’s past endeavors) is a bit too much broad in the ways of characterization. Likewise, Pena, known for his roles in Ant-Man, Fantasy Island, and The Martian, seems almost underutilized in the movie; playing up the character of Terence as more of a cartoon villian rather than a sizeable threat. Yes, he’s more of the “troublemaker” in the film, but his villainy is painted in broad strokes and his acting is the same way. Then again, I have a feeling that most of the cast knew what type of movie that Tom & Jerry was going to be and certainly play up the inherit broadness of goofy behavior. Still, it’s a shame that both Moretz and Pena were pinned to being more silly character construct as both have proven to be better.

Of the supporting players, actor Rob Delaney (Deadpool 2 and Bombshell) gives the best performance (or at least the most memorable) in the role of Mr. Dubros, the manager at the Royal Gate Hotel. There’s not much to him in the way of character development, but Delaney does make him standout more so than the rest of the cast of characters. Maybe it is his voice. Who actually fares the worst in the movie is the subplot of the two wealthy socialite millionaires of Ben and Preeta, who are played by writer / actor Colin Jost (How to be Single and Coming 2 America) and actress Pallavi Sharda (Lion and Pulse). The acting from these two are okay at best, but their overall characters are presented in such a horrible way that I found myself not really caring about them at all. Even the script doesn’t have a clue on how to handle them; rendering Ben and Preeta rather unmemorable in the film.

Even the film’s human side characters coming as a bit stock-like and almost superfluous to the film itself. The perfect example of this is found within the character of Cameron, a bartender at the Royal Gate Hotel and who quickly befriends Kayla. Played by actor Jordan Bolger (Peaky Blinders and The 100), the character comes off as a bit wonky and almost like a forced love interest for the film’s main human character. And sadly, nothing materializes beyond that point; rendering the character of Cameron to be quickly forgettable. The rest of the human cast, including actor Ken Jeong (The Hangover and Crazy Rich Asians) as main chef at the Royal Gate Hotel named Chef Jackie, actress Christina Chong (Bulletproof and Black Mirror) as Royal Gate Hotel’s receptionist Lola, actor Daniel Adegboyega (6 Underground and Transformers: The Last Knight) as Gavin the Doorman at the Royal Gate Hotel, and actress Patsy Ferran (Jamestown and God’s Own Country) as the bellhop for the Royal Gate Hotel named Joy. Most of their characters are rendered rather bland and do little in the plot beyond a few snippets. Acting is fine, but most of them don’t amount to anything in the grand scheme in Tom & Jerry, which is disappointing.

Of the animated characters, Tom and Jerry (of course) are pretty much the “main attraction of the film and are perfectly visual rendered in the movie. Naturally, they don’t have voices, but their physical gags and rivalry with each other speaks for themselves in the movie. However, as I mentioned above, Tom and Jerry get push aside many times in the movie, which is quite disappointing. Beyond them, old familiars from the Tom and Jerry property appear in the movie and a few do offer voice work, including musician Nicky Jam as black colored alley cat named Butch, actor Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire and Blue Jasmine) as the brutish bulldog named Spike, and actor Lil Rel Howery (Get Out and Uncle Drew) as the classic angel and devil characters of Tom’s moral judgement. Most of the voice talents in these animated roles are good, but their characterization and their involvement in the movie is the point of criticism; rendering most in more gratuitous ways and not so much important to the main plot of Tom & Jerry. Plus, most are just throwaways minor roles and that’s it. Such a waste for potential.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Tom and Jerry are back and ready to take their crazy rivalry antics to the Big Apple by causing mischief and mayhem along the way in the movie Tom & Jerry. Director Tim Story’s latest film takes the classic cartoon property and brings it to the modern age; splicing the feature with CGI animation characters within a live-action setting. While the “cat and mouse” routine of Tom and Jerry’s rivalry has nostalgia and fun to it and the production quality is there, majority of the film feels like a half-baked movie, especially considering the film’s direction, a weak script, lacking a sense of urgency, confusing plot shifts, weaker characters, wasted acting talents, and sometimes pushing aside the film’s two chief characters for human ones. Personally, the movie was in that somewhere weird area of being mediocrely okay and disapprovingly “meh”. It wasn’t as bad as some are making it out to be, but it is a far cry from being actually good. It’s just a shame that Tom and Jerry couldn’t make a splash in this endeavor and that’s disappointing. Although, this is a kid’s movie and I’m sure that young juice box crowd will probably get more mileage out of this movie than the adult crowd. Thus, my recommendation for this film is both an “iffy choice” and a “skip it” at the same time as some will like it (mostly the target audience), but a great majority will find the project in a less favorable light. While the movie’s ending seems to allude towards a possible follow-up within more Tom and Jerry sequels, that idea seems pretty unlikely (at least to me that its). In the end, despite shenanigans nostalgia that come with the iconic cartoon characters, Tom & Jerry ends up being a colorful noise machine with a passable endeavor that never truly gets off the ground properly; missing on the opportunity to give the beloved cartoon cat and mouse duo their time back in the spotlight.

2.4 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Skip It)

 

Released On: February 26th, 2021
Reviewed On: March 17th, 2021

Tom & Jerry  is 101 minutes long and is rated PG for cartoon violence, rude humor, and brief language

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