Cinematic Releases: Tom & Jerry (2021) - Reviewed

Tom & Jerry, that beloved slapstick animated duo consisting of a cat named Tom chasing down a pesky mouse named Jerry, originated in 1940 under the creative talents of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.  Having produced over 161 shorts for MGM, the Hanna-Barbera team’s Tom & Jerry represented a strong competitor to Disney’s own set of cartoons and Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes.  During their original heyday the Tom & Jerry series copped seven Oscars and for a short time surpassed both Disney and Warner Brothers’ cartoon properties in terms of ticket sales.  There have also been countless spinoffs and a fully animated feature film was made in 1992 by the director of the Garfield television series.  Sadly, that film tanked and the notion of attempting another Tom & Jerry film seemed highly unlikely.
Circa 2009, a new Tom & Jerry project began developing with the intention that the project be a live-action film featuring the comic duo in animated form amid the live-action ala Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  The project languished in development Hell for almost ten years before picking up speed in 2018 with director Tim Story of the Fantastic Four and Ride Along movies at the helm.  Casting Chloe Grace Moretz (seen recently in Shadow in the Cloud) in the leading role as a street smart fast talker who sneaks her way into working for a prestigious hotel Tom & Jerry just so happen to be causing their own set of antics in, the film was completed just before the first COVID-19 shutdown with post-production effects rendered at home by the filmmakers.

Released simultaneously on HBO Max and a limited theatrical run, Tom & Jerry crashes and burns noisily across the screen with a fair amount of callbacks to the original shorts thrown in for good measure including but not limited to a Droopy Dog cameo and use of the original voice acting effects.  The resulting film, a family feature inexplicably overstuffed with a hip-hop soundtrack including signing birds who open the film doing rap, is unfortunately far more grating than endearing or funny.  Some of the jokes here and there come through well but most of the rest of this venture with no real logical explanation for the existence of 2D animated characters roaming about in the real world (Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Cool World had explanations) is unfortunately a headache.
That’s not to say Chloe Grace Moretz isn’t trying her best, channeling Bob Hoskins’ performance from Roger Rabbit into her spunky heroine tasked with trying to contain the Tom & Jerry problem.  A good actress who will survive this mess, Moretz does much of the heavy lifting playing off of characters waiting to be added in post.  Michael Pena as a competing hotel manager who is onto Moretz’s charade is more or less the film’s villain though the plot of this thing boils down to a wealthy Indian marriage taking place in the hotel as long as Tom & Jerry don’t screw it up first.  In short, there’s not a lot here driving this story forward except a collection of Tom & Jerry getting into fights and wreaking havoc in their wake.
Far more annoying than funny, Tom & Jerry is a mixed bag that kids will enjoy but parents will find irritating after a while.  But I must admit looking back on the director’s Fantastic Four offerings which were just as obnoxious and rattling, it doesn’t come as a complete surprise his Tom & Jerry film crashes into a tree.  Though the characters remain charming as ever, something about the style and tone doesn’t register in the same way and the hip hop being played on full blast made me think I was stuck in 1989 watching Ghostbusters II or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

No I didn’t go into this expecting a masterwork of animation and live action but I expected some semblance of awe and wonderment considering the technologies being used.  Considering the pedigree of the cartoon shorts which won Oscars over the years, this Tom & Jerry effort should’ve and could’ve reclaimed some of that big screen gold.  For a cartoon franchise that soared so high during its prime, it is very disappointing to see this new film aim so low.  Tom & Jerry deserve better than this.

--Andrew Kotwicki