Tom and Jerry (2021)
Best of Enemies. Worst of Friends.
Gray cat Tom and brown mouse Jerry have been frenemies for decades, the pair bonking, zapping, and slapping one another until either Tom gets the last hit or Jerry chases the rodent off-screen — whichever happens first. Created by Hanna-Barbera in 1940, the duo has appeared in hundreds of animated shorts for studio MGM between the years 1940 to 1958, where they won seven Academy Awards. The famous adversaries were even the inspiration for The Simpsons’ more sadistic iteration Itchy & Scratchy. It wasn’t until 1992 that the twosome starred in their very first motion picture, the animated musical (?) Tom and Jerry: The Movie, where the rivals speak and even become *cough* friends *cough*. Although reception wasn’t great, Tom and Jerry’s slapstick antics have never really lost their appeal, this hand-drawn Punch and Judy starring in a stack of animated movies in the subsequent years, the silliest being 2005’s Tom and Jerry: Blast Off to Mars.
Tom and Jerry return in this latest big-screen adventure, a live-action-animation hybrid à la Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Space Jam (1996). Directed by Tim Story, the guy who gave us Ride Along (2014) and the early Fantastic 4 movies (2005/07), the film is a bit of a mixed bag but generally manages to amuse, thanks to some slick animation and a live-action cast that’s just as animated as the toons surrounding them. As one would expect, the film clearly tries to bank on nostalgia, using it to bait grownups into taking their children to a theatre and perhaps introduce them to the characters from their youth.
The film is set in an alternative version of New York City, where all the animals are toons. It opens with a trio of pigeons that sing A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Can I kick it?’ — yep, it’s that kind of film. We then meet Jerry the mouse, who’s desperately trying to find a new place to call home. He eventually bumps into Tom Cat, who’s in Central Park, pretending to be a blind cat playing the piano. Of course, Jerry ruins Tom’s act, which causes the feline to chase him into the streets of NYC. That’s when the mouse makes his way into the swanky Royal Gate Hotel, before the doorman boots poor Tom away.
Entre millennial Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young woman who somehow manages to swindle her way into getting an events planning job at the said hotel mere days before the wedding of the century. This elaborate matrimony happens to be the biggest in the hotel’s history, the Indian-themed ceremony of wealthy, well-known society couple Ben (Colin Jost) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda). The events manager Terence (Michael Peña), however, isn’t too pleased about new-hire Kayla, convinced that there’s something not quite right about her after she jokes that a goldfish in the office is the aquatics manager.
All’s well for Kayla until Jerry is discovered and hotel manager Mr. Henry Dubros (Rob Delaney) tasks her to get rid of the rodent before any of the high-profile guests manage to spot it and snap a picture to post on their social media accounts, or as Terence calls it, ‘InstaBookFace or the Ticky Tok.’ Consequentially, Kayla brings Tom in to help, relying on the animals’ predatory-prey instincts to subtly rid the five-star establishment of their rodent problem. And so, the cat-and-mouse game is on, as Tom and Jerry let their paws and claws loose in the fancy-schmancy hotel.
Playfully directed by Tim Story — who’s working from a script written by Kevin Costello, Brigsby Bear (2017) — the new film nicely integrates Tom and Jerry’s long-running feud into the contemporary era. It features a bunch of violent visual gags (think clobbering’s, electrocutions, etc.) and wacky set pieces, the standout involving an animal tornado, an animated tiger, and a couple of elephants — most viewers probably already know that elephants do not take kindly to mice. Scenes where the cartoon critters ‘have at it’ should entertain young ‘uns and those who grew up watching the Tom and Jerry shorts on television. Furthermore, the cartoon animation, which has been done digitally, is relatively smooth, fits nicely into its surroundings, and is never distracting — however, it isn’t quite as impressive as the 2D cel animation used in early Disney animation hybrids or Robert Zemeckis’ Roger Rabbit. The production design by James Hambidge, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), is fun also; there’s a great scene which shows us the inside of Tom’s upmarket mouse room, where he’s using an iPhone as a television and an engagement ring as a sparkly chandelier.
While I enjoyed the live-action portions of the film, centered around the illustrious wedding and the couple’s pre-marital problems — mainly Ben’s constant need to go over-the-top to impress Preeta’s wealthy father (Ajay Chhabra) — I doubt any of this will appeal to children who are probably buying a ticket to see some rambunctious comic mayhem. There are several odd choices along the way, too — for instance, Tom and Jerry don’t talk, but most other animals do — but, for the most part, this is light, enjoyable Saturday afternoon fluff.
It helps that the cast seem to be enjoying themselves and deliver relatively good performances. Chloë Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass (2010), has plenty of bounce and pep as our nifty human protagonist Kayla. Michael Peña, Ant-Man (2015), steals most of his scenes as the uptight events manager who’s having a rough weekend, while Rob Delaney, The Hustle (2019), is a hoot as the clueless hotel manager Mr. Dubros. Patsy Ferran, God’s Own Country (2017), has a few good moments as the awkward teen bellhop Joy, who creepily pops up in the most unexpected places, whereas Jordan Bolger, iBoy (2017), does alright in his relatively bland role as Cameron, a bartender Kayla befriends during her stint working at the hotel. Sadly, funnyman Ken Jeong, Crazy Rich Asians (2018), is totally wasted as a goofy chef named Jackie, who’s hoping to earn a Michelin star.
The voice cast is fine, too, if not slightly underwhelming. Bobby Cannavale, Ant-Man (2015), voices Ben’s American bulldog Spike, who serves as another adversary for Tom, while American singer-songwriter Nicky Jam provides the vocals for Butch, a black alley cat that antagonizes Tom with his gang of strays in the streets of Manhattan. Lastly, keep an ear out for comedian Lil Rel Howery, Get Out (2017), who voices both Tom’s saint and sinner conscience.
On the whole, Tom and Jerry is exactly what you’d expect it to be: a 101-minute turn-your-brain-off matinée diversion for the fam-bam. Filmmaker Tim Story is a pro at making these sorts of light entertainers and steers Tom and Jerry in precisely the right direction. Sure, the duo are better suited to shorts and are sort of forced to ‘make friends’ in the third act, but if Tom and Jerry earns enough dough at the box office, I’m confident they’ll be back at one another’s throats in no time.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)