2021 | PG | starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Michael Pena | directed by Tim Story | 1 hr 41 mins |
I’ve definitely seen movies that were more angering and insulting than the 2021 live action/animated adaptation of Tom and Jerry, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen one as worthless down to it’s very core. Truth be told, being handed the assignment of a Tom and Jerry adaptation is about as impossible a project as I can imagine. How in the world do you translate a Hanna Barbera cartoon short of Rube Golbergian slapstick, starring two mute characters trying to kill each other into a story structure that fits a film? This movie proposes an answer, I guess, but despite misbegotten multiple storylines and a running time that feels about 4 times too long, there is just nothing here.
In New York City, a small-time con artist looking for a place to stay, Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz), a clever mouse looking for a new apartment, Jerome A. Mouse and Thomas D. Cat, a tomcat trying to make it as a street musician, all converge on The Royal Gate hotel where there increasingly violent rivalry threatens the hotel’s image on the week of a high profile celebrity wedding.
The fact that there is so much story in this movie shows that it doesn’t really understand what it is. I’m not a fan of the Hanna Barbera cartoons, I’ve never understood what was supposed to be funny about an obnoxious mouse driving a cat self-injurious madness. It’s a concept that The Simpsons took to it’s natural extension with the gory Itchy and Scratchy cartoons (which I think are so not funny they are meta-funny). But one would think a Tom and Jerry movie would be about movement and momentum. It would need to be visually kinetic, slim on story and high on gags. This movie should have been Mousehunt.
As with the case of Godzilla vs. Kong a lot of these live-action/animated movies are at core just animated movies – but Tom and Jerry goes even further with this that puts it in heightened state of weirdness. Tom and Jerry are animated, as are every animal in this movie. We are introduced to the story with a singing Pidgeon (voiced by director Tim Story), Michael Pena is forced to walk an animated bulldog and the wedding party rides in on animated elephants. It’s a level of pervasiveness that makes you long for the days of a movie as clever as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – a movie that loved the art of animation and built a world full of reasons around it’s animated characters interacting with humans. This movie couldn’t care less. The animals are just animated so that Tom and Jerry can be animated. And the reason the entire movie isn’t animated is because Tom and Jerry don’t talk – so we can’t cast high profile celebrities to do the voices – s0 we need to hire Chloe Grace Moretz and Michael Pena to act alongside green screens and fill the movie with artificial stories to justify their existence so when the movie comes out they can make the rounds promoting it. Backing into the movie in this cynical way is the only way I can make sense of why Tom and Jerry exists in the mutant hybrid it does. It’s certainly not a creative choice.
One kind of interesting idea the movie skips by so quickly that I don’t think it was intentional – is paralleling Moretz and Pena’s characters with Tom and Jerry themselves. Just as Jerry is a scamp who gets his way to the frustration of Tom, Kayla cons her way into a job at the hotel, and bumbles into success to the increasing frustration of Pena’s hotel employee Terrance. The movie doesn’t follow through on this, instead padding the film with another story about the celebrity bride and groom (Colin Jost and Pallavi Sharda) with Kayla counseling the two as the groom turns the lavish affair into an over-the-top display.
God bless Chloe Grace Moretz for giving something to this, meeting what should be the film’s level of cartoonishness in her wide-eyed performance. Under the helm of director Tim Story, a studio hack with a huge string of big hits under his belt and probably more Hollywood clout than this movie would suggest, the film sits weirdly, looks strange and is filmed weirdly. This is a space where a digital David Fincher camera should be zipping around the CGI room. Instead you can feel the weighted chunkiness of the studio production in every frame. Story sets up the shot and slowly floats the camera around the room allowing the animators to put Tom and Jerry in front of it, carrying out their battle in wide, unbroken takes. The film’s fundamental look does not match the energy of the material.
This thing is bad, and weird, but not bad and weird enough to be fun. It’s just clunky and long and deeply unfunny. A movie with so many wrong choices made at every level only a big studio could have screwed it up this bad.