Tom & Jerry (2021) Movie Review

It took no longer than one minute watching Tom & Jerry for me to realize that this animation-live action hybrid reboot of the classic cartoon wasn’t going to go well. Once I saw a trio of animated pigeons lip-syncing to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It” as they fly over the New York City skyline, I just knew. I could sense that the team behind this film—namely director Tim Story and screenwriter Kevin Costello—didn’t have a firm grasp on what would translate this older intellectual property into something entertaining to a new generation of youngsters.

The problem isn’t necessarily the hackneyed technique of adding a cool hip-hop soundtrack to a property not known for such sounds. It isn’t even really the conceit of bringing cartoon characters “into the big city,” a premise which has been used in such big screen duds as The Smurfs (2011). The real issue I have with the first moments of the 2021 Tom & Jerry is the lazy choice to animate the mouths of birds to appear to sing the studio version of Tribe’s song–as if these birds were themeslves Q-Tip and the late Phife Dawg. And the extra-diegetic nature of it all. Are these pigeons meant to be the Greek chorus for the cacophonous ordeal we’re about to be subjected to? Will they be returning for musical interludes throughout this film, elongating what is already a far too extended runtime? Furthermore, does “Can I Kick It” have any relevance to what this film is about–narratively, tonally, emotionally? The answer to all of these is no.

I dwell on this opening musical sequence, because the remainder of this film is just tedious and flat. And, frankly, there isn’t much to say about it. One could write about the failed attempt to produce emotional stakes out of the bare bones plot populated by thin characters. How about the industrious upstart Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) who lies her way into a job at a prestige hotel and whose backstory involves a fear of not amounting to anything on account of coming from “a small town in Penn State?” Or the bride and groom (Pallavi Sharda and Colin Jost) behind the high-profile wedding happening at the hotel, whose personalities are defined by one being too nice and too ambitious about the wedding and the other being unhappy about the wedding ballooning into an untenable extravaganza? And then there’s the disgruntled middle manager (Michael Pena) at the hotel who wants revenge on Kayla for rising quickly in her new position.

What about Tom and Jerry, you ask? Well, of course they are there. They scurry around the hotel and punish each other (and, in one uninspired montage, they go out on the town!). But Story and Costello think it is enough to throw in a Tom and Jerry set piece every 10 minutes or so, leaving the rest of the runtime to these unengaging characters. In reality, the film could put Tom and Jerry into a white void for their set pieces; it wouldn’t matter much. The NYC setting is thoroughly unimportant (save for that montage), as the characters mainly remain isolated within the hotel. And the plot occurring inside that hotel is superfluous and tangential to the title characters.

We could also discuss the animation itself. It is not great. These animated animals are uncomfortably placed into this live action setting. In our current age of CG innovations dominating the multiplexes, it is hard to imagine that Warner Bros. didn’t have the resources to make this film look more natural. Instead, we get instances of surreal humor like Colin Jost looking in wonder at animated butterflies while never really matching eyelines with them.

Tom & Jerry is not all bad. I enjoy the delivery of Patsy Ferran, who plays Joy, a tertiary character working at the hotel. And one or two of the Tom and Jerry set pieces feel vaguely adjacent to the energy of the original cartoon. But that is also just the point. If you’re a parent wanting to show your children some of these classic Hanna Barbera characters, the cartoons still exist. And in the case of this film, the cartoon it is based on is less tedious and certainly more entertaining for a child. Such is the timeless nature of its slapstick. There’s no need for animated elephants who speak in LOLs and WTFs or an animated goldfish whose speech bubble is a poop emoji. And I guarantee that no child on Earth is intrigued by a subplot involving a missing engagement ring. I’m not inherently against the idea of reformatting legacy characters for a new generation—this is just simply not the way to do it.

Tom & Jerry: D

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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