Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) is looking for a break in her efforts to find a job and finds one when she manages to con her way onto the events team at a prestigious New York hotel. However, the arrival of Jerry, a trouble-making mouse, risks putting Kayla’s new job at risk. So to solve the problem, she brings in help in the form of Tom, a stray cat, to help stop the mouse ahead of a huge celebrity wedding. Suffice to say, we don’t think this hotel has enough insurance for the carnage that is about to happen.
Created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in 1940 and with over 150 theatrical short films to their name, Tom and Jerry are one of the most iconic cartoon duos in animation history. While they charmed audiences in animated shorts and television series over the years, successes in feature-length films have alluded them.
That’s not to say that this 2021 film isn’t the first time Tom and Jerry have taken their antics to the big screen. The duo have tried for box office gold with the 1992 effort of Tom & Jerry: The Movie. Sadly, it’s not remembered fondly among fans, including this writer. Its failure to set to box office alit may have had something to do with the filmmakers having the audacity to give the always silent cat and mouse duo voices. A daring gamble that didn’t pay off with the film just scraping back its $3.5 million budget back in the day.
Fast forward to the 21st century and Warner Brothers have been keen to restart some of its iconic animated franchises over the past few years. Scoob!, based on Scooby-Doo, was last year’s big attempt at breathing new life into Hanna-Barbara properties and the results were considerably mixed and painful to fans. Armed with a near $80 million dollar budget and with a hybrid live-action animation production featuring a reliable supporting cast of Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña and even Ken Jeong, have Warner Brothers taken the beloved duo in the right direction or nosedived their legacy?
Thankfully, I’m happy to report that Tom and Jerry is perfect entertainment for the family during the Easter holidays. While it definitely isn’t for everyone, I think those who are interested in the film are going to enjoy themselves. Importantly, the film is happy to Tom and Jerry do what they do best and, unlike the 1992 film, let them be the characters we expect them to be from those early shorts. Silent comedic and entertaining animations. The film even keeps in the classic yells, laughs and sound effects you expect to see in a classic Tom & Jerry film.
Those expecting something revolutionary to change the original source material, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But personally, a film like this one doesn’t need a drastic alteration of the core workings of this cartoon partnership. Jerry causes trouble, Tom tries to stop him and fails painfully. Repeat. At times, throw in Spike the Dog. Another character from the series who returns as one of the pets owned by the “celebrity” couple played by Colin Jost and Pallavi Sharda. The core hijinks from the animated leads work without having to give them celebrity voices or force something into the story that doesn’t suit their universe. Speaking of which, the animation choice for the film is a decent world builder.
It’s quite commendable that the film makes the decision to make every animal animated just like Tom and Jerry and it makes sense. It would look quite out of place for Tom and Jerry to be running all over the place with real animals popping up now and then. There’s no portal from a cartoon world like Space Jam or alternate reality where cartoons exist just as humans like Roger Rabbit. They’re animals and this weird, wonderful, setting doesn’t even need to explain why animals are vibrantly colourful and expressive as they are. Even with the slight meta cameo from another iconic cartoon character, this is a natural environment for a cartoon cat and mouse to fight in. For me, the hybrid animation style takes a bit of getting used to but ultimately suits the film just fine. It’s quite easy to be put off by the ultra-clean look of the cartoon visuals when comparing it to legendary films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit but by giving it some time, I eventually accepted the aesthetic and didn’t feel the need to question the choice further.
If there are any real negatives to the film is that it is slightly too long, clocking in at an hour and forty minutes when you could probably get away with 90 minutes. This may have something to do with giving the ensemble of reliable comedic actors they’ve enlisted to help support the film some substance. Films wanting to do a live-action animation blend like Tom & Jerry thrive or die with its human cast. But even then, you can cast the biggest names out there and if the script doesn’t help them, it also hurts the film.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised that the human characters felt comfortably in place in this story. Mortez works very well as the central human character with her own journey to take in the film having weaselled her way into a job she’s clearly inexperienced and now trying to keep before the truth comes out. It’s a sign posted character arc but Mortez makes her story watchable and relatable.
I think one of the big things to take away from the human cast side of things is how none of the characters come across as highly annoying or unwelcomed at all. By looking at the synopsis, you’d be naturally expecting characters like the celebrity couple to be over the top, arrogant and insufferable but they come across as a grounded couple who have their own relationship obstacles to overcome during the film. Even when you have Michael Peña and Ken Jeong on hand to help with some of the laughs, they keep their usually over the top comedic energy to a subdued level and that’s fine.
Overall, Tom and Jerry’s 2021 cinema outing ticks a lot of boxes for its target market. Kids will enjoy the animated slapstick, adults will get the occasional chuckle here and there and the film just works as something to pass the time. I’m happy that it isn’t a similar disaster like the 1992 outing but I’m quite content having watched this once. The film comes across as a nice self-contained one-off slice of nostalgia for the classic animated fans and a nice introduction to younger audiences discovering the cat and mouse duo for the first time.
It doesn’t need to be a complicated franchise-starter now, does it?
I’m looking at you, Scooby-Doo…..
Tom & Jerry (2021)
Tom & Jerry’s latest cinematic adventure is a worthwhile entertaining distraction for the family. While it isn’t a stunning piece of cinema or doesn’t do anything revolutionary with the characters, it respectfully keeps what makes the famous cat and mouse team memorable all those years ago.
Reviewed by Iain Boulton
Tom & Jerry is currently available to rent digitally on Premium VOD.