You know that scene in the Tom & Jerry cartoons where Jerry repeatedly hurts Tom, and yet, Tom somehow keeps going? That’s what watching this movie feels like.
Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Ride Along) directs Tom & Jerry, a slapstick comedy based on the long-running silent cartoon of the same name. This film follows Tom the Cat pursuing Jerry the Mouse through a hotel during an expensive wedding.
When the opening credits of this movie began with a group of animated pigeons looking directly into the camera and rapping over aerial stock footage of New York City, I had a bad feeling about where this movie would go. And it does not pick up from there, as this film is a frustratingly generic adaptation.
This film is reminiscent of the 2011 film, The Smurfs, another movie that features classic cartoon characters and their antics in the Big Apple. Given the development hell the movie went through, this feels very much like a product churned out by a studio trying to cash in on a franchise they own.
What this film offers are a few classic sequences where Tom chases Jerry and Jerry trips him up, and Tom gets hurt. They smash many things, and unfortunately, the slapstick doesn’t quite work due to the strange integration of 2D animated characters into a live-action setting.
It’s a technique that works in films such as Space Jam because of how self-aware that movie is; Michael Jordan was aware of the existence of Looney Tunes, and he finds themselves in their world. In this film, it appears as if every animal exists as a 2D animated figure. It’s incredibly odd to see the juxtaposition of the real humans and animated animals go unacknowledged.
Most of the film’s issues arise from the conflict between its dedication to the original cartoon and the desire to do something greater. The film amends the mistake of the 1993 film, Tom and Jerry: The Movie, by not having Tom or Jerry speak, preserving the silent nature of the cartoons.
However, the movie also features other cat and mouse characters who speak, so there is no reason why Tom and Jerry do not speak in this film when every other animal in this movie does.
Furthermore, this is not just a film where Tom and Jerry run around and hit each other. This movie features many human characters, and the amount of screen time the humans have is surprising; the humans have more screen time than Tom and Jerry, which can be disappointing for those who want nothing more than slapstick humor between these animated animals.
The human characters have nothing special about them. Our human protagonist is Kayla Forester (Chloë Grace Moretz), who quits her job at the beginning of the movie in the most high-definition Facetime in the world. She then proceeds to scam her way into the job she holds for the rest of the film, immediately making her an unlikable character.
However, the point of this is to give her an arc where she becomes a better person; however, her arc is very contrived, and it barely feels as if it is related to Tom and Jerry’s antics. Every other character is quite boring despite the minimal attempts to develop them. This film should not have given so much time to the human characters because of how unnecessary they were.
At times, it can feel like the studio assembled a bunch of talented actors who agreed to the film for a paycheck. No one is giving a memorable performance, and while Moretz is charismatic in her line delivery, she has no good comedy to work with.
Unfortunately, the movie’s comedy isn’t funny. Ken Jeong and Michael Peña are very talented comedic actors, but they don’t say anything amusing in this movie. While it’s rational to fear watching a comedy film like this in a theater during the pandemic, there are virtually no laughs in this movie besides the occasional slapstick.
Much of the non-slapstick humor is either cringe-worthy or so subtle that it’s difficult to tell when they’re trying to be funny. There is a fish with a thought bubble that pops up with the poop emoji inside. There is a scene that adds nothing to the plot where a giant dog poops on a crosswalk. It’s this level of low-hanging fruit.
The slapstick doesn’t hit as well either because of how we have over-the-top cartoon violence juxtaposed against real walls and objects. It’s completely bonkers to see Tom and Jerry do their thing in realistic settings, and it’s awkward watching human actors pretend to interact with cartoons.
With violence so Looney Tunes-y, it’s impossible to take any of the human characters seriously because of their environment. Nothing about this movie works. It instead feels very awkward and bland given how little ingenuity it offers.
The script has nothing special to it. It’s a movie that small children may or may not enjoy and grow up with nostalgia for, but there is no reason why anyone would want to watch this over the classic animated silent shorts. Those have much less plot, much less character, and much less cringeworthy humor.
It’s an unfortunately uneven film that isn’t offensive to the original cartoon but offers nothing that fans actually want to see. While it could have been a fun movie for children and adults alike, it is an unfunny misfire.
Grade: ★★☆☆☆ [4/10, D+]
Tom & Jerry premieres in theaters and on HBO Max for 30 days on February 26, 2021.
Rating: PG for cartoon violence, rude humor, and brief language