The classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters are given the live-action film treatment in the new "Tom and Jerry" (in theaters and streaming on HBO Max).
But fans of the overly-violent frenemies will be left shaking their heads at just how uninspired their new "big-screen" adventure is, and how some things are better off left alone.
Tom (the cat) and Jerry (the mouse) just celebrated their 80th (!!!) anniversary since first appearing as theatrical short films back in 1940. The duo rose in popularity over the next several decades, and by the 1960s, were even more successful than "Looney Tunes" cartoons. Their cat-and-mouse shenanigans usually involved Tom trying desperately (and quite creatively) to catch Jerry, as the two tortured, maimed and beat each other into pulps, with cartoon-violence that even for the time was a bit over-the-top (it wasn't uncommon for example, for Tom to end up decapitated, electrocuted, or exploded by each short's end). Of course, they always survived to live in their next short film, and even seemed to be respected pals on occasion, saving one another from extreme dangers that usually were caused by the other.
Even children in the 70s, 80s and 90s can claim that they "grew up" with Tom and Jerry, with their shorts (over 160 in all) having been collected and re-released as cartoon programs like "The Tom and Jerry Show" (1975), "The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show" (early 1980s) and "Tom & Jerry Kids" (early 1990s). They've only had one long-form theatrical release, the 1992 animated box-office bomb, "Tom and Jerry: The Movie," but 13 straight-to-video films produced over the past two decades.
Their first live-action film, "Tom and Jerry," is a mix of 2-D animation and live-action (think "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"), and takes place in New York City...it also for all intents and purposes throws away any history between the two characters and acts as some sort of weird origin story, I guess. Sadly, the characters simply seem to exist in someone else's movie and are not the primary focus here, with attention instead placed (wrongly) on their human counterparts.
The result is a film that feels like it might have been released in the 1980s or 1990s, filled with jokes that are about as dated. Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) manipulates her way into a job at an upscale NYC hotel that is hosting the upcoming wedding between two super-affluent celebrities (played by Colin Jost and Pallavi Sharda). Another hotel employee, Terence (Michael Peña) is leery of Kayla's sudden appearance, but they're forced to work together to get rid of the hotel's mouse problem (you can see where this is going). Tom is brought in to help them catch Jerry.
Occasionally, the film puts its titular characters together, and we're given some old-school fun and mayhem. But these moments are few and far between. Too often they are off-screen, and I'm not sure that the lame, obvious comedy is enough for even youngsters...it's definitely too much for grown-ups to stomach, making this a blessing that it is also available on HBO Max, and that parents didn't have to shell out money to watch this in a theater.
As a long-time fan of the Tom and Jerry shorts, I went in to "Tom and Jerry" not expecting much, but at least expecting some sort of reverence of the characters...at worst, I was hoping they would do them justice and at best, I was holding out hope that they would find some clever way to incorporate them into the modern world. This new film sadly does neither, instead feeling like yet another straight-to-video release and one that even feels a bit insulting, as if the filmmakers had perhaps never seen the original shorts themselves.
There seems to be no understanding of what made Tom and Jerry popular to begin with. Then again, even die-hard Tom and Jerry fans realize that the characters themselves are quite thin, and there probably wasn't much they could do with them in the first place. Tom and Jerry, it seems, are best suited for the short film format.
And if the filmmakers don't seem to care about the legacy of the characters, then why should you? "Tom and Jerry" might be good to pop on in the background, if you have small children looking for a distraction, but if that's the case and these are the characters you look to distract them with, why not just pop on some old Tom and Jerry cartoons? It's debatable whether the two characters took more abuse 80 years ago, or by being forced to exist within this pedestrian cash-grab.
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy.
Run Time: 1 hour 41 minutes.
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Jordan Bolger, Rob Delaney, Colin Jost.
Directed by Tim Story ("Shaft (2019)," "Ride Along 2," "Think LIke A Man," "Fantastic Four (2005)").
"Tom and Jerry" is in theaters and on HBO Max on Friday, February 26th, 2021.
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