When Warner Bros. began revisiting famed animated series’, I will admit, I was here for it. Then, the Scoob film arrived and I realized, very clearly, that Warner Bros had a different interpretation of what that entailed. That film wedged everything it could into its runtime, including superheroes and a roster of Hanna-Barbera characters, but it forgot everything that made me interested in seeing Mystery Inc. again.
Directed by Tim Story and written by Kevin Costello, the Warner Animation Group is back at it again, only, this time, attempting a live-action and computer-animated hybrid. This is nothing we have not seen prior, be it from the live-action Scooby Doo‘s, Garfield, or, even, The Smurfs, but could very well draw a very vocal response from you, given your perception of them. I am there with you, and, for that reason, I was very skeptical about Tom & Jerry’s new outing, released theatrically and on HBO Max.
If you are not familiar, Tim Story’s directorial resume otherwise includes the Ride Along series, the original Fantastic Four duology, Barbershop, and Shaft. This might dissuade you, as well, once again, dependent on your impression of each film.
The film comprises itself of a cast, including Chloe Grace Moretz, Michael Pena, Colin Jost, Rob Delaney, and Ken Jeong in live-action roles, whereas our titular characters are voiced by William Hanna, Mel Blanc and June Foray through the use of archival footage, alongside Frank Welker.
Tom & Jerry spent a while in development hell, with a lot of shifting ideas and approaches before settling on the current film, which, makes sense, given how the film itself feels dated on-launch. The whole live-action / animation shtick has been lampooned left and right, so much so that it feels naturally associated with subpar. Of course, with a new Space Jam on the horizon, and individuals like yours truly, who unabashedly watch them, we might see a return to form for the subgenre.
The concept is straightforward, reintroducing Tom and Jerry to one another in a new scenario. Basically, Chloe Grace Moretz’ becomes an employee of the Royal Gate Hotel under false pretenses, and is tasked with ridding them of a pesky mouse (Jerry). Tom, who met Jerry earlier, is brought in to help out. The film mostly focuses on a game of, ahem, cat and mouse, between our titular characters. Simple stuff, really, and it’s about what you would want for a Tom & Jerry film, a simple framing device for the slapstick shenanigans.
I actually did not mind the animation in this film. Although it is not a perfect marriage, I don’t believe an actual perfect marriage with the hybrid. However, through small technological successes and attention to detail, Tom and Jerry are able to better capture their classic shtick in the live action realm. This is to say that it does not feel like a strewn together film with computer-generated imagery hastily pasted on, with the classic motifs on display and some environmental interaction. The decision to have non-human animal animated, instead of merely Tom & Jerry, and a handful of familiar faces, was a smart decision that helped it as well.
The film’s aspects that are faithful, I think, actually succeed pretty well, with a lot of the old school cartoon charm you would hope for. The detriments, however, are found in the human-characters and the attempts at making the film hip and modern. Simply put, Tom & Jerry will never be a mainstream blockbuster nor will it ever be as relevant the way it once was. Instead, similar to The Jetsons or The Flintstone, it is a byproduct of a bygone era. What makes Tom & Jerry and others so classical is their evergreen charm. Through pop-culture references, modern slang, and peculiar musical selection (the film opens with a rapping pigeon), however, not only does it feel off and second-hand, something that was already apparent with the live-action / animated hybrid, but it feels like it already feels dated.
The humor succeeds best when it stays with the basics, the slapstick comedy and the Rube Goldberg style traps, and I think that’s what we all wanted from the film. However, other times, it can fall victim to the same corny, toilet-humor plaguing the worst of the bunch. The actors involved are suitably campy and extra. I was actually appreciated that, on some level. Simply because I was so caught off-guard to see Chloe Moretz ham it up and overact so much in a performance. Unfortunately, there is way too much of them. Instead of a classic Tom & Jerry story with a slight framing device, it feels like an interchangeable, expendable comedy film with Tom & Jerry antics supplemented into it.
I didn’t love Tom & Jerry overall (the Peanuts film remains my favorite example of how to successfully celebrate an older property), but it was not as pitiful as it could have and probably should have been.
The production-value and the level of care that went into implementing the animated components into the film, really elevated it. During instances where our titular characters were allowed to riff, I thought they were onto something.
Unfortunately, those instances are too far and in between, with the film unable to reel in some of the subgenres’ worst impulses. I am here for Tom & Jerry, but the generic comedy film at the root of it all, I could not become invested in. I would recommend as a fun enough family film, but I don’t think it will be a film we will be talking about in years, or even months to come.