Tom & Jerry (2021) Movie Review

Wow, it’s been a long time, T & J. Just feels like yesterday when my sister and I were in Blockbuster trying to agree on a movie to take home for the night and we were fighting more adamantly than you guys because we couldn’t agree on a single one, so I thought your movie, Tom & Jerry Blast Off to Mars, would be gender neutral enough. I remember when she disagreed on even that, we got into a big fight and we were told we were going to the theatre in a few days anyway to see Up. Well, that was the worst memory I had of you guys. The best memories were the thrills I got from your total intolerance of each other. So now, I must address the audience and talk about your movie while the iron is hot after one of you turned it on to burn the other’s butt. Don’t know who, don’t know the story. Haven’t picked who’s side I’m on. You’d better run before I make a choice. I have a feeling I’ll have one by the time I’m done talking here.

So, now that they’re off terrorizing a news station, let’s get to my review. I enjoyed Tom & Jerry as a kid. I mean, what wasn’t to like? Sylvester and Tweety’s counterparts never resisting a chance to chase eachother into walls, off cliffs, and onto rockets and race cars. I saw very little of this movie’s advertising, but I did get the impression it wasn’t going to feature them talking, like they did in their last theatrical adaptation, which I felt wasn’t the worst idea ever, in contradiction to Siskel & Ebert.

The structures of the stories with cartoon characters work differently between their actual show and a movie adaptation. In my opinion, the best way to do a cartoon adaptation is to come up with a story a little more cinematic than the ones of its regular episodes without pushing it too far away from its regular tone, and to prioritize on what made the original series such a hit. I saw three Tom & Jerry movies as a kid, one involving a magic ring, the other a car race across the world, and another in outer space, and it became clear that the two of them travel the world like Kerouac characters, never bothering to settle down anywhere and just keep running, so there’s no need for a backstory on why Tom & Jerry are now in New York performing competitively at some spare coin. Those other Tom & Jerry movies were straight up rivalry and adventure around that rivalry. This time we’re introduced to Kayla Forester (the always delectable Chloe Grace Moretz) a young New Yorker who probably does not have much of a post-secondary education because she feels the need to lie her way into the Royal Gate Hotel, but she has enough confidence in herself to very cleverly imposter her way into a temporary job helping a wedding taking place at the hotel between two high-prof celebs.

When it’s found that a mouse is on the premises, a mouse apparently wanting to set up shelter, maybe move in for the long run, as evidenced by Jerry’s setup including an iPhone as a television and an interesting chandelier, because the wedding is going to be so big that an infestation could ruin their rep, seeing as this is Kayla’s responsibility, upon meeting Tom, (for the second time after hijinks from him and Jerry resulted in her getting fired from her last odd job) she hires him to try to get rid of the mouse. One cannot imagine how it could go.

So, my reaction to this movie was similar to the Peter Rabbit film from three years ago. I ended up giving that movie thumbs down, but I think upon rewatch I’d be more fair to it. I’ve only seen it once, but the memories I have of it are somewhat good. I found it fun but just a little overly mean considering the allergy bullying stunt, and an up-close montage of gluttonous eating that definitely could’ve been reworked. And sometimes one single grade can’t do service to all the feelings one has about a film. I think about some of the flaws in this movie, and yet one must remember Tom & Jerry are the definition of frenemies, and the movie definitely never forgets that deet, and in some ways that should be compliment instead of criticism. It’s fun watching how they interact with the real-ish world, and when they fight, there’s never a dull moment even for people who’ve watched their antics for years. A lot of other critics are trashing this flick, and a part of me wants to step away from that crowd and ask them to relax.

On that note, let’s talk about what else is good. Even though I wish I could’ve seen or heard some backstory about Kayla and what exactly happened to give her the desire to con her way into work (is she financially desperate? Did someone once call her worthless?), Moretz plays her with a great blend of snark and vulnerability. Michael Pena is refreshing as a conceited workmate who instead of being the usual comic relief is the comically relieved. It was definitely the right idea to make not just the classic characters but all the animals animated, from the birds, elephants, bulldog Spike, and the other cats, to even the dead fish at a market. I imagine the tuna and burgers in this reality of New York have quite conspicuous colours. The pastries and food in Jackie’s (Ken Jeong) kitchen, however, aren’t, so…

And Tom & Jerry are in the simple models they’ve always been in. If they’d been in 3D, in the right hands it wouldn’t have been bad (the remodelled Sonic turned out great, remember), but there’s just an if-it-ain’t-broke Roger-Rabbit-memories vibe to keeping them as they are. Well, in live-action NYC anyway. I also liked the usual cartoon cloud of bonkers fighting transitioning not just into the real world but having a real person in it. The relationship between the bride and groom, Ben and Preeta, sends a message by the end that is sweet and doesn’t get in the way of anything.

But there’s downfalls. I actually don’t mind a bit of gross-out humour in movies. I just wish if Tom & Jerry was going to have it for once that it wouldn’t only apply to the dog and be so up-close for that matter. And something was just bothering me, and during the very end I finally noticed it; Jerry is almost always the one who starts these fights. He’s just devilish. He does have some redemption by helping Kayla in her time of need once, but why did he have to interfere with Tom’s piano playing? Twice? Tom wasn’t doing anything at his expense. At the end of the 1992 theatrical film, Tom breaks a promise to Jerry never to play any more tricks, and they end up back to their shenanigans, but they do it with no-hard-feelings catch-me-if-you-can smiles. Yet here, they seem legitimately mad at each other. The crusades reminded me of the Looney Tunes short when Sylvester tries to get the can opener from a mouse keeping it from him for fun. If you look at that short closely, you see the mouse is the antagonist of the story because he had no valid reason to keep the cat from access to food. But you don’t really think about it cause it’s fun and games. One could argue this whole movie is too, but when you stretch it to a movie with characters whose jobs are on the line, and you dare go into moral territory like with the characters of Kayla and the to-be-weds, you create a movie that needs perspective and forgiveness, which clashes with the Tom & Jerry premise of just chasing and fighting for no huge reason and seeing how they get twisted into pretzels.

If you or your kids are looking for something new and zippy that gives a little bit of fun distraction as either the vaccines or the variants pave how this next year is going to be, this Tom & Jerry spinoff fits the bill. I’d put this over the Scoob movie any day. And it’s best if for 90 minutes you can overlook Jerry being the arsonist. This is one of those movies I can’t recommend nor not recommend. Feels like Tom bonked in the head with that baseball bat if you overthink.

If you like this, I’d try the Peter Rabbit movie, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and the spectacular Who Framed Roger Rabbit

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