Tom and Jerry started in 1940 with a simple concept: cat vs. mouse. 161 theatrical shorts were built around this idea with seven of them earning Oscars for Best Animated Short Film. There have been numerous spin-offs, revivals and feature-length animated videos since then, with gimmicks ranging from Tom and Jerry as kids to Tom and Jerry being inserted into the plots of The Wizard of Oz and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And now, just a little too late for their 80th Anniversary, we have the first attempt to blend Tom and Jerry’s animated antics with live action, in a bid to recapture the magic of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Alas, Tom and Jerry is not Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It is not Space Jam. It is not even The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. It is a transparent cash-grab by a studio that could do better, starring actors who should have known better, created by the director of Barbershop and the writer of a show based around Jean Claude Van Damme being a secret agent when he isn’t being an actor.
The biggest problem with Tom and Jerry is that there’s precious little of the titular cat and mouse in it. It’s almost as if they started out filming a Devil Wears Prada style romcom as a vehicle for Chloë Grace Moretz, got three-quarters of the way through it, and decided to add in Tom and Jerry at the last minute. I know that isn’t the case, as Warner Bros. had apparently spent the last decade trying to get a live-action Tom and Jerry movie made, but it sure seems like that’s what happened.
Mortez plays the central role of Kayla – a luckless lady trying to survive in Manhattan, who loses her job after a run in with Tom as he was chasing Jerry, who was responsible for destroying Tom’s keyboard. By an unhappy coincidence, Kayla scams her way into a new job as an assistant event planner at the ritzy hotel where Jerry has taken refugee. This leads to Kayla and Tom forming an alliance and Tom getting a job as a discrete eco-friendly exterminator. The hotel manager (Rob Delaney) and head event manager Terrence (Michael Peña) are desperate to keep the news that there’s a mouse in their hotel on the down-low, due to their hosting the Wedding of the Century between beloved power couple Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) and Ben (Colin Jost). Precisely why they are so beloved and what they do beyond being rich is never explained, but that’s the least of the script’s problems.
Naturally the usual Tom and Jerry shenanigans ensue, but most of their antics have been lifted wholesale from various classic Tom and Jerry shorts. They also make up a surprisingly small part of the movie. The lion’s share of the film is focused on Kayla as she attempts to deflect Terrence’s questioning her qualifications, romance one of the hotel bartenders (Jordan Bolger), search for a missing wedding ring (which Jerry stole, naturally) and organize a last-ditch attempt to bring the loving couple back together after their wedding ceremony devolves into a complete fiasco and the bride decides to call the whole thing off.
The ensemble cast try their best to make this all work, but the script by Kevin Costello doesn’t give them much to work with. Costello’s script is full of referential humor, but few of the references make any sense outside of the context of a reference is being made. For instance, at one point Tom and Jerry are thrown into the pound and Droopy Dog has a cameo, wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask. Coupled with a poster depicting Droopy as the Joaquin Phoenix Joker, we’re left wondering – is Droopy a dangerous serial killer in this messed up world?
Between this and the inclusion of rapping pigeons during the opening credits, its hard to say who this film was made for. Fans of the classic Tom and Jerry cartoons will hate this movie for how little Tom and Jerry figure into it and the addition of butt and poop jokes amid the random references. The kids who might laugh at Terrence being forced to take Spike for a walk and the bulldog stopping traffic to drop a deuce will be bored senseless by all the scenes of the humans talking about their jobs long before we get to that scene. Beyond that, I think various moral guardians will object to this movie as children’s entertainment given a whole host of bad messages, ranging from the idea that qualifications aren’t as important as being ambitious, to the movie glossing over the very real relationship problems Ben and Preeta have, vis a vis his not listening to her when she says she wants a small, intimate wedding as he keeps doubling down on flashy spectacles. Frankly, I don’t think her winding up with the idiot man-child who thrills at getting a Wi-Fi hotspot generating mechanical skateboard as a wedding present makes for a happy ending.
I will give Tom and Jerry this much. It is well-animated and the scene of Tom and Jerry attempting to chase down the runaway bride on said Wi-Fi hotspot generating mechanical skateboard is a solid piece of animation. I did also get one honest laugh out of Rob Delaney’s delivery of the line “Tom is an employee. He has a nametag!” All of that is incidental to one simple fact: this is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination and what few fleeting moments work are entirely due to the actors working miracles in spite of the direction and the writing.