Movie review: 'Tom & Jerry' (2021)
Fairly early on while watching this movie, I came to an epiphany: I really don't like Jerry.
Seriously, he's a jerk. I mean, it'd be one thing if he violently thrashed his onscreen partner, Tom, because, after all, Tom is a cat, and cats eat mice. It'd be self-defense. I don't hate the Road Runner when Wile E. Coyote gets squished yet again, even if do feel sorry for Wile. But Tom rarely seems to have any interest in eating Jerry. Neither is Jerry like Bugs Bunny, who doesn't go looking for trouble. In the old shorts, Jerry frequently attacks Tom first, without provocation.
Take, as an example, how Tom and Jerry meet in their latest movie, released this weekend. Tom is busking in New York City's Central Park, when Jerry rudely interrupts him. Now, Tom is not without his own flaws; he's pretending to be blind to attract more customers, which is not cool. But Jerry doesn't seem to be bothered by this; his beef with Tom is clearly that Tom is making money, and he's not. So, he tries to steal his crowd, and then, in a bout of inevitable slapstick violence, breaks Tom's keyboard, which is clearly important to Tom beyond just a means of money. I'm on Tom's side, here.
Well, anyway, Tom & Jerry is a movie about Tom and Jerry. Tom is a cat. Jerry is a mouse. They starred in a bunch of cartoon shorts together starting in 1940, meaning that 2020 was their 80th anniversary. This movie was supposed to commemorate that milestone, but, well, COVID-19. It's mostly a live-action film; only the animals are animated (it wasn't submitted for consideration in the Academy Awards' 2020 Best Animated Feature category, which it would've qualified for under the extended "awards year", which implies the filmmakers consider it live-action). Besides Tom and Jerry (who are basically mute, and charmingly credited as "Themselves"), the movie stars Chloë Grace Moretz and Michael Peña.
The plot is fairly simple; Kayla (Moretz), a young woman looking for work, is able to con her way into a high-profile job at a prestigious New York hotel, which is about to host a celebrity wedding. The event is being coordinated by Terrance (Peña), the hotel's deputy general manager, who doesn't trust Kayla. Tom and Jerry figure into this when Jerry moves into the hotel and takes up residence. Rather than hire an exterminator, Kayla convinces her bosses to hire Tom to take care of Jerry. Violent slapstick ensues.
It's kind of a relief that the movie keeps that aspect of Tom and Jerry; they eventually team up with Kayla, but during the first half of the movie there's a lot of just straight up, well, Tom and Jerry. There are long stretches of movie with no dialogue, just a cat and a mouse and a lot of pain. Which, if you like Tom and Jerry, that's what they do. It's not 1992's Tom and Jerry: The Movie, which inexplicably had them team up almost at the start of the movie, start talking and otherwise just not be what you'd expect a Tom and Jerry movie to be.
The world the movie takes place in is definitely interesting from a furry perspective; every animal is a cartoon animal, most at least capable of speech (Tom and Jerry seem to be mute by choice; human characters straight up get annoyed at them for not using speech). And I do mean every animal. At one point, Tom and Jerry visit a fish market, which are cartoons just like all the other animals that appear in the movie. Just a bit less animated, if you catch my drift.
Here's the thing; I ended up liking and caring more about the film's non-animated characters. I'm going to give screenplay writer Kevin Costello some credit, because the conflict that evolves in the celebrity relationship is better done than some movies where the "disastrous wedding" plot is the entire movie, no cartoon animals involved.
This movie is available to see in theaters, but I can't in good conscience recommend seeing it there, never mind the quality. I don't think there are any movies really worth that right now; if there is one, well, it isn't Tom & Jerry. However, it's also available on the HBO Max streaming service, for no additional charge, which has oodles of furry stuff I could recommend beyond just Tom & Jerry; and if you've already got that, it's worth checking out.