Formally known as Thomas D. Cat and Jerome A. Mouse (when asked for comment on those middle initials Hanna and Barbera’s graves merely shrugged), the slapstick antagonists better known as simply Tom and Jerry for eighty-years running (and smashing, and maiming, and slicing) are movie stars at last! Making their way to the big-budget big-screen graveyard known as glossy children’s entertainment with this weekend’s live-action / animated hybrid film hitting theaters (as well as HBO Max) the murderous duo managed to wring the second biggest box-office weekend out of mad-eyed families here during these pandemic times. And were they worth it?
No, of course they weren’t. No movie is worth it given the stakes but certainly not this carnivorous noise carnival out to eat your wallet with a side of your soul as chaser. I say this with some Droopy-Dog-eyed sadness, given Tom and Jerry’s hallowed place in my heart—if anything was the original sin of a gateway drug to lovin’ Horror it was this lil’ chainsaw-wielding mouse and his oft sliced-n-diced foe-friend. Matt Groening only took this two-some a half-step further with the gore-soaked hi-jinks of “Itchy and Scratchy” on The Simpsons—go back and watch those original T&J cartoons and you’ll gasp (and delight) at the gleeful vivisections.
There’s very little of that spirit here in the 2021 version though, as director Tim Story and writer Kevin Costello for some godforsaken reason decided to bog our wordless antiheroes down among a menagerie of mangy humans with their mangy human concerns—riveting things like maintaining a proficient résumé, hotel management, and wedding menus. For half of Tom and Jerry I wasn’t sure if I was watching a cartoon known for flattening skulls inside of waffle irons or if I was taking a remedial course at my local Community College.
Is this just the devil sitting on my shoulder speaking, though? Much like Tom Cat has an angel-cat and a devil-cat that appear every so often, at important junctures, attempting to coax out his better and his not-so-better instincts, perhaps I’ve given Devil Me too much time at the mic. Angel Me is tapping against my ear with his little harp, and he would like to interject that some of the humans, namely Chloe Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, and Rob Delaney (whose resemblance to a Muppet has never been more pronounced), don’t really embarrass themselves here. They dive face-first into the cartoony broth and go for broke, bless ‘em for trying.
Moretz in particular injects a powerful bisexual energy into the film that might give the parents in the audience an extracurricular chuckle or two. As her character of Kayla attempts to right the doomed-from-frame-one marriage ceremony at the film’s center (between two super-rich Insta-influencers played by a wildly unappealing Colin Jost and a clearly-realizes-how-wildly-unappealing-Colin-Jost-is Pallavi Sharda) it begins to read that Kayla’s actually the real disruptive force in this universe. Forget the cat and mouse causing an elephant stampede, Kayla’s gonna steal that bride!
Sharda and Moretz have mad chemistry… but why the hell am I even talking about that? Oh, it seems Devil Me is back, having shoved Angel Me down into a rocky cavernous ravine, and has now regained control of the review. So hand me my devil horns cuz here’s the deal, Daddy-O: Tom and Jerry is a tale as old as time. Of David and Goliath, of Good and Evil, of a cartoon mouse sticking matchsticks between each individual toe of a cartoon cat and lighting his foot on fire just so he can stand there and laugh over the cat’s grave. It’s primal, and I would argue actually meaningful, speaking to and of the Devils and Angels wrestling deep inside every one of us. Whatever this movie is, it ain’t that.
Image sources (in order of posting): HBO Max,