My regular reader will know of my enormous pride at being considered a worldwide authority on the subject of Top Cat, or Boss Cat as he was briefly known in the UK; the Wikipedia page for the two recent Top Cat movies both quote me as a suitably august figure to discuss their relative merits. Flushed with such success, I’m turning my critical gaze to Tim Story’s reboot of Tom & Jerry, the beloved cat and mouse combination which several generations grew up with in five minute cartoon bursts. Creating a feature film around their violent yet funny race and chase tussles is no easy feat, and it’s something of a relief to pronounce that Tom & Jerry Da Movie is rather better than might be expected.
Things have to change; the old Tom & Jerry raced around the kitchen of a black maid, seemingly unaware of the potential for cultural stereotyping calamity. Now, they are brought to a fictional New York hotel where they resume their traditional animosity for the majority of the narrative. Knocked out teeth and falling anvils will only get us so far, so a human story is added; Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) cons her way into a gig working at the Royal Gate Hotel, where she clashes with snooty staff including Terence Mendoza (Michael Pena). The hotel is in thrall to the nuptials of an interracial couple (tick diversity box here) played by Colin Jost and Pallarvi Sharda, but with a Jerry loose in the big house, Kayla enlists Tom’s help as a mouser, with disastrous results…
Although Tom and Jerry briefly team up in the latter stages of the film, Story does a good job of maintaining the animosity between cat and mouse for the most part; we don’t want to see them talk, or team up to go on adventures together, because then, well, they just wouldn’t be Tom and Jerry anymore. This is a kids film, so there’s blasts of music (oldies like A Tribe called Quest, fresh from DJ Shadow), lots of slapstick chaos, and a general sunny, happy vibe; performers like Moretz and Pena really get to shine hamming it up for a family audience, and support comes from old reliables like Ken Jeong and Rob Delaney.
It’s maybe a modernisation too far to see old Butch the dog having to have his poop scooped up in the street, although small kids will probably love such low-brow stuff. The package holds enough pizazz for the weans, and there’s enough respect for the anarchic spirit of the original cartoons for passing adults to dig this; Tom & Jerry doesn’t attempt to remake the wheel, but it’s a cut above most animated/live action hybrid films, and a well-deserved surprise pandemic hit for Warners.
Tom & Jerry is out now (March 26th 2021) on UK streaming services.
Thanks to Warners UK for advance access to this film.