We live in a twilight world of movies. For the past year, theatres in many parts of Canada have been shuttered or forced to operate at drastically reduced capacity. At the same time, new product – or “content” if you want to annoy Martin Scorsese – has been hard to come by, forcing theatres to rely on oldies and cinematic reruns. Even now, the big draw at the recently reopened Scotiabank Halifax is Wonder Woman 1984, which was first released on demand in December.
The list of films that were to have opened by now but haven’t continues to grow – everything from A Quiet Place Part II to The French Dispatch to No Time to Die. And the knock-on effect will last for years. When you’re settling in to watch Avatar 5 during the 2028 Christmas season, part of your brain will be thinking: Wasn’t this supposed to open in 2027? And you’ll be right. (Another part will be hoping your car managed to find decent parking after dropping you off.)
Which brings us to Tom & Jerry, the animated shenanigans (or “shenanimation”) of a pair of feline/murine frenemies. The movie hasn’t been delayed by the pandemic – in fact, it’s being released seven weeks earlier than originally planned. But while Americans with the HBO Max streaming service can see it as part of their monthly package, Canadians will need to brave February weather (and COVID-19) to go to one of the few open cinemas, or pony up $24.99 for a one-time home streaming rental. And while the movie is good, it’s not that good.
I finally have a pair of suspects to answer to the charge of Who Framed Roger Rabbit
The plot involves Jerry (the mouse in case you weren’t certain) moving into the ritzy, fictional Royal Gate Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where he finds a space in the walls and starts pilfering knickknacks and toiletries to feather his nest. Tom (the cat), stung by this larceny, tries to kick him out.
Meanwhile, in the human world, Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) has just lied her way into a job as an events organizer at the hotel, which is about to host the “wedding of the century” between celebrities Preeta and Ben. They’re played by Australian/Bollywood actress Pallavi Sharda, and SNL Weekend Update cohost Colin Jost, displaying so little chemistry that I was certain the mouse and cat would wed before they did.
Animals and humans collide when Kayla is tasked with evicting the mouse, and hires Tom to assist her. This upsets her boss (Michael Peña), who smells a fraud in Kayla and doesn’t trust her.
The mix of animation and live action works better in some scenes than others, but fails to deliver any real “wow” moments. Let’s just say that, more than 30 years after the breakthrough in live-cartoon hybridization, I think I finally have a pair of suspects to answer to the charge of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Fans of the original series – at 81, Tom & Jerry are almost as old as the last major global pandemic – will be satisfied that the cat-and-mouse battles continue in fine old form, complete with hair-raising electrocutions, noggin knocks that raise weird fleshy bumps, and characters whose eyes bulge out in heart-shaped protuberances when they fall in love. (A trick Jost may want to learn.)
And unlike the 1992 T&J movie, the title characters remain silent – with one exception, when Tom sings while playing the piano. It’s such a strange and unnerving deviation that it should almost carry a parental warning.
Director Tim Story (Ride Along, Think Like a Man) has made an interesting and wise choice in animating all non-human creatures, so that a cat and dog owned by the aforementioned celebrity couple can interact on the same level as Jerry and Tom. Story even gives himself a cameo as a pigeon/narrator.
COVID-19 has upended the way movies are judged. “Wait for the DVD” is no longer a phrase, and the old direct-to-video label now basically applies to everything under its new name, streaming. In a different 2021, I might have awarded Tom & Jerry an extra half-star as a worthwhile trip to the cinema, minor fun for the kids and a modicum of nostalgia for their parents.
Stuck at home, you may want to scroll through the animated back catalogue offerings of a streaming service that can be had for less than the price of this new release. Wolfwalkers (AppleTV+), Soul (Disney+) or Kubo and the Two Strings (Netflix) are all decent options.
Tom & Jerry opens Feb. 26 in select cinemas, and on demand.
2.5 stars out of 5