Who actually wants movies like Tom & Jerry? Think back to the dregs of the Alvin & the Chipmunks movies from the aughts: the awkward blend of live action and animation, the creaky dragging of baby-boomer cartoon mascots awkwardly into present-day pop culture, the incessant noise of it all. What’s worse, the characters you’ve come to see — the ones your kids never knew — come on screen in a form you hardly recognize.
There’s a reason the gray and white housecat and his brown mouse foil have endured for 81 years since their debut in 1940: they’re the quintessential cat-and-mouse team. There’s a simplicity to the premise: Tom tries to catch Jerry, plucky Jerry always outsmarts unlucky Tom, over-the-top cartoon violence and slapstick gags ensue. The settings or circumstances that trigger the chase might differ (sometimes they might team up against a common problem, and sometimes Tom even wins) but the tried-and-true formula persists. That approach—broad physical humor, little to no dialogue—has wide appeal and transcends cultural barriers, and it’s even inspired an equally long-running parody on ‘The Simpsons’ with Itchy and Scratchy.
Obviously, not everyone is ready to run back to movie theaters, even if New York cinemas can hypothetically open at 25 percent capacity next month. Those that did run to the theaters, however, apparently ran to see Tom and Jerry, the latest Colin Jost vehicle from Warner Bros. Pictures. According to Variety, if you factor in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Tom and Jerry did more than chase its tail during its opening weekend, earning over $13.7 million at the domestic box office. Only 2,475 theaters are currently open in some capacity, which is 42 percent of the country’s theaters. The movie is reportedly the first film to break $10 million in the past ten months, other than Wonder Woman 1984, which earned $16.7 million domestic its opening weekend back in December.
Tom & Jerry’s human elements are frankly negligible. The ensemble cast are talented actors, but aren’t humorous or entertaining. Tom & Jerry’s shenanigans with Spike and Toots are the animated highlights. They cause rampant destruction, which elicited minor chuckles along the way. Children will be amused by these scenes, but I don’t believe the hour and forty minute runtime will hold their interest. This version of Tom & Jerry may gain a new audience, but probably won’t appeal to older and die-hard fans. Tom & Jerry is produced by Warner Animation Group, Hanna-Barbera Productions, and Turner Entertainment. It will be released concurrently by Warner Bros. in theaters and HBO Max streaming on February 26th.
It’s all so dull, you find your mind wandering into the bizarre logistics of Tom and Jerry’s world — one where only animals are animated (the film implicitly establishes that humans eat cartoon meat), and all of those animals have voices except for Tom and Jerry. Tom gets a couple of sequences with the angel and devil on his shoulder, voiced respectively by Tone Bell and Lil Rel Howery, so we’re left to presume that that’s what he sounds like. But then, he plays the piano and launches into a downright caustic hip-hop-inflected ballad complete with bizarre autotune. The questions abound: Do animated, sentient animals have rights? How do you transport cartoon elephants across state lines? And why are all the poor, criminally-inclined animals coded as Black.
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