Remember the age-old trivia that McDonald’s Golden Arches are recognised by more people than the symbol of one of the biggest religions in the world? This absurd fact seems plausible because we are involuntarily attracted to the logos, characters, and references that we grow up with. One such cartoon that existed before most of us were even born and will most likely still be around long after our departure, is the Tom and Jerry show.
The duo is so iconic that unless you were neighbours with the Flintstones, you’re bound to know them. When the trailer of the newest film adaptation of the cartoon was released three months ago, I wondered why they were taking the Space Jam route. Why opt for a live-action/animated hybrid instead of going completely animated like many Tom and Jerry films have since 1992? Just minutes into the new Tom & Jerry, it becomes apparent that the makers wanted to give us more than just slapstick humour.
In a world where all animals are animated characters and humans are... just regular boring humans, Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) fakes her resume to land a job at New York’s Royal Gate Hotel which Jerry has made its home and Tom, as always, badly wants to get into. Thanks to a high-profile event that’s coming up in a few days, the hotel’s manager orders Kayla to handle the pest infestation. The rest of the film follows this cat and mouse chase, quite literally, and revolves around whether the event happens the way it’s meant to.
On paper, Tom and Jerry follows the regular ‘don’t you dare mess this up’ plot that we’ve seen in countless films. The set-up is eerily similar to 1996’s Dunston Checks In — a film where an orangutan is let loose inside a five-star hotel. Interestingly, the hotel in that film is owned by a family named Dubrow, which also happens to be the name of Royal Gate Hotel’s owner. What we get in Tom and Jerry is our beloved cat and mouse doing what they do the best running amuck and causing destruction to anything and everything in the vicinity. But this time, they also have to face the consequences of the carnage they create and that’s where the fun ends — for them as well as for us.
When the initial excitement of watching two of our most beloved characters on the big screen wears out, what really works are the small pop-culture references and easter eggs that are strategically placed all through the film. There are references to Batman, Dalmations, and in one scene, we even see Droopy in a straitjacket and mask similar to Hannibal Lecter. One of the mouses even goes meta when he calls a property ‘mouse house’ and asks if that term, which usually refers to Mickey Mouse and Disney, is copyrighted. And did I tell you that we also get to see other known characters like Butch, Spike, and Toodles Galore?
The issue with Tom and Jerry is that the film itself is so familiar and typical that you’re left to look for such nibbles of gratification. The extremely passe storyline aside, one would expect at least the humour to work. But the slapstick employed in this film is mostly a rehash of what we’ve previously seen in the Tom and Jerry cartoon series. Remember the numerous times we’ve seen Jerry close the window when Tom is pouncing towards it? Or when Jerry knocks out Tom and uses his ears as a tunnel to go inside his house? Those who watch this film will get to see all of this all over again.
What works, on the other hand, is the makers’ attempt to enliven the proceedings by adding a star wedding plot. But weak performances and underwritten characters sabotage the rest of the film. Tom and Jerry thus joins the unenviable list of films that never needed to be made. At a time when studios are remaking their famous films or turning them from animation to live-action, this iteration seems to be simply another attempt to cash in on nostalgia. Aside from a few elements that actually surprise us at regular intervals, akin to checkpoints in a video game, Tom and Jerry doesn’t bring anything new to the age-old franchise. And really, this cat-and-mouse game would’ve been better left untouched.
Film: Tom and Jerry
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Michael Pena, Pallavi Sharda
Director: Tim Story