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  • Ravi Swami

"Tom & Jerry", Dir: Tim Story, 2021

So far on this blog I've resisted reviewing very recent films, with some exceptions, such as the excellent "Lucky Grandma" which does fit the criteria of being difficult to view outside of the usual cinema distribution channels, and thanks to streamings services you can watch it on Apple+ TV.

Where "Tom & Jerry", directed by Tim Story - a director I know little about - is concerned, I watched it primarily because I know personally some of the animators who provided drawn guide animation for the CG artists to use as a basis for the animated characters that you see on-screen and they have considerable expertise in following the animation style set in the original MGM cartoons.

That said, from a purely technical animation standpoint there is little to fault in the film though the "2.5D" treatment of the characters occasionally forces you to wonder if you are looking at pure drawn animation, as seen in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" for example, or CGI.

On that point, with drawn animation, being essentially flat, it's up to the artist to imply the type of distortion you would get with types of camera lens, if at all, and usually for effect alongside the elastic exaggeration normally associated with the Tom & Jerry cartoons. In CGI since virtual cameras are used on characters that have volume, foreshortening of details that have to appear "2D" can sometimes destroy the illusion, and here the visual effects artists seem to have used techniques to "flatten" the 3D characters whilst retaining the volumetric characteristics of 3D required to simulate light and shade.

But this is a technical digression - what about the film itself ?

I have to say that I didn't laugh for the entire duration of the film, and being a fan of the originals and their fast-paced and anarchic humour this was the most disappointing aspect.

This is effectively 2 films and 2 genres in collision with each other and the outcome is that neither come out well, revealing a basic misunderstanding of why the Tom & Jerry cartoons worked so well - I'm referring to the MGM cartoons and not the later Gene Deitch cartoons that were outsourced to European studios - which is that given the constraint of holding audience attention with animated drawings and making them laugh in the process, there is no hiding place, so you have a non-stop series of escalating gags underscored by music that builds and supports the visuals.

In "Tom & Jerry - The Movie", the presence of humans becomes a distraction as we are forced to follow parallel narratives and choose between them, and both are equally banal - when we see Tom & Jerry they perform gags that look as if they have been lifted from the originals, suggesting characters going through the motions to order rather than keeping the viewer engaged by the unexpected, which is a key element in the humour of the original cartoons - you just don't know what is coming next and the raw inventiveness is the delight.

In terms of plot, Tom & Jerry wander into a rather odd and random scenario where Chloe Moretz's character cons her way into a job in a New York hotel and is assigned to oversee a big Indian wedding, complete with animated elephants, tiger and peacocks that seem to have been included for arbitrary reasons, besides halting a mouse infestation (Jerry) in its' tracks, while his mortal enemy Tom, true to his feline nature, is after him for his own reasons.

In the ensuing mayhem Tom & Jerry wreck the wedding, are involved in a now de rigeur for animated feature films madcap chase through the streets of New York dodging cars etc and gags that reference social media, drones and mobile phones.

With the exception of the always fun to watch Michael Peña, the rest of the cast just seem to be similarly going through the motions.

Given the legacy of Tom & Jerry as some of the funniest and most inventive cartoons ever made, surely the yardstick for the film would be simple humour and how often audiences actually laugh, so from a personal point of view it failed on all counts, which is rather sad in view of the expertise involved in making it.

The film grossed almost all its' production budget of USD 77 million worldwide on its' opening but as a someone pointed out, due to COVID, it had very little competition and this figure may have been for its' opening few weeks run before it went to the streaming services with the main audience being comprised of kids, who are largely undiscriminating and may not even be as familiar with the originals as their parents or older family members.

Its' widely acknowledged of course that the original cartoons were never intended for young audiences specifically and as a result they frequently pushed the limits of physical humour into what could be seen as reciprocal violence, and the new film possibly tones that down to take into account the younger demographic and what is now considered acceptable.

That said there are still several scenes where Tom is flattened, squashed and bashed in various ways that actually seem somehow more violent than they were in the cartoons, possibly because of the real-world settings that they exist in.

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