It’s really quite easy to watch Tom and Jerry and come to the immediate conclusion that it holds no candle to the greats that pioneered this form of live-action animation blending; from popular titles as far back as Mary Poppins (1964) to the more revolutionary titles like Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Yes, comparisons are nigh impossible and I’ll do my best not to rely on them as fuel; but it is important to draw wisdom from these success stories so one can see why Tom and Jerry doesn’t live up to its fullest potential. First, it’s important to understand that it’s not about what Tom and Jerry did wrong, but rather, what the greats did right. Contrary to popular belief, succeeding at this blend of animation and live-action more often than not ends in unsatisfactory results. Getting the formula right is a complex balancing act between having believable humans and believable cartoon characters – the interactivity between these two sets of subjects is a major piece of selling the illusion; there’s the questions how the cartoon characters interact with the world itself – when they pick up an object, does it look natural? What about the world interacting with them? Does light bounce off them realistically, does it feel like a human can grab them physically? Does it feel like they exist in this world? To put things blunty, no, Tom and Jerry does not achieve this – but in all fairness, very few 2D animations ever have.
Unnatural animation is something audiences have become accustomed to over the years, there’s an almost subconscious understanding at the back of many movie-goers minds that CGI or animation in general won’t always look believable in every film they see. Many people can ignore the animated flaws in Tom and Jerry enough to allow themselves to be absorbed in the “story” that is being told; so long as that story was worth the sacrifice. Tom and Jerry ignores a few core tenants of this style of filmmaking; instead of merging a human story and cartoon into one, Tom and Jerry often feels like its two separate films running in tandem. It separates the drama between its human and animated counterparts incidentally resulting in the narrative feeling as disconnected to itself as the animation does.
There’s an attempt throughout this film to mirror Tom and Jerry’s relationship through the lens of its human characters Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Terrance (Michael Peña) – the intent was to create a message that rivalry inevitably results in catastrophe. But this film forgets itself, as the human characters motivations are as shallow and Tom and Jerry’s rivalry is; it’s a rivalry based on nothing, nor is it ever even addressed. The failure to understand that the audience must first be invested in the characters motivations for the message to make impact shows the stark shortsightedness this film had on a systemic level.
It’s hard to argue why this film drifted away from the paper flipping animation of the older Tom and Jerry shorts and resorted to computer generated imagery in this animation/live-action hybrid film. It’s obvious that this film has a clear intention in being a modern adaptation and therefore should be subject to modern technology – still, they don’t quite pull it off in this film. There seems to be more effort placed on how they integrate the actors and animation together to make it look convincing. The animation itself is disappointing with a lack of texture, outlines and contrast being applied to any of the animated animals – concerning for a film with a $79 million budget. We often see the animals blending into the background due to no outlines on the animal or times when Tom is smiling, his teeth blend with the fur on his mouth. Better examples of integrating traditional animation into live-action films can be found in Who Framed Roger Rabbit while Tom and Jerry more closely aligns with what the Looney Tunes: Back in Action was doing.
Tom and Jerry doesn’t do anything interesting with its musical choices as it is usually interchanged between a remixed funk type score to a remixed version of a rap song, this interchange of scores comes across as messy and it devalues what is happening on-screen. One thing Tom and Jerry does right is the use of cartoonish sounds effects when all hell breaks loose, being quite reminiscent of the Television show; a great addition for the fans of the original cartoon.
Tom and Jerry does exactly what you’d expect a live-action adaptation of this gag cartoon would do; it fails to merge two entirely different forms of media together. From the combination of its unsatisfying computer generated animation and narrow presupposition that you can simply shove gag humor into live-action without forethought. Tom and Jerry isn’t the worst example of this genre-blend seen in cinema, but it certainly stands as a reminder that it’s hard to get it right.