WITH DAVID STRATTON
Tom & Jerry
Rating (G) / Wide cinema release
When I was a kid one of the excitements of cinema-going was the cartoon. Usually running for about eight minutes, these fast-paced, skilfully animated delights were adored by children of all ages. Almost every major studio had its cartoon characters: Warner Bros’ Loony Tunes featured Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Tweety and Elmer Fudd; Disney offered Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy; MGM had Tom and Jerry and so on.
The first film featuring Jerry, the wily mouse, and Tom the clumsy cat, was made in 1940; the series ran until 1958 and during that period won seven Oscars. Some complained about the violence in these cartoons, but kids knew that even if Tom fell from a great height or was pulverised by a hammer he’d be back for more in a flash.
The cat and the mouse occasionally interacted with real-life characters; in 1945, Jerry even got to perform a dance number with Gene Kelly (in Anchors Aweigh), but now they’re back in a large-scale, contemporary feature and it’s great to see them again as sprightly and ageless as ever. If only the film in which they star had been worthy of them.
Tom and Jerry is almost entirely set in a lavishly-appointed New York hotel, the Royal Gate, where a very important Anglo-Indian wedding is about to take place. The hotel manager (Rob Delaney) has instructed his events co-ordinator, Terence (Michael Pena), to hire a specialist in weddings to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Unfortunately for Terence, the very English applicant for this position has been waylaid by a wily young opportunist named Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) who, armed with the legitimate applicant’s resume, is given the job.
Right from the start Kayla is faced with a major problem; there’s a mouse inside the hotel. Jerry has sought shelter in the establishment and has made a comfortable home for himself behind a skirting board, but it doesn’t look good when hotel guests see him scurrying around the place as he constantly does.
Kayla’s solution is to hire a cat, and Tom seems like the obvious solution – but if she’d paid attention to all those old cartoons she’d have realised that Jerry always outwits Tom.
And if director Tim Story and his team had retained the simplicity of the original films this new extravaganza might have worked. Unfortunately Tom and Jerry is an overlong case of overkill. The cat and the mouse aren’t the only animated characters; the absurdly lavish wedding features animated peacocks, a pair of elephants and a tiger. Far too much time is wasted on the less than amusing behaviour of the human characters, and perversely the one character that might have worked well alongside the animated creatures, the temperamental chef played by Ken Jeong, is under-utilised.
There are a few mildly amusing moments (“He’s a little animated” says the bridegroom – Colin Jost – referring to his cartoon bulldog) but, despite the skill and fidelity of the artists, who are faithful to the original films, it all falls a bit flat and the strenuous hip-hop music accompaniment doesn’t help much.
Incidentally the film was made in London with Battersea Park doubling for Central Park in one sequence.
Two by Two Overboard!
Rating (PG) / Limited release
This German-Irish-Luxembourg co-production, a wholly animated feature, is a sequel to Two by Two (2015), which I have not seen. Featuring furry, brightly-coloured creatures that are similar to hand puppets, the film commences on board Noah’s ark which, in the wake of the Flood – a timely if accidental reference to current events – has been at sea for weeks with no sign of land. Noah himself is conspicuous by his absence, but there are 50,000 animals on board and the challenge is to feed them. This task has fallen to a pair of outsiders, Hazel, a grimp (a sort of cat) and Dave, a nestrian (a creature equipped with a trunk and the ability to expel pungent odours).
Food is rapidly running out, and the green swill that Hazel (voiced by Tara Flynn) and Dave (Dermot Magennis) serve to the other animals is losing its appeal. Disaster strikes when their respective children, Leah (Ava Connolly) and Finny (Max Carolan), fall overboard and are swept away to a volcanic island inhabited entirely by nestrians who are living under the rule of the ageing Queen Patch (Mary Murray).
The film appears to be aimed at younger children who will probably find the numerous “butt” jokes hilarious but it does contain a valid message: if civilisation as we know it is to be saved then the quarrelling grimps and nestrians must co-operate with all the other animals to live in harmony.
The Painter & The Thief
Rating (M) / Limited release
The Norwegian documentary The Painter and the Thief tells a highly unusual story about a most unlikely relationship.
The “painter” of the title is Barbora Kysilkova, a Czech-born artist who lives in Oslo and whose work consists of very large, hyper-realistic oil paintings, one of the best of which is considered to be “Swansong”. One night thieves break into the Gallery Nobel, where some of Kysilkova’s work is being exhibited, and steal two paintings, including “Swansong”.
One of the robbers, a junkie named Karl-Bertil Nordlund, is quickly arrested and brought to trial. Kysilkova attends the hearing at which Nordlund is found guilty, though the stolen paintings have not been recovered.
The painter and the thief form a tentative friendship that gradually develops into something closer – though it remains apparently platonic – despite the fact that he spends time in prison and later, after a bad car crash in which he’s involved, in hospital.
Director Benjamin Ree was apparently given complete and unfettered access to both Kysilkova and Nordlund, who both allow themselves to be filmed at considerable length as the story of the strange crime and even stranger friendship unfolds. There are several twists and turns along the way before a powerfully enigmatic conclusion.
If this were a fiction film it would surely be dismissed as totally unbelievable; since it’s not, this portrait of two totally fascinating characters proves to be as riveting as any thriller.