It does not take much for filmmaker Tim Story to express his unadulterated glee at the upcoming Tom & Jerry feature film. With a theatrical release slated for February 19, the revival of the famous cat and mouse duo is set in the buzz of New York City — and it is live-action. It somehow still does not feel real for the 51-year-old, who admits in a video interview that he is “really excited about being given the opportunity to do it”, let alone spearhead it.
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Story, being in talks for the film as early as 2018, says he knew exactly where the script should be going. But he did feel “a lot of pressure due to the iconism of the series which has been around for 80 years. Whether it is your favourite cartoon or not, you know who they are. So I know that before people see the movie and even while watching it, there will be judgement. At the same time, you also feel comfortable with the material, so it’s going to be a ‘wait and see.’”
Tom & Jerry stars Chloë Grace Moretz ( True Detective ) and Michael Peña ( Ant-Man ), who come across the titular characters at their luxurious hotel workplace. What could go wrong?
As per history, everything.
Many people have grown up watching Story’s films without realising it, such as the early Fantastic Four movies and even well-known comedy films such as Think Like A Man and Taxi . His films have grossed more than US$7 billion collectively, but Tom & Jerry is still special, largely because, “I used to watch the cartoons as I came home straight from school.”
He recalls that, during the production of Tom & Jerry , he could “rattle off episodes after episodes,” from memory — such has been the impact of the sibling-like rivalry between the cat-and-mouse duo on multiple generations, which proves the lasting impact the cat-and-mouse duo has had on its audiences for multiple generations, be it the memorable stunts or the comedic moments.
Ask him about the particular importance of the cartoon series for him as a child, and he smiles sheepishly. “I have a twin sister and I was the one who often started the fights, for no reason whatsoever,” he admits. “It also resonated with me because the sibling rivalry that can be so funny also never gets old. I was the reason for it in my household growing up, and that’s what this film kind of meant to me, reliving some of my childhood. It was entertaining and challenging at the same time.”
Preparation for animation
The melding of traditional-style animation and live-action film is reminiscent of Space Jam (another iconic film which is seeing a reboot slated for this July). Story and the rest of the team were keen on this retelling to pay respect to the visuals with which Tom & Jerry creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera first started.
Story learned early on that they would have had to “make the film two or three times because it takes a lot of preparation to bring the animation to a place where you know what you are going to do. You have to make a lot of decisions, which, I admit, I’m not used to making that soon in production.”
He explains that, in the comedy and family films he has made so far, “you introduce [the actors to] what you are going to do with [their characters], and they have some input too. When you end up with what you have after that, there are still more ideas from there. I found the preparation of it the most daunting; directors like to hold out on certain things as late as possible, but here it’s prepping everyone associated with that given scene.”
The big fat Indian wedding
In the trailer, the hotel where Moretz’s and Peña’s characters work also happens to be the venue of an opulent society wedding. The film surprises Indian audiences with a big fat Indian wedding, complete with the chaos. Story got a big taste of the literal production behind these weddings, adding, “We know we broke a few rules here and there, but we tried to keep as good as we could!”
Story was thrilled at the challenge of taking on an Indian wedding. He explains, “By having actor Pallavi [Sharda, who plays the bride] and a writer Vijay who was there for a little while, we were able to lean on them and learn, and know where we can bend the rules. In doing the research, I saw how much this expression of culture was also lavish and colourful. I just had so much fun being over-the-top in some situations, it gave me freedom to be creative and entertaining.”
For Story, having a diverse cast in race and age “was life, because that’s what I grew up with.” Tom & Jerry also stars Rob Delaney, Ken Jeong, Pallavi Sharda, Colin Jost, Patsy Ferran and Jordan Bolger.
He elaborates, “Culture as an added voice makes personalities come out in a different way, and in America, that’s what we are. And having lived in Europe for a little while, it’s even more prevalent there. I felt that’s the way it should be, and it should never feel forced but rather normal. And, of course, you have to have a talented cast to pull that off, and with these actors, I had teammates and partners that could create any vision we wanted to create on-screen. It was heaven.”