Tom and Jerry Director Tim Story On Bringing Classic Cartoons To A New Generation
“Tom and Jerry” are back! That classic cartoony cat and mouse rivalry that once graced the small screens of the ’40s and ’50s are now heading to the big screen for a new generation of audiences to enjoy and laugh at. Perhaps that was the large appeal for making a contemporary film featuring these two characters. Parents who recognize Tom and Jerry’s antics can share laughter and joy with their kids who may not be overly familiar with the animated pair.
ThatsItLA had a chance to sit down with their fellow journalists for a “Tom and Jerry” virtual press conference and talk to director Tim Story who addressed the film’s inclusivity, themes of friendship, how the actors acted against animated characters, and more.
What was the thought process of having an Indian wedding in the movie?
Tim Story: We always thought- how do we make the movie itself culturally inclusive to everyone. When it came down to the wedding, I think it also came out of the idea where I’ve actually shot American weddings, and I just felt let’s do something different.
Indian weddings! There’s so much color and it just kind of offered more of a canvas of a wedding, even though, American weddings can get pretty lavish. And for that matter any one is just so beautiful. And to be perfectly honest, there was more stuff to destroy!
Since we were going to be recreating a lot of animals as animated characters, we also looked for a culture that might allow us to do that. But it was always just important to include everybody just because we wanted Tom and Jerry to be accessible to every every, you know, color, creed, everything. It’s been a fun thing to recreate.
How did you make the soundtrack fit with the location of New York?
TS: We first went back to what the original music did, and the original music was all orchestral, which was really cool. We knew we were going to go with a big score. Interestingly enough, they used a lot of jazz, so we started there. But we always wanted to be sure that this “Tom and Jerry” movie was a calling card to every generation. So that’s when we started to mix in everything from some hip-hop, and the Indian music, and we looked for every little facet of music that we could add just so we were inclusive of as many cultures to be specifically as many cultures as possible.
So, we started there. And then of course, we did our we did a normal 100 piece orchestra that gave us the big act action sound, and that harkens back to the original cartoon. We kind of just had a fun time with it. Anytime we felt like an inspiration whether it was hip hop in the beginning or the Indian in the music in the wedding, we just wanted to always kind of find music that was true to what was happening on screen.
What kind of challenges did you face with the actors interacting with animated animals.
TS: The actors want to be able to have something to act against, and one thing we found in the preparation for the movie was to have puppeteers. Jerry was a little harder. Sometimes we have a little figure of Jerry on set so you can see how small he was. But with Tom, there was a greyscale, meaning a gray version of Tom. Since Tom did not speak, it made it really simple for them to literally act out what Tom was doing with the actors to the point where the actors would actually do maybe their first two or three takes with the puppeteer.
That’s one of the things that allowed us to get a lot out of Chole [Grace Mortez] and Michael [Pena]. Spike was another puppeteer who literally put on knee pads and had these foam things on his hands. And he would run around on the ground and bark and do whatever we need him to do so that Michael would have something pulling and give him something to act against. So that’s a little fun fact that a lot of people don’t know how we pull that off.
Tom and Jerry have such a strong relationship throughout their history. They’re basically frenemies! So what can we learn or take away from the complex relationship between Tom and Jerry?
TS: I constantly look at Tom and Jerry as family. I have a twin sister. And what Tom and Jerry always kind of means to me- I must admit, I was the I was the one that always messed with her. One thing I noticed is that no matter how many fights we got into we were always there when we needed each other. And to have that kind of message kind of resonate in the movie, at some point they do need to team up and save the day. And then once they save the day, they can go back to fighting. I just think that the idea of families or good friendships that you can you can have fights, but at the same time, you’ve got each other’s back and ultimately, you take care of one another.
Are you Team Tom or Team Jerry?
TS: Team Jerry. I just think Jerry is so cool. And I’ve always wanted a little mousehole that had everything that you know so I’m team Jerry.
Did you prepare for how Tom and Jerry would interact by watching old episodes?
TS: The greatest thing about doing this movie was I knew the cartoons very well, because I grew up watching them every day of my life when I was young. Then I went back and I ended up watching every one of them just to try to pick up any ideas that we could use inside of the movie. That’s literally what happened anytime we got stuck creatively or what Tom or Jerry might do. We just had pictures of almost every episode. You know, taped up around the production office. There’s so many things that we picked up, literally straight from the cartoons.
My preparation was just that it’s kind of going back and re-familiarizing myself with everything they had done before. Once I did that, it made it real simple to come up with ideas. And then of course, you also get in a group where you can kind of make up your own little things. Things like the animal tornado, which was never a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon, but we felt it was a good extension.
How did you find the balance between making a movie that hit the nostalgia factor for the parents watching, but also make it appealing to the younger generations?
TS: I kind of knew that when I first started on this movie that we had to try to get everyone. One of the things that was really fun early on is I realized, I have a nine-year-old boy. He was seven when I started making this movie, and I just remember, when I got this, I hadn’t watched Tom and Jerry cartoons for a very long time. But I remembered that he hadn’t either.
So I sat him in front of it. And he watched me watch seven episodes straight just and I wouldn’t see him on the plane when he traveled with me, and he would be on the iPad, watching it on the airplane. So I just always wanted to make sure that we included every generation. It’s funny because the adults are a little bit easier. But I just we would just love going back to our childhood. So, I would just do anything that I liked, or whatever I thought most around my age would like as well.
When it came to teenagers and kids, there’s a lot of when you look at the old cartoons. They were made in the ’40s and the ’50s. So there was a lot, you know, music, other things like that. So, I just tried to bring in music. I tried to bringin technology, I tried to have “Tom and Jerry” kind of do things that that are the you know, the younger generations do today.
Were the cast familiar with who “Tom and Jerry” are?
TS: That’s the fun thing about doing this. Everybody knew exactly what this movie is about. Everybody knew those characters. Even Chloe knew them well, like better than I thought she would have in our initial meeting. So that’s what was great. Everybody was starting with a shared knowledge of these characters and kind of got what the movie should be, although we wanted to always keep it grounded. We also wanted to have fun and not make it too serious. That’s what was fun about making the movie that everybody just kind of gave into what this concept is, and still made it real for them. So I was lucky, I had a cast that knew it. And there was a big shorthand of what we all thought the tone of this movie should be.
“Tom and Jerry” opens in theaters and debuts HBO Max, for a limited time, on February 26, 2020.
Photos copyright/courtesy of Warner Bros./HBO Max