It's not like it's a surprise that Tom and Jerry: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is dumbfoundingly bad. Hell, it's actually gratifying: it's always pleasant when a movie is exactly as good as you hope it will be, and that's just as true when said hope is for something truly repulsive that you can later talk about pridefully with other bad movie aficionados, the way old men compare scars.*

So anyway, here's the film where Tom and Jerry, the classic cartoon stars from MGM in the 1940s, are placed into an animated remake of the 1971 Paramount Pictures release Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. According to a much-too-generous definition of "placed into", that is; "intercut with" is surely more accurate. And, like, an exact remake of the 1971. There are many shots that have been exactly re-created, and all of the major changes that film made to Roald Dahl's 1964 children's novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have been preserved, on top of some new ones. New ones above and beyond the insertion of Tom and Jerry, I mean.

This is, I gather, part of a longstanding franchise of Tom and Jerry direct-to-video features that places the characters into genre settings of some kind, and it's not even the first to wedge them into a specific pre-existing movie (that would be 2011's Tom and Jerry & the Wizard of Oz). Indeed, TaJ:WW&tCF is no less than lucky number 13 in this run of movies which were born under the guiding hands of animation gods William Hanna and Joseph Barbera themselves, back in 2002, right after Hanna died (there are no indications that these movies are what killed him). And that last fact goes a little bit of a way towards explaining the one charitable thought I have to spare for this movie: it's honestly kind of respectful to Tom and Jerry. The Hanna-Barbera incarnation of the characters, from 1940-'58, at least. And I should mention before I go too far into it, that I'm not much of a fan at all of Tom and Jerry, and even then, the Hanna-Barbera incarnation of the characters isn't my favorite (that would be the 1963-'67 run of shorts overseen by Chuck Jones).

Still, better a secondhand version of B-level '40s cartoon slapstick than the atrocious stuff of cheap video animation in the 21st Century (and at least this is cheap 2-D video animation; the threat of bargain-basement CG-animated Tom and Jerry fill my soul with tears). And director Spike Brandt and his team certainly get '40s slapstick: the opening sequence, in particular, very ably re-creates the particulars of the original cartoons' animation. It's not perfect, and there are places where I'd have expected to see more exaggeration in the movement and particularly the snaps into position, but the physics-ignoring mutability of the characters is just right, and so are the unapologetically old-fashioned gags being employed. There's both love here, and talent (Disney supervising animator Dale Baer somehow ended up on the project), and as a tribute to a bygone era of animated comedy, the film has the goods.

There is no other respect in which this is true. And when "this sufficiently borrows from cartoons that I already didn't particularly like" is by leaps and bounds the best thing I have to say about a film, we're in the wastes. If Tom and Jerry and Willy and Charlie is on the one hand a loving homage to the Tom and Jerry cartoons of yore, what it does to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is on the other hand something of an act of grave robbing and desecration, not least thanks to the speed with which the film after the death of Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka himself. The film precisely re-stages the story of how poor Charlie Bucket (Lincoln Melcher) finds the last of the five Golden Tickets that grant five lucky children entrance to  Willy Wonka's (JP Karliak) chocolate factory, where he proves to be the only good child next to four absolute monstrosities; and that monstrous is even more apparent now than it was in 1971, given that the children have all been drawn with weird physicality that makes them look all the more wretched and vile. The adults, meanwhile, are just light caricatures of the adults who played the same roles in the live-action movie.

Meanwhile, Tom and Jerry have put aside their endless chase to work together to steal chocolate for Charlie, in thanks for him giving them a loaf of bread. Later, once he enters the chocolate factory, they team up with Tuffy (Kath Soucie), a mouse who wants to be an Oompa-Loompa, to stop the plans of the villainous chocholate magnate Slugworth (Mike Wingert), who has turned Wonka's guard dog Spike (director Brandt) into a spy, and is now sneaking through the factory attempting to do mischief. You may recall that it was revealed in '71 that Slugworth (not present in the book) was a Wonka mole designed to test the moral resolve of the children. That has not been changed, and boy, does the line of dialogue used to patch up the gigantic hole that this whole "Tom/Jerry/Tuffy vs. Slugworth/Spike" creates ever feel like screenwriter Gene Grillo gave up even before he started. Also, Slugworth gets a musical number: they've simply given him Veruca Salt's (Emily O'Brien) big "I'm a greedy brat" song, which he performs while appearing as magical animated graffiti. Also, Veruca still gets the same song, leading to the awkward but inescapable conclusion that they have some kind of dramatically significant relationship behind the scenes. Possibly she is his clone? We'll have to see how the sequel plays out.

The cross-cutting between this very clumsy, stupid, and much too long new plotline with the morbid re-enactment of the original movie does absolutely no good to any of it: it means, first and foremost, that the plot has to be compressed to fit into about one-third of the time it originally took, which basically means just a whole bunch of songs interrupted by Karliak's sighing delivery of lines that exactly mimic the cadence of Wilder's deliveries, though the actors do not otherwise sound very much alike (spare a thought for the voice actors; they have been saddled with an ugly, thankless task. The great Jess Harnell, playing Grandpa Joe as well as the candy shop owner, is the only person who sounds mostly like the originals; everybody else is just compelled to recite lines in identical rhythms with identical emphases and all, given absolutely no leeway to make the characters their own. The only person in the film who seems to be having any kind of a good time is Soucie, who both sounds a lot like the vintage Tuffy/Nibbles character, and is also clearly enjoying the motormouthed goofiness of the part). There's no intrinsic reason to remake Willy Wonka at all, particularly not in this carbon copy form; it has a chilly, embalming effect on the material, stripping the energy from the gags and the life from the songs (the songs are dreadful here), and while the animation of Tom and Jerry is treated with some care and gentleness, the animation of the humans is stilted and terrible, almost like frames have gone missing, as characters jolt their way across space. And Charlie's eyes frequently don't point the same direction.

The Frankensteinian welding of this heinous remake together with the Tom and Jerry featurette is the worst of all of it; it so transparently does not make any sense that it goes all the way around and starts to make sense in a horrible negative way. It is plainly not artistic inspiration driving this; I can't even bring myself to believe that it's marketing, given the apparent lack of a target audience for a shot-for-shot remake except that it's shorter of a movie that, as far as I'm aware, is not still watched by very many young children. To be sure, the film got more attention than any of the 12 Tom and Jerry DTV features preceding it, but every bit of that was horrified outrage.

This leaves us with only one thing: this exists because Warner's owned lots of different IPs, and decided to smash them together, sort of like if Toy Story was made by sociopaths. In my darkest moment, I wonder if this artistically bankrupt shuffling together of branded characters is a potential future of cinema: kids like Thing A, kids like Thing B, so just spackle them together and call it a functional cinematic object. The net result is like those disgusting, algorithm-created YouTube videos where, I don't know, Elsa from Frozen is systematically dismembered by Peppa Pig. Only this was written, animated, and released on purpose. I mean, it worked on some level - here I am, reviewing it and here you are, reading that review. God have mercy on us both.




*You guys, I might not have a healthy relationship with cinema.




†For that matter, I have no meaningful affection for anything in the career of the estimable Messrs. Hanna and Barbera, but let's not be assholes about it.




‡So, Foodfight!