Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 13, 2017)
When I heard about 2017’s Tom and Jerry: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I thought it sounded like a terrible idea. The combination of violent animated animals and a beloved children’s story just struck me as a recipe for disaster.
Then again, I felt 2015’s Kiss/Scooby-Doo pairing Rock and Roll Mystery would be a catastrophe as well. Instead, that one provided passable entertainment, a fact that left me open to potential charm from Factory.
Just like the classic 1971 film, the animated 2017 Wonka follows young Charlie Bucket (voiced by Lincoln Melcher) and his financially depressed family. Charlie lives with his mother and both pairs of grandparents, none of whom have departed their beds in decades. Nonetheless, they give him lots of support, especially from his Grandpa Joe (Jess Harnell).
When reclusive candy maker Willy Wonka (JP Karliak) decides to open his fantastic factory to five lucky families, worldwide panic ensues. In a masterful marketing move, the only way to win a slot is to find a “golden ticket” inside a Wonka Bar.
This causes a feeding frenzy, and we gradually meet all of the children who obtain the tickets. These include boob-tube-obsessed Mike Teevee (Lauren Weisman), crass, gum-smacking Violet Beauregarde (Dallas Lovato), spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Emily O'Brien), and tubby glutton Augustus Gloop (Rachel Butera).
Not surprisingly, unassuming little Charlie ends up the final component of the group, aided by his new pals Tom and Jerry. He endears himself to the starving animals when he gives them food, and they help him get the needed Wonka bar.
Each kid and one family member enters the confines of Wonka’s magical building. While they witness some spectacular sights, all is not perfect, as the factory forms a kind of morality mall.
One prominent difference between this Factory and the aforementioned Kiss/Scooby-Doo collaboration relates to the actors involved. In addition to the members of Kiss themselves, Mystery used a mix of People You’ve Actually Heard Of, as the cast included Matthew Lillard, Penny Marshall, Jason Mewes, Garry Marshall and others.
Such prominence doesn’t befall Factory. Animation fans will recognize some of the actors here, but when the “biggest name” in the cast comes from Demi Lovato’s older sister, one shouldn’t expect any star power.
That doesn’t mean the film won’t succeed, as famous names don’t always equate to quality work. However, the absence of any “names” in Factory leaves me with the impression the studio didn’t have enough confidence in the project to invest real money into it.
I can’t blame them, as Factory offers an experience wholly devoid of creative merit. In truth, it does little more than remake the 1971 film with Tom and Jerry awkwardly crammed into the mix.
This doesn’t make sense. Even if we ignore the oddness of various anthropomorphic animals in a human society, the mix of T&J and the world of Wonka fails to coalesce.
When it sticks to the Wonka elements, Factory offers a fairly literal recreation of the 1971 film. Karniak and Harnell do their best to imitate Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson, respectively, and the story/character beats come very close to those from the movie.
A few variations do occur, though, especially in terms of how Factory uses candy rival Slugworth (Mick Wingert), as he plays a more prominent role here. We also get to know Tuffy (Kath Soucie), a rodent who wants to be an Oompa-Loompa.
These alterations bring cosmetic changes, so most of Factory offers little more than a recreation of the 1971 film with Tom and Jerry crammed into the tale. This doesn’t work at all, partly because the slapstick ways of T&J don’t suit the Wonka universe.
Even without the conflict of comedic styles, Factory simply shoehorns T&J into the story without real logic or purpose. The movie seems to exist as a marketing enterprise, not something with any organic rationale.
Granted, that always felt true for the Kiss/Scooby-Doo mash-up as well, but at least it managed to give us a little creativity and flair. Factory lacks even rudimentary stabs at originality or cleverness, factors that mean it ends up as a charmless experience.