Caesar: Sure. That's how you perceive it. But to that mouse, you are the intruder.
Imagine if you were to create a comedic movie that's a cross between Tom and Jerry and Home Alone, have it star what looks like Mario and Luigi (or Laurel and Hardy) as the protagonists, set it in a Retro Universe of the 30's/40's and today, and for good measure, give Christopher Walken an extended cameo. The result would be this film.
Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are Ernie and Lars Smuntz, brothers with a recently deceased ruined father. In his will, he leaves them "the future of string" — a Steampunk string factory with No OSHA Compliance — and a seemingly worthless Victorian mansion. Oh, and some spoons, a half box of cigars, and a ceramic egg. But then the duo discovers that the abandoned house could be worth millions if it were renovated. Unfortunately for them, the place is already inhabited by a single rodent, and it ain't leaving. Hilarity Ensues as the unexpectedly clever mouse thwarts the brothers' increasingly elaborate Zany Schemes to kill it, all while they have to deal with improbable house payments and the string factory's revolting employees.
This was the 1997 directorial debut of Gore Verbinski, who later gave us the Pirates of the Caribbean films and Rango. This was also one of the first movies released by a fledgling little company called DreamWorks and the one which established their rivalry with Disney. One wonders if they made the film center around a mouse just to be ironic.
This movie contains the following tropes:
- Achievements in Ignorance: After repeated humiliating failures to capture the mouse, the brothers handily knock it out completely by accident, when Lars throws an orange at Ernie in their spat.Ernie: Just think of all the trouble we could have saved ourselves if we just threw fruit at him in the first place!
- Actor Allusion:
Ernie: You should be our spokesperson. I know some people who used a mouse as a spokesperson, and it seemed to work out pretty well.
- Ernie, played by Nathan Lane, says "Hakuna Matata" to a vaguely ethnic foreigner at the auction. Lane voices Timon in The Lion King movies. Pumbaa himself, Ernie Sabella, plays the technician at the pound.
This is Nathan Lane. You loved him in The Birdcage.
- A very blunt one in the trailer:
- An Aesop: Teamwork and sharing are good things. These are the last things Mr. Smuntz tells his sons.
- The Alleged House: The mansion the brothers inherit is a rotting, seemingly worthless wreck that they only move into because they have no other option. It turns out to actually be incredibly valuable, but nonetheless is falling apart. They do make some progress in repairing it, but their attempts to kill the mouse far outweigh that, leaving the house in even worse shape and eventually destroying it entirely.
- Amusing Injuries: The whole movie is built on "What if Tom and Jerry was live-action? And everything actually hurt?"
- Angrish: The brothers have a short conversation in angrish after the first time the mouse blows them up. Followed by a mix of both Sanity Slippage and Unstoppable Rage, a complete lack of gun safety, and the mouse blowing them up again.
- Anti-Climax Boss: In-Universe. After repeated and increasingly extreme attempts to get rid of the mouse fail, the brothers turn on each other leading Lars to throw an orange at Ernie, missing and knocking the mouse behind him unconscious.
- Apocalyptic Log: Caesar The Exterminator's log is found after the ambulance carts him away - we don't see what happened but it sure sounds terrible.(A door creaks open.)Caesar: "Hey! Hey, put that down! What is that thing?"(Smashing sounds.)Caesar: "AAAGH!"(Sound of elastic stretching then snapping back.)Caesar: "That tickles..."(Various slams, thumps and screams then silence...)
- Arc Words / Bookends: "A world without string is chaos."
- Ash Face: Occurs when the mouse tricks the brothers into lighting a match during a gas leak, which propels Ernie out of the chimney like a rocket and blows Lars backwards into a cabinet of dishes and glasses. It's not helped shortly after when Ernie accidentally shoots Caesar's bug bomb and causes another massive explosion.
- Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption: As Ernie is pouring a bowl of cereal, he assures Lars that they won't be seeing the mouse again until he discovers the mouse in his bowl of cereal.Ernie: I don't think we'll be seeing anymore of that - MOUSE!
- Auction: The eventual fate of the mansion, which was ultimately averted by its destruction just before it was sold.
- Ax-Crazy: The brothers ultimately become this after too many plans turn on them, destroying a fair chunk of the house they were trying to save.
- Bat Scare: The box in the attic labeled "mothballs", when opened, sets loose a torrent of large moths that freak the brothers out.
- Beautiful Condemned Building: Subverted. The old mansion the brothers inherit from their father is a ruined, rotten wreck, and while Ernie is the most dismissive and contemptuous of it, neither of the brothers is particularly interested in renovating it or sees any value in it...until they discover it is actually a long-lost creation of famous architect Charles Lyle LaRue, at which point they are then eager to restore it. I.e., no character sees the inherent value of the building until they learn of its hidden financial value, rather than seeing it before the fact and against another's scoffing.
- Big "NO!": The crying little girl screams this several times while she is dragged away from her kitty cat by her mother out of the City Pound, passing by Ernie and Lars.
- Black Comedy: Examples include Lars and Ernie's father's corpse being catapulted into a sewer during his funeral, the mayor choking to death on a cockroach which results in Ernie's restaurant shutting down and a cat being sent to the gas chamber.
- Blame Game: During their big argument, the brothers do this over the state they've left the house in after failing to capture the mouse:Lars: You can't leave well enough alone, can you? You ruin everything!Ernie: ME?! You blame me for this?!Lars: WELL, LOOK! You blew a hole in the floor!Ernie: Yeah, well, I distinctly remember somebody yelling "Shoot! Shoot!"Lars: Y-yeah, well, you never listened to me before!
- Blown Across the Room: When Lars lights a match after the mouse caused a gas leak he's blown by the explosion right into a china cabinet.
- Both Sides Have a Point: A voicemail on the brothers' answering machine from the Zepco representatives reveals that they are no longer interested in buying the String Factory after Ernie stood them up and Lars turned down their offer, infuriating both brothers at each other for different yet justified reasons. Lars is upset that Ernie was willing to go behind his back and sell the factory their father specifically asked them to run together in his will, while Ernie fires back that as co-owner of the factory, he had a right to know about the offer Zepco made that would have ended their financial troubles a long time ago.
- Brick Joke:
- The previous owner of Rudolf Smuntz's house was found locked in a trunk in the attic. Guess what happens to Caesar.
- The hot tub and cardboard lady the brothers lost in the nearby frozen lake are found by Ernie later when he's in the lake again.
- Briefcase Full of Money: Zepco offers one to persuade Lars to sell the factory, along with promises of a huge salary and a hefty pension to keep him as a consultant. Lars still turns them down.
- Butt-Monkey: Ernie and Lars.
- Chekhov's Gun: The flea bomb.
- The Chew Toy: The brothers, Caesar, and Catzilla all get a turn at this, since more pain and humiliation for them means more laughs for the viewer.
- Christmas Carolers: While Ernie and Lars wander the streets at night, both of them with nowhere to go, cynical Ernie belittles Lars for not looking at the big picture, though Lars says it's Christmas, and instead of dwelling on what they don't have, they should be thankful for what they do have... all the while carolers are singing, "I'll Be Home for Christmas", until the brothers give them an Aside Glance, prompting them to leave.
- Clueless Boss: Neither Ernie or Lars prove very effective at running their father's string factory, and even cause the entire staff to riot against them when Lars, out of pure desperation announces they must cut their pay to make up for their mounting debts. It's not until the mouse of all people has a change of heart that the two men find the means to turn everything around at their antiquated factory.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: The brothers don't have the heart to kill the mouse when they finally capture it, so have it mailed away to Cuba in a tiny box.Ernie: *deadpan* Oh, I forgot to put holes in the box.
- Imagine Lars' horror when he finds the box returned due to insignificant postage.
- Creepy Cockroach: In the beginning of the film, Ernie's restaurant gets shut down due to an incident where the mayor dies of shock after eating a cockroach head.
- Deadpan Snarker: Ernie.
Ernie: (on being told that they have two days to pay off $1,200) Look, we don't have the time or the energy to deal with these petty problems now! We're in the midst of an extensive renovation!Lender: (looking them up and down as they're covered in raw sewage) Looks like you're off to a great start.
- Also, the mortgage lender.
- Despair Event Horizon: Lars and Ernie cross it once the mansion collapses from the flood and all of the potential buyers leave in disgust (including April, who has run off with a rich gentleman from Texas), thereby rendering all the struggle and pain they had to face throughout the film for naught and extinguishing any hope of rebuilding their lives. They're so broken that not even the apparent death of the mouse and reclaiming their father's lucky string is enough to console them as they drive away to the string factory in silent despair, knowing that their lives are ruined and the factory is now all they have left.
- Deus ex Machina: Although she had been featured earlier in the movie and her greediness well-established, April reappearing in the plot and paying off the brothers' mortgage (on the understanding that the mansion would be sold for beaucoup bucks at auction) is this, since at the point she does so the brothers have absolutely no other way to get the money, with the mouse evading all their attempts to get rid of it and the factory having just lost all its workers (and broken down from Lars' attempt to run it by himself).
- Downer Beginning: The movie starts with the Smuntz brothers accidentally dropping their father's corpse down a sewer drain on the day of his funeral. It goes downhill from there, and that's all before they even meet the infamous mouse.
- Establishing Character Moment: Right off the bat, we know Lars is more doting toward their father as at the funeral, he gets on Ernie for not keeping the casket level, and is genuinely worried when their father's corpse gets lost in the sewer. Ernie, on the other hand is outwardly indifferent. His only interest is wondering what shade of black Lars' jacket is, and when the body lands in the sewer, he gives out a meek "Ah, well."
- Everyone Has Standards: The brothers don't have the heart to kill the mouse while he's unconscious (and hate themselves for it) so they have him deported. The mouse still found his way back, but throws the two a bone after their plans are literally flushed away.
- Fingore: When Lars tries to get up after being blown into a glass cabinet, the cabinet falls forward on top of his fingers.
- It's mentioned that the last owner of the house was found in a trunk in the attic. Caesar later ends up getting the same treatment by the mouse.
- "A single vermin can bring you down."
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": Lars accidentally breaks the handle on his side of his father's coffin, causing Mr. Smuntz to fall out of it and into the sewers.
- Funny Answering Machine: Ernie: "When ya hear the beep, start talkin'."
- Grail in the Garbage: The mansion is initially assumed to be worthless due to its dilapidated state, but then the brothers discover it's the lost work of a famed architect and is actually worth millions.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: Roger Ebert's problem with the film. Essentially, the movie never really decides whose side we're supposed to be on. You can't fault the brothers, who are flat broke with sympathetic backstories, for wanting to get back on their feet. Nor can you blame the mouse for defending its home and its life. At the film's close however, it manages to subvert this by giving both sides a Happily Ever After. This trope is also true of the majority of the Tom and Jerry shorts which this movie borrows heavily from, so perhaps it was done on purpose.
- Hand-or-Object Underwear: The outcome of the above-mentioned string factory episode. Ironically, the balls of thread Lars uses to cover his crotch appear to actually be his clothes in their unraveled form. Heh, heh, balls.
- Heads, Tails, Edge: An attempted resolution to a There Is Only One Bed dilemma.
- Help, I'm Stuck!: At one point, Ernie chases the mouse up through the chimney, but he quickly gets stuck and can't move up or down any further. Lars tries to provide him with some light to help get him down, starting with a flashlight, but the batteries go dead, so Lars tries to light a match (provided by the mouse). Unfortunately, the mouse causes a gas leak, and when Lars lights the match, the explosion that occurs sends Ernie shooting out of the chimney like a shot from a cannon, landing in a frozen lake nearby.
- Hidden Depths: The fact the movie seemingly takes place in the 1940s allows for some interesting parody and social commentary on the period, if one pays close attention to the subtext.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Ernie and Lars frequently get hurt by the very thing they intended to use against the mouse. In one instance, they cover the floor of the kitchen in mousetraps, only to end up trapped themselves.
- Hope Spot: Once the mouse is knocked out, rather than kill it, the brothers decide to mail it to Cuba, and then refocus their attention on remodeling the mansion for the auction. As it turns out, they didn't give it sufficient postage, so it gets sent back.
- Hospital Gurney Scene: After being hit by a van, Ernie Smuntz is taken to the hospital in this manner. He desperately tries to get off the Gurney since he had an important appointment.
- Human Mail: Unable to kill the mouse after catching him, the brothers ultimately mail him to Cuba. He gets sent back due to insufficient postage.
- Humiliation Conga: Pretty much the entire movie is this for Ernie and Lars.
- The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: Oh, yes.
- I Ate WHAT?!: The mayor, before dying of a heart attack. The answer? A cockroach. Or rather, the front half of it.
- At the auction, one of the guests compliments Ernie on his crepes, saying that she especially likes the raisins. Ernie then realizes that he never put raisins on them. Ugh.
- Idiot Ball: Both Ernie and Lars. They caused more damages than the mouse.
- Iron Butt Monkey: Lars and Ernie survive getting blown up, rocketed into a frozen lake, and getting hit by a bus, among other things.
- It Always Rains at Funerals: The fact that it was rainy, and thus the staircase was slippery, is the reason the elder Smuntz's body ended up falling in the sewer and given a very impromptu Burial at Sea.
- It Can Think: A rare non-malicious example (depending on your perspective) in the mouse's case. This goes into Up to Eleven levels when Ernie accepts that they're not dealing with an ordinary mouse.
- It's Personal: The mouse initially gets out of his hideout just to steal food without bothering the brothers if he can. After Lars accidentally destroys its home with a nail gun the mouse decides to payback the Smuntzs in the baddest way possible.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Ernie doesn't think highly of his father Rudolf or the family string business at all, and has no problem making this clear. It's understandable though considering that Rudolf supposedly didn't give a damn about Ernie's cooking and expected him to run the business with Lars after he passed away, even though Ernie had his own business to run. That, and the Smuntzes' string factory is outdated and barely makes any money until the end of the film.
- Large Ham: The brothers ham up every time they get excited chasing the mouse.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: While Ernie is trapped in the chimney, he smells something which he points out to Lars, then looks into the camera and says "Smells like gas", indicating that whatever's going to happen next is not going to end well.
- Made of Iron: The Smuntz brothers live through a heck load of torment from the mouse, including things that would kill or severely maim them in Real Life, not unlike what the Wet Bandits go through in Home Alone.
- Mouse Hole: The mouse retreats into one at every opportunity, usually to inflict some misfortune on whoever or whatever dares to follow him in.
- Mouse Trap: This is the first attempt to get rid of the mouse. They find the trap sprung and the olive pit left behind. Undaunted, Ernie goes for his good cheese to bait the next one. The mouse steals the entire wheel while the two are busy waiting for him to spring the trap. Finally, they go for broke and set up hundreds of them. Cue Epic Fail as the mouse shows them just how intelligent he is.
- Nail 'Em: Lars nearly kills the mouse by accident as he's nailing in some wooden trim along the floor. Lucky for the mouse, Ernie provides a distraction.
- Never Recycle a Building: Justified as the mouse drove out everyone who tried to live in the house.
- Non-Fatal Explosions: Ernie and Lars are both blown up by the mouse twice (the first time, Ernie is blasted from a chimney and into a nearby lake) but luckily, they only have some soot on their faces and shredded clothes to worry about.
- No OSHA Compliance: The Smuntz String factory catches enough loose threads to rid Lars of his clothes in minutes.
- No, You: The brothers' big argument is filled with these. Lars snarls that he betrayed him by trying to sell the factory behind his back, while Ernie snarls back that he betrayed him by keeping those deals secret when they had equal ownership in the first place. Lars complains Ernie's meddled enough after he blew up half the house trying to shoot the mouse, which Ernie points out Lars screamed at him to do.Ernie: I hate you!Lars: And I hate you!Ernie: Not as much as I hate you!Lars: Yeah?!Ernie: Yeah, double! DOUBLE!
- The Nudifier: The string factory after it malfunctions courtesy of Lars damaging its fuse box, ripping off all of his clothes and leaving him naked, with just the balls of yarn that used to be his clothes to cover himself. At least until April shows up.
- Odd Couple: Ernie is tight-fisted and practical while Lars is dumber and more idealistic.
- Oh, Crap!:
Caesar: Aw, nuts!
- Caesar, as he realizes he's about to go on a painful journey through the house.
Ernie: I don't think we're dealing with an ordinary mouse.
- Also, the brothers, when the mouse is about to spring all the mousetraps.
- They later discover Caesar's tape, which consists of disturbed screams and carnage.
- Lars gets one when he realizes that the mouse has returned from Cuba due to insufficient postage.
- Even the mouse gets a nasty surprise when he inspects Catzilla's box before making a hasty retreat when he realizes (from the mouse's perspective) there's a monster inside.
- Overly Long Gag: The entire scene with the mouse crawling across the kitchen to use a cherry to spring the mousetraps.
- Pest Episode: The premise of the movie. Inverted in that the brothers spend the whole movie trying to take back the house from a mouse that's already living there, but played straight in that the mouse who proves much smarter and harder to remove than they expected.
- Poorly Lit Pareidolia: In the attic, a lightning strike casts a demonic-looking shadow against the wall, sending Ernie and Lars screaming into each other's arms - only for them to then realize the shadow is merely that of jack-in-the-box. Not that this stops Lars from continuing to scream...
- Pounds Are Animal Prisons: The pound in this movie is treated like an out-and-out concentration camp. A little girl is seen being dragged screaming from the pound, where her kitten is then immediately gassed to death (*possibly* for absolutely no reason). Note that this isn't treated as Black Comedy or anything. It comes across more like a "just business as usual" angle.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The brothers both throw this at each other, in a naturally poorly handled fashion, after realizing each were making different arrangements for the factory without informing the other, as well as a particularly brutal defeat by the mouse.Lars: Betrayed by my own brother.
Ernie: Betrayal? Don't talk to me about betrayal! You should have told me about that offer! Half that factory is mine!
Lars: And half is mi... And half is mine, including the half that you tried to sell!
Ernie: Yeah, and it would have, if it hadn't been for that stinking bus!
Lars: Bus? You can't leave well enough alone, can you? You... you... you ruin everything!
Ernie: Me? You blame me for this?
Lars: Well, look! (He points to the big hole caused from the bug bomb.) You blew a hole in the floor!
Ernie: Yeah, well, I distinctly remember somebody yelling "Shoot, shoot!"
Lars: Yeah, well, you've never listened to me before!
Ernie: And you know why?
Ernie: Because I have no respect for you! Spending your whole life in that stupid factory! It's tragic.
Lars: You think I didn't have other things I wanted to do with my life? You think I didn't have ambitions of my own?
Ernie: Oh, come on, you love string.
Lars: I didn't love string.
Ernie: Well, you could have fooled me. You and Pop were always huddled together running some piece of something through your fingers. It didn't matter what I did, I didn't even exist! I made him my special rack of lamb for his 70th birthday.
Lars: (sighs in resignation) Oh, no.
Ernie: Yes, you remember! I slaved over that meal, making sure everything was perfect! Did he say, "Thanks, Ernie, it was delicious"? No. He only noticed the string I had tied it with. (sighs) He was crazy. But I still wanted his approval. I didn't leave, Lars. I was cast out.
- Refuge in Audacity: The entire film seems to run on this, but moments of particular note would be the very opening scene with the funeral, the over-the-top reaction to the cockroach that results in Ernie's restaurant going out of business, and of course the ending—both the false climax where the Escalating War finally takes out the mouse (it seems) and the real one with the auction.
- Resourceful Rodent: The mouse is shown living in the walls and using cotton as bedding and a metal box as a bed. The mouse also has to outwit Lars and Ernie, who plan to sell the house after learning of its high value.
- Retro Universe: The film has a 1940s look, but seems to take place in the present day. The ZepCo guy's comments about bringing the factory into the 21st Century imply that it simply takes place in an undefined, anachronistic modern-day setting like Tim Burton's Batman films.
- Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts: This makes up a lot of the physical comedy.
- Rule of Three: In the first scene where the brothers chase the mouse during breakfast, Lars rummages three times in a kitchen drawer before picking up a tenderizer.
- Sanity Slippage:
- The brothers, but especially Ernie, as they try and get rid of the mouse — and in the process, destroy the house they are trying to save.Lars: (seeing Ernie with a shotgun) What're you gonna do?
Ernie: I'm gonna kill that unspeakable thing once and for all!
Lars: Come on, Ernie, no, no, no—
Ernie: Stay back, Lars! I'm a man on a mission!
Lars: Look, this is how accidents happen! Come on, Ernie. (Ernie laughs maniacally) put the gun down, come on—
Ernie: (crazed) I'm gonna blow his furry little head off, and I'm gonna splatter his devious little mouse brain from here to kingdom come!
- This also happens to Caesar after being beaten by the mouse, probably for the first time in his career.
- The brothers, but especially Ernie, as they try and get rid of the mouse — and in the process, destroy the house they are trying to save.
- Screaming Woman: The mayor's wife screams this after her husband suffers a heart attack after eating a cockroach from his dinner at Ernie's fancy restaurant.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Lars and Ernie are so different, it's hard to believe they're brothers.
- Spiritual Successor: to Tom and Jerry — the film is effectively a live-action, movie-length Tom & Jerry plot, with the brother's in Tom's place.
- Tempting Fate: "Now you know this house will last FOREVER!" Just before it collapses right behind Ernie.
- Toilet Humor: As the brothers try to suck up the mouse with the vacuum, they fail to realize that the mouse has escaped and attached the sewage line to the vacuum so that they suck up sewage. As they keep sucking and sucking, the vacuum bag expands larger and larger until finally it explodes, covering the house and the brothers in sewage.
- Too Dumb to Live: The brothers are equally dimwitted and inept in their attempt to kill the mouse. It's a miracle they only get out with just a few scratches when if this was real life they would probably have been dead.
- Understatement: "I don't think we're dealing with an ordinary mouse."
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Ernie's prospective buyers from Zepco apparently took no interest in the man who had just been hit by a bus while chasing his hat in the town square, leading to them withdrawing their offer for the string factory when Ernie "didn't show". Neither of the men seem to notice Ernie's antics before the accident takes place; One could say they Failed a Spot Check.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The brothers wouldn't have to move in the house if it weren't for the cockroach that ruined Ernie, and Lars' horrible wife kicking him out.
- Visual Pun: String Cheese.
- We Hardly Knew Ye: Mayor McKrinkle dies at the beginning of the movie from eating half of a cockroach at Ernie's restaurant. Although being morbidly obese and having recently undergone a triple bypass surgery probably didn't help.
- Win-Win Ending: The movie eventually has a happy ending for both the mouse and the brothers. Lars and Ernie start a succesfull new business producing cheese string, which saves their factory from bankruptcy and allows the brothers to finally combine their passions of string and cooking respectively. The mouse meanwhile is given a job in the new factoy as cheese tester, providing him with both a new home and all the food he wants.
- You Must Be Cold: Inverted. After Lars has had all of his clothes ripped off, he is asked when naked by April if he needs 'warming up'.
- "A world without string is chaos."