Film Review: ‘Tom & Jerry’ somehow makes New York less interesting with animated characters
There’s maybe one scene in all of Tom & Jerry that at least partly measures up to the catchy formula of the Hanna Barbera cartoons. A distraught Tom Cat, shown here in animated form against a live-action New York City alley, notices his lifelong nemesis Jerry Mouse living it up inside a luxury hotel room, rubbing in his recent good fortune, as you’d expect. In mishap after mishap, Tom desperately tries (and fails) to reach Jerry’s window, and the cosmic forces of nature determining Jerry to always elude Tom’s grasp is sure to bring a pang of nostalgia to fans of all ages. Assuming kids today even know who Tom and Jerry are.
Following the success of the live-action Alvin and the Chipmunks in 2009, a similar revamp of Tom and Jerry was naturally announced, which would’ve put it on track to release around the same time as 2011’s The Smurfs, hence the embarrassingly old hat gambit of placing recognizable slapstick children’s cartoons inside the Big Apple (again). But due to development hell, the film was delayed and ultimately scaled back tremendously, to the point where its current animation style — a choppy hand-drawn CGI hybrid — looks like it might’ve been made even before 2009. The only thing really unique about it, in fact, is how the film chooses to just let every animal, even pigeons and fish, be animated. Sure.
Still, its dated aesthetics and conceptual setting could theoretically be enough to lend Tom & Jerry its own humble charm, positioning it as an anti-pretentious misadventure or series of misadventures that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is maybe in on the joke of how transparently derivative it is of similar nostalgic cash grabs from the last decade. Instead, director Tim Story seems content here to play things pretty straightforward, placing Tom and Jerry in a generic hotel wedding plot that effectively strands them in a single location for about 90% of the film. Jerry, ever the stinker, is running amok in this hotel and Tom is relentless in his pursuit, this time hired for his efforts by Kayla Forester (Chloë Grace Moretz) a recently hired temp who lied her way into the job despite not having any experience. But if she can get rid of Jerry, this job might lead to a full-time gig.
She has her own cat-and-mouse dynamic with the hotel’s event manager Terrance (Michael Peña), who is admittedly a bright spot in the film thanks to his high energy and commitment to several running gags he sells a lot better than a film like this deserves. Moretz doesn’t do much of note here aside from moving the story along with the bare minimum of charisma to show for it. The rest of the cast is pretty sparing, with Ken Jeong as a “passionate” chef who only gets a few passing scenes, Rob Delaney as a consistently humorous general manager who checks in with the main cast from time to time, and a wealthy engaged couple played by a Pallavi Sharda and Colin Jost — if you were expecting Jost to stick out for how low-energy he already is on SNL, then you won’t be disappointed.
As a one-off, memory-lane reboot sequel to the franchise (and by extension, the 1992 animated film), cursed to be released unceremoniously late due to a global pandemic, Tom & Jerry could have been far less watchable. In fact, it serves its job just fine as a lazy matinee for younger kids who are starting to like live-action family films a little more and might be somewhat familiar with these characters. Even if they’re not, what remains universally appealing about Tom and Jerry is still here in repetitive spurts, though there might be a significant generational gap between these more mean-spirited, uber-mischievous shorts and today’s somewhat friendlier and more approachable toons. Tom and Jerry are still equally unlikable for their own reasons, so for some, it might actually work to the film’s favor that they’re not the main focus in every scene. For others, they might be wondering why either character bothered to make this trip at all.
Tom & Jerry is currently available to watch in theaters and on HBO Max.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros