A cat and mouse arrive in the Big Apple. Each have wide eyes and grand dreams that are quickly dashed by the uncaring metropolis. But wait a minute. This is a review of Tom and Jerry. Who cares how a cat and mouse came to meet each other? Well, apparently every piece of intellectual property in Hollywood needs to get its origin story. Therein lies the problem of director Tim Story’s Tom and Jerry, it’s more focused on filler subplots and cringeworthy attempts at modernizing an 80-year-old cartoon than focusing what actually works – a cat and mouse who comically battle each other with murderous intent. To be fair to Mr. Story, there are moments where his film captures that madcap spirit of cartoon violence, but the moments of goodwill are completely undermined by a rudderless second half that focuses more on boring human characters than comedic cartoon mayhem.
The first of many bewildering decisions in Tom and Jerry is taking 30 minutes to setup a simple premise: Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) has just started a new job at a hotel and is tasked with overseeing an extravagant wedding that will revitalize this struggling hotel. Upon seeing Jerry loose in the hotel, Kayla employs Tom to carry out his evolutionary instincts and capture the rascally rodent. But instead of letting Tom and Jerry run amok for 90 minutes in the hallways of the hotel, the film instead decides that we need to get wrapped up in the romantic complication of the married couple to-be in Ben (Colin Jost) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda).
The second bewildering decision is making its human protagonist, Kayla, a lying fraud. She could’ve just as simply been an ambitious go-getter, but instead she cons her way into a job. It creates a kind of moral that is just insane for a kid’s film – you can lie your way into a nice job and everything will work out eventually with the help of your animated friends. I think giving Kayla a secret to hide is supposed to heighten the comedic tension except it never really materializes because Tom and Jerry can’t provide you a reason to care the slightest about its human characters.
Playing hotel management, Michael Peña and Rob Delaney know what kind of movie they’re in. Delaney plays the hotel’s boss with a kind of dopey obliviousness. Peña, on the other hand, plays the over-attentive events planner. They’re performances are dedicated to a script that really gives them little to work with, and their best efforts start to fade as the film plods along.
Nobody watches The Three Stooges for the plot. The same is true of Tom and Jerry. Yet the film gets too hung up on tangential plots. We just don’t care. There’s actually a good Tom and Jerry movie buried in here, but the flat, indifferent filmmaking on display eventually buries all of the film’s potential. Two sequences in the first half of the film truly capture the energy of those classic cartoons, a constantly escalating back and forth between the eponymous cat and mouse. It’d be so much easier to forgive the lackluster plotting had the film featured just a few more sequences that deliver on the promise of its eponymous characters’ violent history, but instead the film goes completely off the rails towards the end with Tom and Jerry working together to save Kayla’s job as well as Ben and Preeta’s wedding. That’s nice, I guess, but I just wanna watch the cat and mouse fight.
I don’t envy anyone who is tasked with revitalizing an 80-year-old cartoon. It’s a minefield. 20th century cartoons are rife with rampant racism and other outdated comedic tropes. For 45 minutes, Tom and Jerry is a flawed yet somewhat effective attempt to craft a modern reboot of an animated classic. It’s first half is messy with cringeworthy attempts to come across as hip to the youths, but when it delivers comedic cartoon hijinks its mostly works. When it captures the manic energy of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon you find yourself smiling and laughing amidst the escalating chaos. These moments are short-lived as budgetary constraints and tasteless direction consistently pull attention away from the only thing works in this muddled mess. The lesson of Tom and Jerry is that you don’t sacrifice what works in favor of catering to fleeting fads.
Tom and Jerry
- Overall Score
When capturing the spirit of its cartoon violence origins, Tim Story’s Tom and Jerry works well enough, but the film is way too invested in the irrelevant storylines of its bland human characters and attempts to seem modern that the elements that work are eventually obscured entirely.