Human characters once again steal the limelight from the most famous cat-and-mouse duo

By: Steve Pulaski

Tim Story’s Tom & Jerry is certainly more palatable than the disaster we got in 1992, although that’s admittedly a low bar to clear. It suffers the same fate of its predecessors insofar that we spend far too much time with less-than-compelling human characters as opposed to the titular cat and mouse. While I’m certainly poised to be kinder than my colleagues, we now have two examples that showed Tom & Jerry worked best as shorts as opposed to feature-length films. A 90-minute chase between the cat and mouse would undoubtedly grow tiresome, but shortchanging the camaraderie we come anticipating for extended periods of time isn’t ideal either.

The film is conducted in Roger Rabbit style, having all animals exist as animated figures in the real-world. There’s an attempt at an origins story in the opening minutes, showing Tom as a piano player in Central Park only for Jerry to ruin his hustle. There’s an argument to be made about how screenwriter Kevin Costello flips script and makes Jerry the unsympathetic figure despite being the prey, but I fear a lengthy dissertation of that narrative subversion would ultimately bring down my level of prose.

Bottom line: both Tom and Jerry are without homes. They decide to shack up at the luxurious (and fictitious) Royal Gate Hotel just as the perpetually unemployed Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) weasels her way into a job there thanks to a stolen resume. It helps that hotel chief Mr. Dubros (Rob Delaney) and events manager Terence (Michael Peña) are desperate in making sure the hotel’s biggest event — a wedding for Instagram influencers Preeta (Pallavi Sharda, Lion) and Ben (Colin Jost, Saturday Night Live) — goes off without a hitch. Also in tow is the couple’s brutish bulldog Spike (voiced by Bobby Cannavale) and their fluffy cat Toots, only adding to the mayhem when Tom and Jerry begin wreaking havoc on the Royal Gate.

Tom & Jerry has a lot in common with Looney Tunes: Back in Action, both the positive and negative attributes. Tim Story and the hard-working animators at Framestore (who clearly have adulation for 2D animation) seamlessly blend the characters into this world. Tom, Jerry, and other various animated animals pop against busy backdrops. The visual look of Tom & Jerry isn’t the problem whatsoever. Frankly, once again, it’s the humans.

The human characters are mostly caricatures, from the quirky hotel chief, the type A events manager, and the shallow Instagram couple, given some humanization as Preeta is offput by the spectacle that is their wedding. Like the odious flick that came almost 30 years before this one, the human drama overtakes the titular characters in Costello’s screenplay. We come expecting the breathless versatility that Tom and Jerry have provided over decades, but sadly, once again we find it sidelined for interpersonal banter from humans, which is never as compelling.

Bless Moretz, who is game from the first frame. She adjusts to the world the best of the entire cast, and her lax personality helps dial down the manic energy, even if she does soft-sell some of her zingers.

The chase sequence involving Tom and Jerry barreling down Times Square on a skateboard reminded me of some of the enjoyable shenanigans Raja Gosnell (Scooby-Doo, The Smurfs) has crafted throughout his career. There’s some thoughtful craftsmanship at hand here, although one can’t help but feel Tim Story’s (who gave us Barbershop and last year’s Shaft) energy would be better directed elsewhere.

HBO Max houses many of Tom & Jerry shorts from years gone past, not to mention a variety of Cartoon Network programming and Studio Ghibli offerings. Might be more advantageous for your sake and that of your child(ren) to invest time in those.

NOTE: Tom & Jerry has been released in theaters and is also available to stream on HBO Max until March 28th.

Grade: C

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