The popular cartoon characters Tom and Jerry were created by Hanna-Barbera in 1940 and featured in some 161 short animation films between 1940 and 1958. The pair and their hijinks also became a staple of Merrie Melodies and Saturday afternoon matinees. A previous attempt to bring the characters to life on the big screen in 1992 was a massive failure. Now the duo is back on the big screen in a movie that cribs from the playbook of the superior Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Space Jam with its mix of traditional animated characters and real live action and characters and settings. The animation itself is quite effective and has a strong sense of nostalgia as it captures that cartoon violence, visual humour and slapstick humour that was such an enjoyable feature of the shorts.
When we first meet Jerry the mouse he is looking for a place to live in New York City. While meandering through New York’s Central Park he accidentally exposes Tom’s scam in which the cat pretends to be a blind musician busking on a keyboard. Forced to flee from the irate Tom, Jerry sneaks into the posh Royal Gate Hotel where he takes up residence. But his presence upsets the management as the hotel is about to play host to the lavish Indian-themed celebrity wedding between Ben (SNL’s Colin Jost) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda).
Enter Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz), who manages to talk her way into a hospitality job at the hotel using a stolen resume. She is hired to work with the hotel’s uptight special events manager Terrance (Michael Pena), who is immediately suspicious of the new hire. Kayla’s first task is to rid the hotel of its unwanted rodent guest. She brings in Tom, with whom she had a run-in earlier in the day. The rivalry between Tom and Jerry contrasts with that between Kayla and Terrance. Meanwhile Ben and Preeta also seem to be having premarital problems, which complicates matters.
The cartoon frenemies manage to destroy the hotel and ruin the wedding, but are ultimately forced to bury their differences to save Kayla’s job and salvage the wedding from disaster. Tom & Jerry is first and foremost a film aimed at family audiences. The animation itself is quite effective and has a strong sense of nostalgia as it captures that cartoonish violence, visual humour and slapstick mayhem that was such an enjoyable feature of the classic beloved shorts. In fact, some of the visual humour here draws upon previous Tom & Jerry cartoons for inspiration, including the hectic chases, the animal tornados, physical pummelling, and shocking electrocutions. The double act between Tom and Jerry injects an element of fun into the material and will hold strong nostalgic appeal for audiences of a certain age who grew up watching their routines on television.
It’s the live action human story that disappoints here. While the animated sequences will appeal to younger audiences, the thin narrative itself from writer Kevin Costello (Brigsby Bear) may test their patience. The film has been directed by Tim Story, a filmmaker whose cinematic resume is largely undistinguished as it features the much-maligned 2005 reboot of The Fantastic Four and laboured comedies like Ride Along and its sequel. The mix of animation and live action is a little clunky at times and does not work as seamlessly as those superior examples referenced above. And the film’s running time of 100 minutes means that it overstays its welcome with some unnecessary padding.
Moretz demonstrates a nice gift for comedy here, and she Pena seem to have some fun with their roles, while the normally irritating Ken Jeong (The Hangover) is largely wasted in a thankless and underdeveloped role as the hotel’s chef hoping for another Michelin star. Bobby Cannavale provides the voice for Spike, the flatulent bulldog nemesis of Tom, who here is the pet of the superstar bridal couple. Patsy Ferran also provides some unexpected laughs as Joy, the creepy and unnerving hotel bell clerk who keeps popping up in the most awkward and embarrassing situations. The squeaks, grunts and various other noises emanating from our titular heroes have been provided by none other than the late William Hanna himself, through the use of archival voice recordings.
Tom & Jerry is a serviceable attempt to relaunch a tired old animation franchise and give it new life, but it is largely uninspiring stuff and the producers have probably misjudged its audience.
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Greg King has had a life long love of films. He has been reviewing popular films for over 15 years. Since 1994, he has been the film reviewer for BEAT magazine. His reviews have also appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper, S-Press, Stage Whispers, and a number of other magazines, newspapers and web sites. Greg contributes to The Blurb on film