Jerry the mouse moves into swanky New York hotel The Royal Gate on the eve of the wedding of the century between socialite Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) and Ben (Colin Jost). Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz), having recently blagged her way onto the hotel staff, convinces the management to hire Tom the cat to catch the rodent and save the day.
For the uninitiated, Tom and Jerry are the OG Itchy & Scratchy. In around seven inventive, bruising, glorious minutes they would attempt to beat the crap out of each other until Jerry won or the fight just continued off-screen. In its classic run from 1940 to ’58, guided by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the ’toon titans won seven Academy Awards and redefined the short-form cartoon. Brevity is key to Tom & Jerry, and it’s just one of the reasons any feature iteration of the characters is doomed to fail. After a 1992 completely animated feature (that hinged around the cardinal sin of the two enemies becoming friends), this latest attempt, directed by Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Ride Along), is an animation-live action hybrid that dilutes any of the spirit of the original by saddling usually likeable actors with over-extended, tedious human-based guff over a 98-minute running time. That’s at least 91 minutes too long.
The dull-as-dishwater plot sees unemployed millennial Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) con her way into a job at posh Manhattan hotel The Royal Gate, chiefly to help out with the high-society wedding of Preeta (Bollywood star Pallavi Sharda) and Ben (Colin Jost), the biggest event in the hotel’s history. It’s at this point that homeless mouse Jerry takes up residence in the hotel, leading Kayla to convince hotel manager Mr Dubros (Rob Delaney) and his minion Terence (Michael Peña) to hire piano-playing cat Tom to catch the rodent before the big day. What follows is a slew of standard cat-and-mouse chases and carnage — will the hotel’s centre-piece glass atrium get smashed? — mixed in with dull wedding-movie scenarios (a ring gets lost, doubts about an extravagant celebration are expressed) before it all inevitably builds to the ceremony where all bets are off as to what happens to the huge cake baked by wannabe Michelin-star chef Ken Jeong.
The big idea of the film is that while it takes place in the real world, every animal, from pigeons (who bizarrely sing A Tribe Called Quest’s ’90s hit ‘Can I Kick It?’ over the front credits) to goldfish to elephants, is animated and most can talk (Tom and Jerry don’t, the law of the characters). It’s a big shift from the animation, which was resolutely from the point of view of the animals, the human world hinted at by showing the characters from the knee down. The film does a decent job of mixing CGI techniques with a pen-and-ink feel, but the characters feel even less integrated into live action than the ’toons of Who Framed Roger Rabbit 33 years ago.
Brevity is key to Tom & Jerry, and it’s just one of the reasons any feature iteration of the characters is doomed to fail.
Happily (and surprisingly) the film doesn’t pull its punches in the violence department (although it is strange to see a real iron go into a cartoon face) — a scene where Tom is constantly electrocuted on a telephone wire has a viciousness that recalls the Hanna-Barbera heyday. There are some nice moments — Jerry’s tiny scented business card — and the film is at its best when simply replaying gags from the classics, especially the moment from Jerry’s Diary where Jerry piques Tom’s curiosity only to punch him straight in the eye. But the overriding impression here is one of tired plotting, thin characters and an absence of spark or wit. Tom & Jerry doesn’t need an expanded (human) universe. It’s just a cat trying and (mostly) failing to batter a mouse. The sooner filmmakers learn this, the better.
Tom & Jerry: The Movie joins Garfield , Yogi Bear and The Smurfs as misfiring attempts to combine popular ’toons with live action. Our kids deserve better. They deserve Tom & Jerry 1940-’58.