The oddest thing about the new “Tom and Jerry” film is that the titular cat and mouse rivals aren’t even really the stars of their own movie. The live-action/animated hybrid directed by Tim Story places its human characters in the center, the cartoon characters feeling more like comedic ornaments that adorn the scene as needed.
They are necessary to the story to an extent, however. The film’s main protagonist is Kayla Forester (Chloë Grace Moretz), an aimless but driven young woman looking for a job in New York City. After stealing another woman’s much more impressive resume, Kayla lands a job at the Royal Gate Hotel, assisting event manager Terence Mendoza (Michael Peña plan the high profile wedding of Ben (Colin Jost) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda). At the some time, mouse Jerry has decided to move into the Royal Gate, causing a potential pest problem that could make the hotel look bad. Kayla is tasked with eliminating the problem, and she enlists Tom- who she finds trying to chase after Jerry himself- to help her.
There aren’t really any good moments of the cartoon and live-action characters interacting, despite the fact that they inhabit the screen together. Outside of a few scenes, the cartoon scenes and the scenes focusing on the human characters feel largely separate. It makes the film feel disjointed, even though the animation itself is decent. But the film does make it clear early on that these sentient cartoon animals are a known part of this world; when Kayla proposes that Tom become an employee of the hotel so he can help her, no one bats an eye. The characters are designed in a style that’s reminiscent of their 1940’s origins, and animated in a 3D style that has the appearance of a 2D cartoon. Fans may also notice that the characters are voiced by their original voice actors, William Hanna, Mel Blanc, and June Foray, along with Frank Welker. The scenes that do center around Tom and Jerry are pretty good; a standout is a sequence early in the film in which Tom finds Jerry at the hotel, and the two embark on a madcap, destruction – filled chase not unlike the slapstick shenanigans we’re used to seeing from them. The problem is that we don’t get enough of these scenes.
That’s because this movie is really about Kayla. Moretz is a good actress and really seems to embrace the role. Kids- presumably the film’s primary target audience- may not be able to relate to many of her or the other characters’ problems, but her character will likely resonate with many adult viewers. There’s an honesty there about how hard it is to not only find what you want to do with your life, or what you’re good at, but then to convince others that you’re good at it and that they should give you a shot. But again, this is a Tom and Jerry movie, and it feels like a lot of these scenes take us farther away from those characters. Host’s performance is incredibly stilted and bland, but Sharda lends some genuine heart to the proceedings, while Peña’s character is annoying, but not so much so as it’s impossible to like it (after all, how can you not like Michael Peña?). It feels like the film tries too hard to pull gags from these characters however, when two of the most hilarious characters in cartoon history are literally right there.
Despite some good moments, “Tom and Jerry” is predictable and rather dull. Kids will likely enjoy some of the high-energy Nijinsky, but again, it doesn’t feel like there are much of those, so will they be entertained for the duration of the movie? I’m not sure, and I don’t know if the filmmakers really knew who they were making this movie for either.
“Tom and Jerry” is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max until March 28. Runtime: 101 minutes. Rated PG.