Tom & Jerry: The Movie
Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Rob Delaney, Pallavi Sharda, Colin Jost, Ken Jeong
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Despite a sense of twee watching humans engage with 2D creations, the narrative itself is so animated that it has outlines.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that exists when bringing the world’s favourite warring cat and mouse duo to screen is not an issue to do with legacy, but in understanding how to apply the hallmarks of age-old storytelling in an era of CGI and short-form video.
While efforts to bring Tom & Jerry into 2021 are made in director Tim Story’s Space-Jam-like adaptation of the Hanna-Barbera classic, they too, as in the function of a mouse trap, collapse under the weight of heavy cheese.
In Story’s Tom & Jerry, it is not the 2D-animated critters who chase their tail. Passengers of what should be their own adventure, the duty of story and dialogue belongs to Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz): a down-on-her-luck New Yorker who takes up a position at the swanky Royal Gate Hotel under false pretences.
Here, Kayla is tasked with managing the wedding arrangements of affluent ‘it’ couple Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) and the desperate-to-impress (exactly who!) Ben (SNL’s Colin Jost). Kayla’s failure to provide Preeta and Ben the wedding of their dreams risks not only her job, but the reputation of the Hotel (her watchful bosses include GM Henry (Rob Delaney) and event manager Terence (the always affable Michael Peña)). Alas, the titular cat and mouse pairing, both vehemently out to get the other and now residing at the Royal Gate Hotel, become the bane of Kayla’s existence. Their presence throws the budding careerist into hijinks involving elaborate contraptions that make the board-game Mouse Trap feel like amateur hour.
Production elements work in favour of the film, with the hip-hop infused score and sharpness in animation, the effect of the latter giving added dimension to 2D characters, being some of ways Story brings T&J into 2021. The more clunky of these contemporary additions exist in the film’s incorporation of technology; particularly the inclusion of drones (an obligation nowadays) and electric skateboards. (Heck, there is probably a cut involving Tom & Jerry flossing.)
Where the film finds greatest success – and unfortunately to the detriment of the film’s titular cat and mouse – are the human characters; each of whom unabashedly playing up to the goofball comedy beats. For a film focused on the planning of a wedding, there is little love about Tom and Jerry; a result of their frantic energy coupled by the film’s often inappropriate humour (a gaffe involving one of the characters pretending to be blind leaves a bad taste early on).
While Story rightfully layers on the antics, it is the way the human and animal stories coalesce which strikes an off chord. Despite a sense of twee watching humans engage with 2D creations, the narrative itself is so animated that it has outlines. It is as though screenwriter Kevin Costello has reverse-engineered a ‘kids first Working Girl’ story into a Zemeckis-esque animated world, with Tom & Jerry haphazardly shoe-horned in on the action.