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Tom & Jerry (2021) Review

6 min read
It reminded me a lot of the episodes I watched when I was young and it was a pleasant way to spend some time for an evening

A healthy dose of nostalgia that stays too long.

What They Say:
A legendary rivalry reemerges when Jerry moves into New York City’s finest hotel on the eve of the wedding of the century, forcing the desperate event planner to hire Tom to get rid of him. As mayhem ensues, the escalating cat-and-mouse battle soon threatens to destroy her career, the wedding, and possibly the hotel itself.

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It’s always a bit dicey in dealing with nostalgia but sometimes more so when it comes to comedy from ages ago. I had grown up in the 70s with reruns of old cartoons and some of them have aged better than others. One that I used to enjoy through its various permutations and later reboots and even a film in the 90’s was Tom & Jerry. There’s a base simplicity to it that goes to the nature of the characters and it makes for something that you can just drop in and have fun with while not needing any additional context. Cat and mouse. Hijinks ensue. This new film, coming from the Warner Animation Group directed by Tim Story and based on a screenplay by Kevin Costello, is another attempt at keeping some IP relevant and largely doing a… well, an okay job at it.

Tim Story’s an interesting choice for this and I think he’s largely the right choice. Though he’s got films I didn’t care for, he’s also got some solid comedies along the way and has a decent eye for execution, which worked well in blending the animation into the real world scenes here. What needs to work in doing a blending like this are characters that can balance out what the animated ones do and that’s where I think they managed to thread the needle. I’ve liked Chloe Grace Moretz since Kick-Ass and she gets to have some fun here while being charming and cute without having to exert too much. Her pairing with Michael Pena is probably the best and I really just want to pretend that it’s Luis from Ant-Man doing something undercover here. The weaker points come in the subplot involving Colin Jost and Pallavi Sharda, which are one-note characters. If anything, they should have taken more advantage of British-Spanish actress Patsy Ferran to work some sight gags with and she’s a delight in this.

With a budget of $78 million, the premise of the film introduces us to Moretz as Kayla, a young woman running multiple jobs in New York City trying to make her way but unable to get anyone to give her a chance. When she loses out on her latest job thanks to Tom the Cat and Jerry A. Mouse crossing paths with her in a chase, she ends up trying her luck at the Royal Gate Hotel. Her approach is one where she kind of stumbles into a job interview using someone else’s resume after nudging them elsewhere and she lucks into the temporary job as the hotel needs the help due to a big wedding with some famous folks coming up. That’s additional pressure on Kayla and Michael Pena’s Terence, the event manager for the hotel, runs a tight ship and doesn’t expect her to last. And he’s going to run her hard on what needs to be done so he can just get her gone and focus on what needs doing.

Tom and Jerry’s arrival in the city is what starts things as we see Tom wanting to come here and perform on stage as a pianist alongside the likes of John Legend. He’s got his own keyboard and he has talent so it’s not just a goofy dream with nothing behind it. The problem is that Jerry messes up things for him early on when he’s doing a performance in the park while playing up being a blind cat, though not outright saying it. Jerry almost literally stumbles on him while being frustrated in his own journey in trying to find a place to rent but only coming across the worst places. So when the two end up setting the other off, it just turns into chaos and even has Tom’s keyboard broken. There are a few times where Tom is presented as really down in the dumps and it works really well, especially for kids, in how they present it. It helps to reinforce that he’s not just there to go after a mouse but rather sidetracked from his dream that has been broken – quite literally – in front of him.

Naturally, everyone ends up at the hotel and you get Kayla hiring Tom to get rid of Jerry because it threatens her job with the wedding event because Jerry is the biggest thief in the world. There’s also the problem in that the wedding couple have the big bulldog Spike (voiced by Bobby Canavale) and that sets into motion its own action sequences. In fact, there’s an interesting point where when two of the animated animals fight, it turns into a whirlwind and more can get sucked into it, causing some real damage. The world seems to accept that these animated animals are a real thing in their own way and have these kinds of special fights, though they’re not exactly commonplace. It’s an interesting bit of mild worldbuilding in how they’re treated and we do get more characters than just this core group. But they never really flesh it out or spell out exactly how it all works. It just does and I admit that I admire that kind of blanket approach to what is largely a kids movie.

The film works through plenty of antics and chases while mixing in all sorts of things for Kayla to try and deal with. I rather like the way that she’s just putting on a brave face and doing her best to just power through situations with confidence while trying to figure out a solution instead of just sheer panic and overreaction. Moretz is allowed to keep her fairly grounded and there’s a fun kind of camaraderie that she has with Tom along the way too. We get some mild romantic interest with a bartender in the hotel that she interacts with a fair bit and Kayla also has to handle not just her immediate boss but his boss while also juggling the wedding couple who are going through their own lightly detailed issues that she has to solve as well. These aren’t bad subplots to help move the whole thing along but what we get is that after the first hour or so of this 101-minute film is that it’s starting to overstay its welcome. It’s just hard to sustain, for an adult at least, interest in what would otherwise be a 30-minute sitcom episode with mild compression.

In Summary:
Tom & Jerry is something that really does hit that sweet spot. It’s inoffensive and fun without being condescending or pandering in a lot of ways. There isn’t a rich history of characters in the T&J world to draw from overall so it’s easy to blend things in without a problem – though the elephants push things just a bit. But with a meager pull from the animated world it allows the live-action side to get its own space to breathe and feel well-realized and grounded enough so that it all works surprisingly well. I’m not really coming down on the film beyond that it just felt a bit long as it got past the halfway mark but that’s part and parcel of an adaptation like this and me watching it by myself with no kids. It reminded me a lot of the episodes I watched when I was young and it was a pleasant way to spend some time for an evening, making me glad that it was on HBO Max as part of its theatrical run.

Grade: C+

Streamed By: HBO Max

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