Mathew Messa / Contributing Writer
Aside from a diverse cast and a bouncy soundtrack, Tom and Jerry brings nothing new to the table except a confusing plot for children, and older generations can expect fatigue and episodic cringes after the five-minute mark.
Directed by Tim Story — whose more recent work includes 2019’s Shaft — and based on the classic cartoon by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the film follows a nonchalant Jerry Mouse and his over-ambitious hunter, Tom Cat, as they take their usual hijinks to New York City.
Undisclosed circumstances cause Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse to move to New York City – separately of course, in the cartoon series’s characteristic comedic irony.
Unemployed, the protagonist, Kayla, slyly impersonates an applicant for hotel assistant hot on the heels of a planned wedding for fictional famed NYC socialites Ben and Preeta. Coincidentally, Jerry takes up residence in this hotel as Tom pursues him, putting Kayla’s new job in danger.
The plot of the film is like a regular episode of the classic “Tom and Jerry” cartoon — which first aired before the end of World War II — and there lies one of this year’s film’s biggest issues.
It’s difficult to craft an innovative plot with hundreds of preceding episodes, but not impossible.
Screenwriter Kevin Costello, whose last major project was the well-received indie comedy Brigsby Bear, gives the audience an extended episode of the original show instead of creating a story that can connect with children and adults.
One of the film’s low-brow lessons is chalked up to the idea that resumes don’t give the entire picture of a potential employee. Kayla, who uses someone else’s resume to get her job at the hotel, and predictably succeeds in her new position, literally utters this message, which could only be directed at the film’s adult audience.
A lazy appeal to a millennial or Gen Z audience, the statement is funny only because its adult viewers know that employment in the real world will be almost exclusively determined by a resume.
The comedy of the lesson could’ve been taken as intentional if Kayla’s firing from her previous job as a delivery girl wasn’t so cringy. Even though the production of the film ended before COVID-19 shut down, viewers get an awkward foreshadowing of a pandemic job environment as Kayla is let go over Facetime while she carelessly struts through the NYC hustle and bustle.
While the classic cat and mouse chase scenes will entertain kids, it will puzzle them too.
All of Tom and Jerry’s hijinks are set to the backdrop of an extravagant wedding between two influencer-type characters. The husband-to-be is fixated on trying to woo his future wife’s family and the press.
In theory, kids will grasp the concept of the importance of love and communication through the couple’s situation. Between Tom and Jerry’s fighting, elephants in the hotel lobby, and Wi-FI compatible skateboards, kids will have to navigate a minefield of spectacle to catch any of the film’s thematic elements.
This is not to say the original cartoon was educational, but screenwriter Kevin Costello and director Tim Story failed to freshen up an aging story.
The crossover animation and live action film has been the format of choice for many legacy cartoon reboots including Alvin and the Chipmunks, Smurfs and Space Jam. Tom & Jerry wears the novelty of this format thin.
The line delivery from the actors paired with the poorly aging hybrid format creates awkward scenes, and is one of the film’s biggest failures.
The event manager, played by Michael Peña, is primarily guilty of these odd exchanges. In one scene, he is intended to make a joke about an animated fish, and struggles to acknowledge its animated presence as he blurts out a weird, unfunny line.
Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays Kayla in the film, and has shown in the past she shines when given punchy, funny dialogue in films like the Kick-Ass franchise and Neighbors 2, is reduced to delivering graceless and flat lines. One scene includes another vain appeal to Gen Z and millennial audiences where Moretz awkwardly mentions gender pronouns when talking about Jerry.
The only shining jewels in the film’s murky waters are its catchy soundtrack including A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B & Rakim, and Flo Rida, as well as diverse casting choices. These are welcome innovations whose shoulders aren’t broad enough to carry the film’s aging storyline, weak format and mediocre, convoluted plot.