Review: ‘Tom and Jerry’ (second-class animated citizens)

Unlike the original Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters being treated like the movie stars they were, the new IP owners strongly discourage viewers to feel any sympathy toward these two Hanna-Barbera pests.

Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse arrive in the Big Apple looking to make their mark as only they can. Of course, Jerry can’t leave Tom alone long enough to do his own thing, and hyper-violent wackiness ensues, accidentally costing Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) her courier job. After hijacking the narrative and reducing the title characters to supporting cast members in their own film, Kayla misrepresents herself as an experienced hotel concierge, putting her in the cross-hairs of the current manager Terence (Michael Peña) who rightfully suspects she isn’t on the level. After much destruction, exposed lies, and a greatest hits montage of classic Tom and Jerry gags, the movie mercifully ends.

Granted the opportunity to bring the iconic duo to the big screen, Barbershop and two-time Fantastic Four director Tim Story and Brigsby Bear writer Kevin Costello are clearly fans. There are hints of included elements that only those familiar with the classic Tex Avery and Chuck Jones cartoon shorts would ever pick up on. Like most ‘toons of that era, there are things that just aren’t PC enough anymore to bring to a feature presentation, never mind the necessary overarching plot to bring humans into the mix. Plucked from their animated world and given the Smurfs treatment, can these two mostly enemies but sometimes friends hold the attention of audiences over their human interlopers?

Movies like Jim Carrey’s The Mask prove that infectious zany animation can interact with the real world while still maintaining a suspension of disbelief. Different from both Mary Poppins Disney films in that principle characters aren’t of the animated persuasion, Tom and Jerry unfortunately not only sidelines their title characters but undercuts them. By handing everything over to the humans, the filmmakers appear desperate searching for ways to shoehorn an animated cat and mouse back into a mediocre plot which has no need of them. While providing action and color for the youngest of eyeballs, the only boon this film offers anyone else is a hint of nostalgia for the better (if politically incorrect) original shorts it borrows from.

Similar to Who Framed Roger Rabbit but far less self-aware, the idea of humans sharing their world with obviously animated characters who aren’t merely mindless animals isn’t new. Both Tom and Jerry are shown having to scam their way through the world, stealing what they need or extracting sympathy using confidence games; while a piano-playing cat should be fantastic enough to earn a living, Tom pretending to be blind is also somehow a requirement. This inexplicably promotes the idea it’s okay to ignore, mistreat, or otherwise shun such characters in this fictional world. Like Dobby the Elf in Harry Potter, it’s both a classist and racist attitude, and it doesn’t help that animal control looks like a well-regulated militia toward any characters caught where they don’t belong. With the exception of the so-called good human main character who uniquely can see their worth — a fellow grifter herself getting away with taking shortcuts rather than paying her dues — nothing here is exactly a kid-friendly concept… even after sanitizing actual traditional tropes like the stereotypical black maid working for the white missus.

It might have been telling to call attention to the second-class citizenry angle, but the script chose to present it as acceptable and move on rather than preach against it. What remains feels unfinished and overlong, another in a long line of features trying to wring extra money out of reinterpreted concepts… which is exactly what happened with Fantasy Island. You don’t have to take every job offered, Michael Peña, but we still love you.

Tom and Jerry is rated PG for cartoon violence, rude humor, brief language, and wanting 101 minutes back.

One skull recommendation out of four

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