It’s tempting to be cynical about a movie that wasn’t made for you. Sure, plenty of movies categorized as kids films or family films manage to appease both child and parent. Disney and Pixar have pretty much nailed this formula, their movies often beloved by all ages. But when a film is clearly made to entertain a small child for close to two hours at any cost, the result is usually mediocre and the temptation to critically rip it apart becomes strong. And yet, it’s important to take a step back and consider who the actual target audience is for this particular movie and realize that it’s better to save your energy for films that actually do deserve severe critique.
Tom & Jerry is HBO Max’s latest release, reuniting the beloved cartoon characters and reigniting one of the most famous rivalry’s in television history. Tom has been chasing Jerry since the 1940s, thanks to creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. With such a long history, it’s safe to say that most adults have seen a Tom and Jerry cartoon at some point in their lives, but most kids probably haven’t, making Tom & Jerry the perfect movie for parents to show their children. Well, almost.
Director Tim Story (2005’s Fantastic Four and Ride Along) brings Tom and Jerry to the big screen in a mix of live-action and animation. In a somewhat clever take, the world that Tom & Jerry is set in is just like ours except all the animals are animated. It helps that the animation sticks to Tom and Jerry’s classic look, and all of the actors do a pretty decent job pretending that the animals are actually there. It’s no surprise that the strongest parts are Tom and Jerry’s interactions with each other since that’s what everyone came to see. All of the other elements range from just okay to painfully average, leaving little for everyone else who’s not a child watching it to connect to.
Chloe Grace Moretz is the human lead of the film, going back and forth between mildly miscast to slightly entertaining. She certainly seems like she’s having fun with the role at least. It’s a little reminiscent of James Marsden’s performance in Sonic the Hedgehog: never a moment of phoning it in and reacting quite well to a character that’s not really there. Even so, it is easy to imagine someone else with a little more natural charisma like Emma Stone in the role. It doesn’t help that the actual character is a tad inconsistent, one moment likable and the next moment awkwardly brazen and manipulative. The rest of the cast is fine, Rob Delaney standing out the most as the slightly dimwitted hotel owner. The main disappointment is the fact that Ken Jeong is given very little to do as the hotel chef and is ultimately extremely wasted in this.
The story itself is a little odd, especially since Tom and Jerry are essentially supporting characters in their own movie. Instead of choosing to appeal to audiences that actually grew up watching the cartoons, the main message is geared towards young adults who are struggling in a competitive career landscape and are expected to be successful by the age of 30. While it’s generally a relevant topic, it feels out of place and doesn’t really compliment any of the other lessons learned in the subplots like the wedding between two Manhattan socialists.
Tom & Jerry, while being far from remarkable, doesn’t totally fail as a fun kid’s movie. It does, however, miss the opportunity to introduce children to two beloved cartoon characters while also creating a story that channels the nostalgia most likely felt by parents who probably haven’t watched a Tom and Jerry cartoon in a while. Instead, it goes big and flashy, explores simple themes, and chooses to appeal to a modern audience. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Tom & Jerry may not have the depth of a Pixar movie, but it still has the capacity to entertain children, and sometimes that’s enough.
Dir: Tim Story
Prd: Christopher DeFaria, Tim Story
Scr: Kevin Costello
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Rob Delaney, Michael Pena, Jordan Bolger, Pallavi Sharda, Colin Jost, Ken Jeong
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Running time: 101 minutes