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Review: 'Tom & Jerry' doesn't capture original series' iconicism

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


Existing IP and brand awareness sells tickets (or streaming subscriptions) and every studio is cashing in. So it’s no surprise Warner Bros dug through its archives and polished “Tom & Jerry,” the classic Hanna/Barbera cartoon, for an upcoming generation whose parents grew up watching it on Saturday mornings. Tim Story’s uninspired interpretation - also called “Tom & Jerry” - that’s supposedly an origin tale, won’t get docked for lack of enthusiasm, but the human component outlined throughout Kevin Costello’s hollow screenplay undercuts most shenanigans Tom and Jerry get entangled in. It’s a 101-minute diversion that could fail to keep restless children entertained, but bright colors and flashy on-screen text might help.

To the film’s credit, it’s refreshing to see Tom and Jerry as fixtures of their original drawings: rendered in crisp 2D animation as opposed to the standard CGI used today (you have to travel back to 2003’s “Looney Tunes: Back In Action” to find a similar film). There’s something organic about hand-drawn animation that gets lost when pudgy CGI textures dominate the screen, and it’s why “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” holds up after all these years.

Fans of the classic feline and mouse duo should be pleased that not much has changed: Tom and Jerry are still enemies vying to outsmart the other with gizmos and inventive contraptions. There’s plenty of silly cartoon violence and references to ACME and prominent Hanna/Barbera creations. But “Tom & Jerry” thrives when the soul of those decades spanning episodes take center stage. I’ll always laugh at the physical, slapstick humor of Tom getting thrashed with an obnoxious sized dumbbell or Jerry falling into a gooey cheesy trap, because it’s the basis for who they are. Trial and error.

Despite that, the film gets bogged down with a lazy narrative primarily used to get from one Tom & Jerry showdown to the next. It features Chloë Grace Moretz as Kayla, an event coordinator for a snazzy hotel in charge of making sure “the wedding of the year” goes off without any hiccups. Easier said than done when Jerry rolls into town and sets up his own cul-de-sac within the hotel walls, much to the irksome of Michael Peña’s egomaniacal Terence, and it becomes Kayla’s sole objective to extract him before festivities begin. Of course, she gets Tom hired as seasonal staff - “he has a name badge!” - to help with the mouse infestation and manic chaos predictably ensues.

The supporting cast is rounded out by Colin Jost and Pallavi Sharda as the bride and groom who both look shocked to be in a movie; Rob Delnaney’s persnickety hotel manager Mr. Dubros; and Ken Jeong’s blink and you’ll miss it cameo as Chef Jackie. Bless them for staying committed to the material - especially Peña - but they can’t salvage an insubstantial script that's human component lacks balance amid wacky animated mischief (and Story’s infusion of hip/hop ballads and T-Pain autotune never mesh). An animated series reboot might have worked, but “Tom & Jerry'' can't find the energy to sustain an entire movie.

Grade: C

TOM & JERRY is now playing in theaters and streaming via HBO MAX.


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