★★★ - STUFF
- They are billed as the world’s “most famous enemies” and one of the most successful screen partnerships of all time.
A duo who first appeared on-screen together more than 80 years ago and have no-less than seven Academy Awards for their work. And yet, this is only Thomas D. Cat and Jerome A. Mouse’s second feature-length outing.
As anyone who has seen The Simpsons’ magnificent parody Itchy and Scratchy during its more than three decade run, Tom and Jerry’s antics haven’t always been to everyone’s tastes. One of the most violent cartoons ever made, it might not have focused on blood and gore like more modern animated shows, but it also completely ignored any lasting (or even temporary) consequences of the various heinous acts the pair inflicted on each other. It also helped establish Hollywood’s clear bias against cats and some of the older 161 shorts feature rather decidedly troublesome stereotypes (particularly if judged by today’s standards).
If exhuming these two to try and capture a whole new audience wasn’t difficult enough, director Tim Story and company decided the project should be a mix of animation and live-action.
That’s a hybrid whose results are best described as “patchy”. For every Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Space Jam, there’s been a Cool World, Garfield or Yogi Bear (the last Hanna Barbara character to suffer this fate – more than a decade ago).
To be fair, Tom and Jerry, unlike Garfield, starts from a point of consistency – every animal is animated, not just the eponymous protagonists. It’s also way better than their 1992 fully animated feature debut, which inconceivably decided they should not only talk for the first time, but turn their tale into a fully blown, Disney-esque musical.
Here, Story uses his Barbershop, Ride Along and Shaft-remake credentials to give the warring rodent and feline a modern, urban update (complete with a hip-hop-infused soundtrack). The setting is now New York, with grifter Jerry incurring the wrath of Tom after he exposes his Central Park busking act to be something of a fraud.
Incensed, Tom seeks revenge, following Jerry to his bolthole at The Royal Gate Hotel. That’s also where fellow chancer Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) is trying to score herself a job. Set to host the celebrity wedding event of the year, the hotel is looking for temporary employees. Tricking one of the applicants out of her CV, Kayla manages to blag her way not only into an interview, but also a frontline role.
While charming bride-to-be Preeta (Pallavi Sharda), Kayla’s casualness doesn’t sit well with her immediate boss Terence (Michael Pena). Even more upsetting for him, general manager Henry (Rob Delaney) appears to have taken a shine to Kayla, even allowing her to hire Tom to sort out rumours of “a mouse problem”.
“If word gets out we’re refusing to hire a cat, Peta will be all over us,” Henry justifies his reasoning to a flabbergasted Terence.
Cue a series of elaborate traps, unlikely escapes, gruesome retaliation and a whirlwind of property destruction, as Tom attempts to carry out his role. Kayla’s resolve and elaborate deception are also put to the test as slapstick and farce take centre stage.
Older fans may note there are clever nods to some of the duo’s classic set-pieces from the 1940s, but parents of today’s littlies will be relieved to know this isn’t 100 minutes of Itchy and Scratchy-esque carnage.
While they aren’t exactly sidelined, Story and writer Kevin Costello (who created the charming 2017 cult movie Brigsby Bear) smartly dole out their antics in small doses, placing slightly more emphasis on Kayla’s against-the-odds attempts to ensure the nuptials go ahead without a hitch.
Even then though, it’s only a terrific performance from a game Moretz that really sells the craziness. Kick- Ass’ former Hit Girl, who proved she could easily carry a film herself in Shadow in the Cloud earlier this year, this time demonstrates her comedic chops, interacting with our cartoon duo as seamlessly as with Pena and Delaney.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be convinced by a cartoon conceit in which a “tiny sociopath” triumphs every time (and don’t get me started on Road Runner), but thanks to Moretz, Story and Costello, Tom and Jerry was not only tolerable, it had moments of invention, hilarity and heart.
- James Croot, STUFF
Tom & Jerry is now playing at Light House Petone & Pauatahanui!