In HBO Max’s ‘Tom & Jerry,’ Underdogs Rule
Two old foes reunite in “Tom and Jerry,” an updated version of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon that combines classic animation with live action. While some things stay the same –– Thomas Cat and Jerome Mouse are still furry, nonverbal anamorphic creatures with an intense rivalry –– this new feature finds the pair duking it out in the Big Apple, and this time the stakes are raised as their antics threaten the most sacred of New York events, a high society wedding.
While humans have traditionally stayed in the background in Tom and Jerry’s world, they play major roles here, and one in particular, Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz), a struggling millennial whose talents are being squandered in the gig economy, is front and center. She first comes in contact with the pair after Jerry exposes Tom, a surprisingly talented pianist, for pretending to be blind in order to get more money from captivated onlookers in the park. During their skirmish, they run into Kayla on her bike transporting clean laundry, causing her to lose her courier job. Soon after, she scams her away into a temp job and free room at the Royal Gate Hotel ahead of the wedding of celebrity couple Ben (Colin Jost, who has fun here playing what is essentially a satirical version of himself) and Preeta (Pallavi Sharda). To Kayla’s dismay, Jerry has also taken up residence at the hotel, and as mice and fancy events don’t mix, she enlists Tom to help take him out, but the litter bugger proves to be more like her than she thought.
Soon, more animated animals get added to the mix, including Ben and Preeta’s pampered cat and tough bulldog, Spike, who is voiced by Bobby Cannavale. Tom and Jerry’s occasional vocalizations are provided from archival recordings from William Hanna, Mel Blanc and June Foray, as well as new recordings from Frank Welker. Other actors lending their voice talents include Lil Rel Howery, Tone Bell and Utkarsh Ambudkar. While the animals chase each other around and deal with all sorts of hormones and territorial issues, the humans have their separate conflicts. Michael Peña is hilarious as Terrance, the uptight and self-important hotel manager who has “clawed his way to the middle” of the luxury hotel business and resents Kayla for encroaching on his territory. And he’s none too pleased when their boss, Mr. DuBros (Rob Delaney), approves of Kayla’s hiring of a feline assistant, Tom.
Eventually, everyone is forced to reexamine certain choices and come together for a common goal, Ben and Preeta’s wedding. Despite their obscene wealth and some of Ben’s annoying habits, they are actually decent people who love each other, and Preeta comes to deeply appreciate Kayla for her good qualities.
In the end, “Tom and Jerry” contains numerous positive messages that are important for kids to hear about healing divisions, teamwork, and believing in one’s self, messages that adults also need to hear sometimes. Director Tim Story and writer Kevin Costello also deserve props for the humorous dialogue and creative animated sequences, especially the fight scenes. As guns and other violent weapons used in old-school toons don’t exactly fly anymore in family films, they had to find more sophisticated ways for Tom and Jerry to best each other. If you are a parent or caregiver looking for a film to watch a little one that you both can enjoy, this one isn’t a bad choice.
“Tom & Jerry” releases Feb. 26 on HBO Max and in select cities.