By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Playing at select theatres (where open) & HBO MAX
Let’s face it, Tom the Cat can’t catch Jerry the Mouse no matter how hard he tries. Over the decades, these miscreants of their animal genus should be ashamed of themselves. Not even their own kin look kindly at them. Well, maybe the rodent might fare better. The two are rivals. The early cartoons are often about one trying to annoy or outsmart the other.
Their antics can’t carry a movie, and the shorts from long ago are far more effective than any feature length attempts. Those pieces are essentially Mack Sennett slapstick comedies, and the reason we love to watch them is that observing others beat up on one another is therapeutic.
Life is not a bed of roses either. The star is Kayla Forester (Chloë Grace Moretz), out of work and needing a new job. She’s certainly a smooth operator and fibs her way into a hotel management position, and pretty soon these cartoon characters get involved.
Tom and Jerry have been kicked out of their last home since neither can ever get the upper hand. For once, they respect going their separate ways. One ends up on the streets and the other forages a high life in Royal Gate Hotel in Manhattan. There’s no mousey equivalent to all the amenities, so the rodent has to steal anything he can find, including a beautiful diamond wedding ring.
Forester meets Tom and hires him to ferret out the annoyance. The cat does his best, and true to the cartoons, lacks the panache to quietly dispose of the mouse. The scenes are entertaining enough to cause a chuckle or two, but ultimately we see the rodent as the troublemaker. He takes joy in goading the feline on. Unlike his counterparts from other animation studios, namely Road Runner, he shows devilish intelligence more than animal. His willingness to hurt Tom suggests that whenever he bites the dust, he’ll have a special place in hell for him to rule.
Tom’s takes chaotic approaches to deal with his prey. It’s rare to think he’ll eat Jerry. Instead, it’s to exert himself as the alpha. His human counterpart is Terrance Mendoza (Michael Peña), who worries about keeping order in the hotel, and losing his job to Forester. The fact these two humans are opposites can’t go unnoticed and just what they represent can relate to the cartoon feud. Pena’s acting improved over the years, and he’s fun to watch as a scheming events manager who is out to get Forester fired.
Unless Tom and Jerry get along, the wedding they’re oddly involved in will not happen. The two are frenemies, and the supporting characters are more tacked on to this Roger Rabbit type universe. We see Butch the Dog and Toodles Galore as pets of the still to be married couple. Curiously, these two are more civilized than Tom and Jerry. This point is never explored. It’s like the writers aren’t sure if they should examine the inner conflict everyone faces in their life. Tom is the only character who sees his conscience appear, either convincing him to do right or wrong.
At least the CGI work and blend of live-action with animated is smooth. It’s nice to see these character brought to three-dimensional life and be part of the environments like Yogi Bear.
Sadly, this film adds nothing to explain why Tom and Jerry have endured over the years. It’s simply a callback to the shorts featured in the early days of cinema, before the main event. The extravagant wedding that this film focuses on is doomed when these characters get involved. As for how it represents the turmoil the couple has–who can’t see the wood for the trees–just how they get back together barely makes a proper related point in regards to the cat and mouse’s relationship. Yes, occasional fights happen, but when will enough be enough and the two make peace? Not even this film wants to answer it.
3 Stars out of 5