Tom & Jerry premieres on HBO Max, and in select theaters, on February 26.

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Tom and Jerry, the perpetually feuding feline and rodent who’ve been warring for our amusement in over 160 animated Hanna-Barbera shorts (plus numerous TV shows and movies) since 1940 — not to mention serving as the inspiration for The Simpsons’ Itchy and Scratchy — are now starring in their own big city-set, hybrid live-action/animated adventure. And it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Filled with frequent flashes of fun, Tom & Jerry ultimately gets bogged down with an overload of, well, let’s just call it humanity. In an effort to bring together the world of cartoons and real life, the headlining duo often feels sidelined, and supplemental to the story of Chloë Grace Moretz’s Kayla and her schemes and scams to keep a job that she conned her way into at a luxurious Manhattan hotel. The cat and mouse vanish for long stretches of the film while Kayla’s constant crucibles too often feel like they should exist elsewhere, in a different movie.

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The cast, which includes Moretz, Michael Peña, Rob Delaney, and Colin Jost, is a lively and fun batch of game performers, ready to dive wholeheartedly into the silliness involved with interacting with animation, pumping up their performances a bit to fit into a world that’s just a little zanier than our own. Dynamic gesturing, big expressions, and a touch of heightened sitcom-iness are crucial when it comes to playing off of scene partners that only exist in your imagination.

Everyone here, top to bottom, knows what the movie is and how it’s supposed to feel, but the stakes often feel strange (are we supposed to root for the ultra-wealthy? Or a mouse who, let’s be honest, is kind of the worst?) and the story feels a bit too weighted on one side, with too much focus given to the real people. As family entertainment, Tom & Jerry is a perfectly adequate offering, though, depending on expectations, some viewers may be bummed to find less Tom and Jerry present than the title suggests.

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To be fair, Tom and Jerry are both non-speaking characters and it’s challenging to craft a full story around that. There aren’t too many hard and fast rules to this specific world, except that all animals are cartoons and, randomly, some can speak (understood by other animals and maybe some humans). It’s a loose enough setting that Tom and Jerry can carry on with their chaos, with some moments nicely lifted from old routines from the shorts. There are segments of mirth that land really well but the story’s a bit too choppy to maintain momentum.

As both Tom and Jerry arrive in New York and begin squabbling in Central Park (from a situation that Jerry is 100% to blame for), hustler Kayla lies her way into a temp gig at The Royal Gate, a landmark hotel that’s hosting a huge celebrity wedding. Kayla’s frank homespun ways endear her to many, except Peña’s rigid hospitality nerd, Terrence. Through Kayla’s drive to keep a job she’s unqualified for, and Terrence’s need to expose her as a fraud, Tom and Jerry, and their penchant for punching each other, get used as pawns in larger human plots.

Which is the main reason they both feel underutilized. So much of what they do isn’t in service of their own story. Of course, neither one’s given an abundance of internal wants or needs. Jerry desires a nice, warm home and Tom dreams of – er – playing keyboard as an opening act for John Legend? Regardless, they’re the thinnest part of the movie. Director Tim Story‘s got some interesting elements here, filling the film with tunes from old school hip hop legends like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, and the solid choice to make Jerry a super troll, but the end result is a mixed bag of good intentions, sporadically spirited moments, and an imperfect utilization of the title characters.

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Source: Tom & Jerry Review