Starring Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo, Taylor Swift,
Tom Hooper’s film version of “Cats” the musical is as bizarre as it is confusing. The adaptation has suffered greatly upon rollout, stemming from visual effect backlash when the characters were unveiled. The concept of taking actors’ faces and digitally inserting them into this amalgamation of human/cat bodies is the kind of peculiar you stare at but can’t quite understand. There are so many inconsistencies within the visual design of these horrid creatures. Many of the characters have space between their feet and the ground, which demonstrates an incomplete visual effect of combining the animation of the character onto the digital set background. Another glaring distraction is how some characters/cats have painted (digitally or otherwise) human hands to make them look like cat hands (I think), while others like Judi Dench, have regular human hands. This production disaster should have saved time, effort, and money and went the route of “The Wizard of Oz (1939),” featuring a less distracting cowardly lion, than whatever Hooper’s team has created.
A pride of London alley cats come together to sing and show off to Old Deuteronomy (Dench) in hopes their talent and purr-sonality will make them the chosen Jellicle Cat. Victoria (Hayward) is the latest addition on the cold tin roof, abandoned by her owner, desperate for a new home. She discovers a hidden world between the garbage cans and theaters of London, where cats with a variety of talents and abilities rule the night. Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson) is the magic cat who introduces her to Jennyanydots (Wilson) known as the lazy tabby. There’s also Bustopher Jones (Corden) the confident, pinstripe phat cat, and the former superstar Grizabella (Hudson) who now weeps for the life she once knew. Macavity (Elba) wants more than anything to be chosen as the Jellicle Cat and has a plan to get rid of his competition.
Cats is the type of movie musical that reinforces hate for the genre.
As disturbing as Jennyanydots intro song is where she eats dancing cockroaches, Wilson’s humor and energy is the highlight among many a low point. For the many unfamiliar with the stage show or T.S. Elliot’s book, this cinematic adaptation doesn’t give the viewer much in the way of explanation. The opening song and many that follow are incoherent. It’s not just the words and phrases within the songs, but their meaning and purpose are unclear. Aside from a made-up name to describe the particular group of cats we are watching, “Jellicle Cat” is never defined. Aside from “these cats want to be the chosen one”, there isn’t much plot to speak of. Which means most of the running time is filled with songs that pause the action. It doesn’t take long to realize why this production works much better on stage, relying on more practical costuming and makeup, than this cinematic abomination.
Most of the music sounds one beat away from Mannheim Steamroller crossed with futuristic outer space music. You can’t help but anticipate the SNL logo to pop up any minute, because this film looks and feels like a long skit on that show. “Cats” is the type of movie musical that reinforces hate for the genre. It’s one big joke that’s either such a train wreck, audiences will go just to make fun of it, or it placates to those already a fan of the Broadway version who will forgive everything. The image of Oscar-nominated actor Ian McKellen dressed as a homeless feline slurping water from a bowl will conjure up feelings of “is this where Gandalf is now?” Whether the film was rushed, incomplete or Hooper and his crew just gave up as the deadline approached, some of the faces near the end, seem to float or hover inside the digital body. The technology looks about one step above the face filter on various cellphone apps.
Cats is a head on collision between movie musicals and incompetent technology in which there are no survivors, only miles of morbid curiosity and rubbernecking.