THE STORY – A tribe of cats must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.
THE CAST – James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson & Francesca Hayward
THE TEAM – Tom Hooper (Director/Writer) & Lee Hall (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 110 Minutes
By Daniel Howat
There’s no shortage of jokes and ironic takes on “Cats,” so let me save you the cat puns and get right to the point: I hated this movie so, so much.
First, let me be clear: I’ve never seen any stage production of “Cats,” nor have I listened to the soundtrack (except for “Memory,” of course). This production was totally new to me. I’m not quite sure if that helped or hurt the overall experience, but I loathed nearly everything about this film. The songs, the visuals, the performances, and much more. It’s hard to know where to begin.
I suppose I could attempt to recap the plot of “Cats,” though there really isn’t one. A new cat, Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is tossed into the world of the Jellicles. This tribe (or maybe cult?) of cats dance the night away. One by one, each of the cats introduces themselves, singing a song about their name, for some reason. They’re all awaiting a decision from Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench): Who will be the Jellicle Choice? Whichever lucky cat she chooses will ascend to the Heaviside Layer. What happens in the Heaviside Layer, you ask? Something!
Director Tom Hooper, who previously found great success adapting the musical “Les Misérables” to the screen, brings the cats to life as a blend of human faces and cat-like CGI bodies. It’s a truly terrible combination that never settles in as these nightmarish visuals are really uncomfortable to look at. They’re not quite human, and not quite cats. Instead, they’re otherworldly beasts that can’t help but dance. In addition to the inherently uncomfortable concept, the execution itself is poor. The human faces never fit quite right on the cat-like heads, shifting around and bending in weird spots as the visual effects try to make it feel right. It’s messy and strange, but always cartoonish. A sequence involving mice and beetles was particularly poor.
Equally as strange are the songs. Not one song serves the purposes of a plot. Instead, every song is merely an introduction to a character. After the fifth or sixth song, and I realized that this would be the entire film, dread finally started to set in. It’s nothing but introduction after introduction after introduction. Cats just singing their names and character traits that they have. It’s unbearable. I longed for the cats to just do something other than sing about their names, but alas, that’s the whole story, if one could call it that. Of course, I understand that this originated as one of the biggest Broadway shows of all time, and so these songs are not the fault of the film. I hated them nevertheless.
Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”) is one of the few fleeting bright spots. Her performance is as close as “Cats” can get to subtle. With her rendition of “Memory,” the film began to elicit some form of positive emotion from me. It’s wisely paired with a brand new song for the film, “Beautiful Ghosts,” co-written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift. It’s a lovely song performed by our leading lady, Francesca Hayward. Perhaps this is the hottest take I have on the film: “Beautiful Ghosts” might be the best song in this monstrosity. Though Hayward doesn’t get to do much outside of reacting, there’s something watchable about her performance that sets her apart from the rest of the cast.
One of the oddest things about this film is just how boring it is. Without much of a plot, I never cared about what was happening on screen. It’s merely songs that hold no narrative value, and songs that aren’t particularly enjoyable themselves, so there was little to keep me invested. There’s a sort of villain plot with Macavity (Idris Elba) who is kidnapping (catnapping?) many of the cats, along with his partner-in-crime Bombalurina (the woefully miscast Taylor Swift). He longs to be the Jellicle Choice and hopes to eliminate the competition. Still, since I never cared about these characters or the Jellicle Choice to begin with, there’s never any tension here. It’s all just somehow bizarre and dull at the same time.
There’s really not much redeeming Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Cats” for the big screen. At best, it’s an ambitious misfire. At worst, it’s straight-up nightmare fuel that will haunt generations. Enter into the world of the Jellicles at your own peril.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Jennifer Hudson gives a dedicated and subtle performance. She fully delivers the goods with “Memory.” Francesca Hayward is also a nice and intriguing lead here. The original song “Beautiful Ghosts” is a fantastic addition to the show as well.
THE BAD – Where to begin? The visuals are nightmarish. Most of the songs are genuinely annoying. Many of the performances are awful. The film is bizarre, yet also boring. It’s really terrible all around.
THE OSCARS – None