You will believe
I’m so glad my cat wasn’t alive to see this.
When the first trailer for Cats dropped, many feared the worst. People claimed that the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit Broadway musical resembled a ghastly piece of kitty litter, stating that the weird cat-human character designs were the stuff of nightmares, more akin to something out of the Uncanny Valley than anything wondrous. A mere few, however, believed director Tom Hooper — who gave us the Oscar-winning Les Misérables (2012) — might deliver, hoping that the finished film would ultimately gel and recapture the playful energy and charm of the stage show, regardless of how claw-ful its marketing made it look.
Sadly, this isn’t the case as the final product is the year’s most cat-aclysmic failure: an a-paw-ling disaster of epic proportions, one that does a disservice to cat people (like me) everywhere. The film is plagued with (creepy) unfinished-looking VFX, off-putting performances, and an un-cat-fur-a-bell sexual vibe — I don’t even know how this calamity got a G rating!
Based on T. S. Eliot’s 1939 collection of whimsical poems Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the film follows a new stray, Victoria (ballerina Francesca Hayward), who is abandoned by her owner and tossed into the streets where she meets a bunch of horney felines who call themselves the ‘Jellicles’ — I still have no idea what a Jellicle is, even after Googling it. Turns out that on this faithful night, the cats are prepping to attend something called the Jellicle Ball (there’s that silly word again), where an ancient cat named Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) will, for reasons unknown, select a cat to ascend to a place known as the Heaviside Layer (via a hot air balloon) and be granted a new life — all of this is very vague, of course. Throughout the night, we meet several hairballs vying to be selected — each with their own musical number describing what kind of cat they are — including a devious tom known as Macavity (Idris Elba) who’ll stop at nothing to be the Jellicle choice. Let the catfighting begin!
Oh, where to start! It’s safe to say that every creative decision in Cats seems to have been the wrong one as nothing in this hodgepodge of a film works. First up, the screenplay credited to Hooper and Lee Hall, Billy Elliot (2000), hasn’t really been modified to fit the medium of cinema, Cats coming off as a bunch of nonsensical scenes strung together to resemble some kind of loose (albeit incomprehensible) plot. If you stop to think about it, Cats doesn’t make a lick of sense. Just look at Elba’s Macavity, for instance, who, for some bizarre reason, can teleport while the other felines can’t — not even Laurie Davidson’s black-and-white tuxedo-wearing magician Mr. Mistoffelees — the big, bad kitty using his power to kidnap his competition then tie them up on a docked tugboat where they’re guarded by Ray Winstone’s ruffin Growltiger — the aforementioned, a misguided attempt by Hooper and Hall to add more meat to the story.
Then there are the actual designs of the characters themselves. Rather than going for a loose translation, filmmakers give us a literal one — which means we get a bunch of weird nightmare-inducing animal-human hybrids that look as though they’ve stepped out of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (1990). Honestly, Hooper and co. should have gone a little more subtle with the character designs — more human-looking, except with cat ears and a tail, something similar to the character of Holo from the anime Spice and Wolf (2008).
Next up, we have the cat-rocious visual effects. From the overly tabby, I mean shabby CGI landscapes to the Digital Fur Technology Hooper’s been harping on about, there’s nothing impressive going on here. It basically looks as though someone’s superimposed the actor’s faces onto clunky CGI cat bodies — think those shitty Snapchat filters with weird fuzz, ears, and tongues. Heck, there’s a sequence involving a bunch of Teletubby-looking mice and a chorus of dancing cockroaches that sticks out for all the wrong reasons. Even the compositing is dreadful, with the actors never appearing to be in the space they’re supposedly occupying (if you pay close attention to the performers’ feet, most look as though they’re floating just off the ground). Some of the VFX also appear to be unfinished — in one of the shots, you can notice a wedding ring sitting on Judi Dench’s finger. In an unprecedented move, Universal has released another version of Cats with improved visual effects, given that Hooper was forced to rush the film out mere hours before its World Premiere. How much better is it? I’m not willing to find out.
Sure, the mew-sic by Lloyd Webber is purr-fectly decent, so too is the dance choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, but all of the psychedelic musical ditties have been so poorly chopped together and edited, without any sense of reason or rhythm, that they’re borderline unwatchable and play like a bad hallucinogenic trip.
The purr-formances are also odd and awkward, with several of the star-studded cast already distancing themselves from this cinematic train wreck. The best of the bunch is Idris Elba, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019), who, despite looking like a Cronenbergian creation once removing his fur-coat (?), seems to be having a good time. Singer Jason Derulo wastes all of his nine lives as the mumbling rebel Rum Tum Tugger (I couldn’t for the life of me understand a word he was saying during his song), while James Corden, Into the Woods (2014), is painful as the munching, chewing, and spitting Bustopher Jones, a disturbing cross between Mike Myers’ Cat in the Hat and Danny DeVito’s Oswald Cobblepot.
Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect (2012), does her usual shtick as Jennyanydots, and her prickly number (where she fumbles about in an oversized kitchen) makes it evident that while these cats may have bosoms, they certainly don’t have genitals. Poor Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03), feels paw-fully miscast (in a film where everyone feels miscast) as the frail Gus the Theatre Cat. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls (2006), is ghastly as the ostracized Grizabella, her rendition of the film’s most famous song, ‘Memories,’ coming across like an overly melodramatic Oscar-bait ballad, while the flick’s new track ‘Beautiful Ghosts,’ written by Taylor Swift and Lloyd Webber, is another clunker. Speaking of Swift, the diva sprinkles the catnip in her short scenes as the flirtatious Bombalurina — if you’ve ever wondered what Tay-Tay would look like as a frisky pussy, you might find yourself entertained for a few measly minutes — plus her rendition of ‘Macavity: The Mystery Cat’ ain’t half bad. With that in mind, Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan probably deliver the best musical bit as cat burglars Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, respectively.
The strangest big-budget movie ever produced, Cats is a cinematic blunder so cat-astrophic it’ll be ridiculed and mocked for years, the film bound to become a cult classic and live in lunacy forever. If you’re at all curious or are okay with seeing oversexed cats jump around on jumbo-sized sets in a dreamlike digital playground, then I guess Cats might be worth your time, solely for its WTF quality. Fans of the musical or anyone else need not apply, as Cats will frighten the young’uns, disturb the oldies, and rattle everyone in-between — maybe unless you’re a furry. It goes without saying, Cats is certainly not the pick of the litter this holiday season!
1.5 / 5 – Poor
Reviewed by Mr. Movie