Cats are not dogs” – Deuteronomy

Tom Hooper, best known for his Oscar-winning film version of the smash hit musical ‘Les Misérables‘, has made an oddly mesmerising big screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s well known stage musical ‘Cats‘. With actors fully covered in what was supposed to look like realistic CGI-fur, its paper thin story and horrifying visuals are tonally and visually messy, to the extent of either disgusting you or push you into a frenzy of uncontrollable laughter.

Each year, a tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life. Just thrown out of a car by her human, Victoria is the newest cat in town who is basically our eyes and ears through this strange and peculiar ceremony, that’ll drag us through the streets of London.

Cats is surprisingly not a boring film, to which you’ll notice your eyes being glued to the screen for the full runtime. Burned into your cornea, cats with human features, jazz dancing human-hybrid cockroaches and the unzipping of furs as some sort of costume change mid-performance, will make this the most bizarre moviegoing experience of the decade, if not the century. David Cronenberg couldn’t come up with something as cooked as this.

With a grand range of mostly well known actors and dancers, the creators try to reach a broad audience of cinema goers that might not be familiar with the musical itself. Ballerina Francesca Hayward, making her on screen debut as pearly white kitten Victoria doesn’t get a lot of lines, but impresses with her ongoing dance routines in which she literally floats (the visual effects looked so unfinished, you can notice a visible gap between their feet and the computer generated floor) through every scene. Oscar-winning actress/singer Jennifer Hudson plays glamour cat Grizabella, who’s made some wrong decisions in the past and ended up as a sad and lonely stray carrying her wealth and fortune with her, hoping she gets to sing her song to impress the Jellicles, and fit in once again. Hudson, who’s fur looked surprisingly combed, gets to perform the best known song on the soundtrack ‘Memory’ and so saves her own career by proving she’s actually better than this. One can only hope this boosts her career like Dreamgirls once did for her.

What’s utterly frightening, is the fact all these other actors are giving it their all, making it even more of an out-of-body experience. Judi Dench breaking the fourth wall, by bringing a monologue to the audience in how to address a cat, will for sure make the entire audience crack up in roaring laughter. Rebel Wilson does what Rebel Wilson does, while R&B-singer Jason Derulo tries a British accent, and fails. Recently anointed “performer of the decade” Taylor Swift‘s part is narratively useless, especially when her character completely disappears from the stage, without any explanation.

Of course the songs and music are as odd as the musical itself, with some weird synthesiser tune as part of the main theme. But one can’t deny some of the songs are joyfully upbeat and catchy. Unfortunately, these songs are almost identical to the stage musical versions and aren’t done justice by actors who can’t really sing. Accompanied by some great production design, some acts look truly spectacular – such as a bedroom and dining room scene in which everything is larger than life. But Hooper thought bigger is better and destroys almost every scene with the overuse of bad-CGI, blurring what should look crisp and fighting Disney’s “live action” version of The Lion King for the award of biggest cat-astrophe. Cats is claw-fully ambitious and doesn’t kitten around. This tail of forgiveness and redemption had lots of paw-sibilities, but un-fur-tunately is nothing more than a hiss-terical fail of incomprehensible proportions.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Review – ‘Cats’

Reviewed at Event Cinemas, Sydney, Dec. 17, 2019. Australian Classification: TBC. Running time: 110 min.

PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures release, in association with Perfect World Pictures, Monumental Pictures, The Really Useful Group of a Working Title Films, Amblin Entertainment production. Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Tom Hooper. Executive producers: Jo Burn, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Angela Morrison, Steven Spielberg.  

CREW: Director: Tom Hooper. Screenplay: Lee Hall, Tom Hooper. Musical: Andrew Lloyd Webber. Camera (color, widescreen): Christopher Ross. Editor: Melanie Oliver. Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber.

WITH: Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Taylor Swift, Mette Towley, Ray Winstone, Laurie Davidson, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo.  

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