Like everyone with access to the internet, I saw the two baffling trailers to Cats. The trailers are the epitome of creepiness and I would gleefully show them to friends/acquaintances/work colleagues who mentioned they were yet to set eyes on the CGI cat celebrities, so I was fully expecting the film to be a slightly off-color cinematic experience.
What I was not expecting was the undeniable vibe of a high-school production in which the theatre kids are very committed to the act but the audience spends most of the evening checking the time and clapping with reserved politeness. It is no exaggeration when I estimate that at least ten people seated around me walked out of the Cats premiere. At one point I’m pretty sure I could hear someone snoring. Cats is boring.
Is this a case of a stage-to-screen that should have been vetoed early on in the pitching process? Most definitely. I am struggling to come up with something positive to say about it. Undoubtedly, the music was incredible, but we have Andrew Lloyd Webber to thank for that, not the team behind this mess of a movie.
My main struggle? I had no idea what was going on. I went into this film blind, with not even a precursory Google of the premise. Die-hard fans of the stage production may flag this as a reason behind my dislike of the film, however, I’m a big believer in film being accessible for all. Even if its foundation is well known there should have been more emphasis on exposition to initiate the uninformed. And if the stage production itself has a very wishy-washy plot, then maybe the film should have exercised some creative license and created a more easily digestible storyline.
I’ll do my best to summarise the plot – there are cats called Jellicle Cats who have to sing and dance at a thing called a Jellicle ball to be named the Jellicle Choice. What happens if you’re the Jellicle Choice? Not sure, but you get a better life somehow. So all the Jellicle cats compete with songs about themselves and James Corden, Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, Jennifer Hudson, Sir Ian McKellen, and Rebel Wilson sing their hearts out for Dame Judi Dench who gets to make the Jellicle Choice. Do you know what’s impressive? Humans tap dancing. Do you know what’s not as impressive? CGI cats with human faces tap dancing.
Because I was bored, I spent a lot of time studying the cats in relation to the scaling of the set, and I am pretty sure that they were too small. At one point the cat who is supposedly the main character (Francesca Hayward) is messing up a house with two naughty cats whose names I can’t remember, and she puts a diamond ring on her wrist like a bracelet. Logistically, I don’t think a cat’s paw could fit through a ring?
The boredom also led to a lot of unenthusiastic questioning of certain directorial choices. For example, Why was there so much (so much!) sexual tension between the cats? Why did the cats have creepy human hands and creepy human feet? Why did some cats wear clothes and some wear only shoes and some wear nothing at all? Who made the choice for Idris Elba to wear a huge coat all film only to have him take it off for his dance number which made him look disturbingly naked? And why did Judi Dench stare straight down the barrel of the camera and sing/lecture to the audience that cats are not dogs?
I’d wager that some fans are going to rejoice at having another medium of their favorite musical to marvel at while a large, loud percentage will label this film as sacrilege. A woman in the line for the bathroom after everyone wandered out of the film in a slightly confused daze murmured to herself, “It would make a good hangover movie”. And I don’t know if that is even a fair assessment.
Cats is a mess, but it’s not even an interesting mess. I wish I walked out halfway through like everyone else and not wasted my time watching these CGI cats try and become the Jellicle Choice. I still don’t even know what a Jellicle cat is.
Despite a stellar cast and the obviously successful stage-production to leap from, Cats fails miserably to get the cream.
On December 21st 2019, a mere 2 days after its release, Universal Pictures announced they would be releasing a new version with updated CGI at an undisclosed time.