by Kevin Muller
On July 18, 2019, an event happened that shook the cinematic world. The trailer for the big screen adaptation of the hit Broadway show Cats was released in all its nightmarish glory; with human/cat hybrids dancing and singing songs from the Tony Award winning show. How could Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper be behind this mess? To be fair, there have been plenty of bad trailers that marketed good or great movies. Film trailer creation is a difficult process, but that isn’t the focus of this review. Is the film a misunderstood charmer, with a lousy trailer, or a complete failure?
Plot? It can be summarized quite quickly, so here you go. A group of cats called Jellicles, compete with one another to be chosen, by Old Deuteronomy cat, played by Judi Dench, to ascent up into the sky to a new life. One by one, they introduce themselves through song and dance. Our heroine, Victoria, who is a recent stray, guides us through this world. Meanwhile, the evil Macavity kidnaps fellow cats, by using some unexplained force, to turn the odds in his favor in him being granted a new start.
As a film lover, there are many different film experiences that can be had. You can have the normal one of either loving, hating, or being in the middle with your opinion of a film. Then there are experiences where you either witness film making so incredible or downright awful that you can’t forget it. Unfortunately, or fortunately, for those of you who get off on seeing terrible film making, this is the latter. What makes this mess so fascinating is that it was done by talented actors and film makers, which makes you marvel how low it goes. Let me put it to you this way, this film would win a limbo competition based upon the tackiness of it all. With that said, it is an extremely entertaining film that can be enjoyed by seeing how it sustains its awfulness for 110 minutes.
Tom Hooper’s last foray in the musical genre was 2012’s Les Miserables, which I think is one of the best movies of the recently concluded decade. While most musical films have the actors sing their songs months before filming, Hooper had the cast sing live on set, with an earpiece hidden in their ears, feeding them the melodies of each song. This added a lot of emotional depth to the performances. Anne Hathaway walked away with the best supporting actress trophy that year for her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” Again, Hooper is taking a risk using special effects to place digitized fur on his actors. In the stage play, the actors wore skintight suits with makeup that made them look like felines. Hooper’s decision has made his cast look very off putting and odd to witness. The faults come out in full when the actors are moving at a rapid pace, which makes them reminiscent of video game characters. Worst of all, some of the cats aren’t even fully finished. While there is effort to blend the humans into their cat characters, other animals and bugs are absolutely horrifying to behold. You will never look at mice or cockroaches the same again after one musical sequence. Even the backgrounds aren’t consistent to Hooper’s vision. There are scenes where the cats are correctly scaled to size of their surroundings, then another scene where the size ratio changes. The set design is beautiful, but the lack of care with the effects destroys any merit that the set designers tried to establish.
Since the musical is short on story, there had to be other aspects that would cover the incredibly shallow story, right. Yes, the choreography is quite impressive. For the film, Hooper recruited the award-winning choreographer, of famous shows such as “Bandstand,” “In the Heights,” and the world famous “Hamilton,” Andy Blankenbuehler. Blankenbuehler is working with some legit talent here. Francesca Hayward, who is the principle dancer at the Royale Ballet, easily twists and turns her body to convey emotion into Victoria that the script fails to give the main feline. There are many impressive dances in the film, but Hooper is so concerned with close ups that much of the dancing can’t be appreciated. One of the biggest crimes this film commits is the lack of a steady and overall tone. It seems we have two different film genres being mashed together that fail to create any type of clear narrative. One is a film about redemption, tradition, and the threat of failing to win a chance at a second life. This one includes Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Francesca Hayward, and Idris Elba. Then on the other hand we have a film that seems like it wants to be a live action cartoon, with the physical comedy being done by Rebel Wilson, James Corden, and Jason Derulo. This part really takes down the film since none of what these three provide works from a comedic or performance standpoint. Real life professional singer Derulo fails to transfer any of his charisma into the film. Corden and Wilson, who share a lot of unfunny screen time together, fail to make the flat script come to life with their childish antics. Wilson is basically there to provide cat puns, while Corden leans into his theatrical interpretation of a fat funny guy. Though Wilson out does Corden by being involved in one of the most uncomfortable dance numbers in the film, and maybe any musical ever. One that is a mixture of failed sex appeal, terrifying effects, and an overall sloppy direction by Hooper.
It seems the only two actors who embrace the utter nonsense of this story are both McKellen and Elba. You won’t be prepared for whats under Elba’s jacket that he sports for most of the film. Some of these character designs aren’t reminiscent of cats at all, but some type of hell spawn that escaped the underworld and made it on to the big screen. McKellen, who doesn’t even stick around after his song, hisses, purrs, and licks himself to a nice paycheck. Oh, Taylor Swift jumps in there for a song and isn’t half bad playing into her sultry side. It felt as if Hooper didn’t have a clear direction of where he wanted to take this thing. There are moments, that are brief, where you see what he was trying to achieve. In this reviewer’s opinion, it seems that he wanted to make an old school Disney musical, reminiscent of The Aristocats. The problem is that those personified animals still had their physical characteristics intact. The awful decision to create a half human/animal hybrid takes you out of the film every second you start to accept the nonsense that is going on up on the screen. Oh, for a film that is supposed to be a family picture, it contains so much weird sexuality.
Let me say this again, Cats is a terribly made film. It is every bad decision being played out on screen for 110 minutes. You will scratch your head about how this got greenlight, how it nabbed so much talent, and how Hooper thought that this was all passable work. That said, for film buffs, it is something you have got to see to understand and appreciated much of a shit sandwich it is. It is so hilariously bad that I expect it to develop some type of cult following. It’s trash, but such odd and entertaining trash.
I am giving Cats a .5 out of 5 Hairpieces!