Since the trailer debut in July, Cats has been the talk of the Internet with many people calling it “nightmare fuel” due to the use of “digital fur technology” that blends actor’s faces with the body of a CGI cat. It’s a strange effect that makes the film look downright bizarre. The titled “cats” don’t look human, nor do they look exactly like cats. They fall somewhere in the middle of a new digital creation. It’s a bold experiment that didn’t exactly pay off for Director Tom Hooper, who has received scathing reviews from critics on his latest film. I’m not sure he deserves the intense bashing he’s getting. Had he remade the film with the actors in fursuits, like the musical, I’m sure people would’ve mocked him just as tirelessly. He tried something new, and it works some of the time, it doesn’t work in others. Cats is not the tragedy it’s been declared. It’s just a strange film based on an odd musical.
The Broadway musical was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on poems by T.S. Elliot. Webber has famously said that Cats is just “a musical about Cats.” Nothing more than that. How can I believe that when this storyline contains not one, but two cat magicians, Andrew? What are the Jellicles? Why is Judi Dench their official leader? Are we sure this isn’t a metaphor for the monarchy in England? I cannot sit here and believe this is simply just “a musical about cats.” I will overthink it until January.
The story starts, straightforwardly enough, a female cat named Victoria (newcomer Francesca Hayward in a very good performance) is abandoned and finds herself in a group of jellicle cats attempting to find her place. What’s a Jellicle cat? Great question. The Jellicles are like a clique of singing cats that really want to perform for Judi Dench. Victoria soon learns there’s about to be a Jellicle Ball (obviously. What else are the Jellicles going to do on a Tuesday night?) On the evening of the Jellicle Ball, Judi Dench takes the form of a cat and grants one cat a new life in the Heaviside Layer. (It sounds ominous, but it just means they get to live a happy life!) it’s kind of like American Idol, but for Cats. Anyway, that’s all well and good. Still, things get wild when a magical cat (formerly known as the sexiest man alive, Idris Elba) starts magically transporting his fellow felines to a boat in the middle of the Thames because he wants to get to the Heaviside Layer first. If you followed that plot, congratulations. You are ready to attend the Jellicle Ball. Judi Dench is preparing your invite as I’m typing this.
My biggest problem with Cats is this bonkers storyline. I’d love to know the amount of drug usage that was involved in writing the stage play. Maybe it was none, but that seems hard to believe. Seeing the introduction of each cat and their different personalities is entertaining! It’s the side plots with magic that bogs the movie down. You’re already asking me to suspend disbelief if I’m watching a 2-hour movie about singing cats, let’s not push it by having them be successful magicians.
I can’t deny there are some genuinely good musical numbers here. Andrew Lloyd Webber decided he was going to write some catchy tunes about his cats, and he did that. It certainly helps that choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler is fantastic. The opening “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” is an explosion of energy in song form. Seeing all of the cats (or whatever you’d like to call these creations) run around the massive and impressively built sets is just plain fun! Musical fans know the opening number is make-or-break, and this one got my attention. The most notable song from Cats is Memory, and Jennifer Hudson brought the house down with that one. I completely forgot she was playing vying for the Jellicle choice the moment she sang the song. I’m a loyal Taylor Swift fan, so “Macavity” was a personal favorite in the movie. Swift descends from the ceiling on a moon cutout and commands every second of her 5-minute screen time. (Fans should know she only appears in one scene. It’s a bit misleading that she’s been hailed a star of Cats.) “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat” is a lively and upbeat musical number explaining the importance of railway cats. Do you have a train? You better get a Skimbleshanks because
1) he will tapdance around the tracks, and
2) he will keep the mice away.
Beautiful Ghosts, the new addition to the musical, penned by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber brings emotion and heart to the film. As a musical fan, I wasn’t let down by the songs or numbers. However, there is very little dialogue here. If you don’t enjoy musicals, you will not have a good time watching this.
There is quite a star-studded cast involved in Cats. Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Ian McKellan, Jason Derulo, James Corden, and Rebel Wilson all make appearances. Some of these are just quick cameos (like Swift and McKellan), while some have more prominent roles. Jennifer Hudson is the standout of the film. “Memory” is beautiful, and her character, Grizabella, has an interesting storyline. James Corden, as Bustopher Jones, which is my new favorite name in the history of the world, is way too over-the-top. Taylor Swift and Idris Elba make the best of the little time they have.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that Cats will become a cult classic like Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Room. Honestly, I’d join in on the fun. I can’t get some of the songs out of my head. These cats have me so intrigued. I must know more about their Jellicle secrets! Cats is whacky, wild, and weird. There are some entertaining and fun musical numbers here, but the strange storyline might take away from your enjoyment. I’d recommend this one to musical fans only.