Okay, let’s get straight to it. Cats will haunt me for the rest of my life. Let me tell you why.
I have never seen Cats before, even though I’m a huge musical fan. Just missed this one somehow. Well, if you had told me the gist of this musical, I don’t know if I would have believed you.
The movie follows Victoria (Francesca Hayward), a newly stray cat who is brought into a group of feral cats known as Jellicles. Now, once a year, these Jellicles get together and the oldest cat Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) chooses one cat to ascend to this heaven-like place called the Heaviside Layer. She decides which cat based on this weird singing competition. One cat wants to ascend real bad, named Macavity (Idris Elba), but he decides his best route is to eliminate the competition, so our cats must evade Macavity while performing showtunes. We have a solid cast including James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Hudson, and Jason Derulo.
The soundtrack is hit or miss, but there are some really solid performances vocally. Of course, there’s Jennifer Hudson, whose ‘Memory’ rendition is a tearjerker. I also really enjoyed the track ‘Mr. Mistoffelees,’ sung by relative unknown Laurie Davidson as the same-named Mr. Mistoffelees. I watched some Broadway clips to compare to the film and I’m way more invested in the film version of this track, though it’s drastically different. This segment really worked.
What doesn’t work?
The visuals will forever emblazon themselves on your eyes and you can never unsee them. Their ‘groundbreaking’ technology of adding CGI cat features and fur to these actors and actresses turned them into these abominations that are incredibly upsetting to look at. It actually detracts from a lot of the performances that should have been jaw droppers. Even when Jennifer Hudson is killing it, you can’t help but be distracted by her mangy fur and CGI features.
But let’s say you could somehow get past this. There are other big problems inherent in the script, either from the original or from the adaptation, I’m not sure where these problems came. The jokes don’t land, the plot doesn’t make sense at all, and most folks with no familiarity with this musical will have no idea what’s going on. The movie begins with a song about Jellicles but it sounds like gibberish because we don’t know what Jellicles are. It’s also imbalanced in tone, how we should be crying and emotionally invested but then there are way too many jokes about hitting people in the junk, even though every male looks like a Ken doll. It doesn’t really succeed at humor or the sentimental.
I think it circles back to “Why was this film made?” and that’s a hard question to answer. As a musical, it makes sense to have a cat show up, sing its song, and then bounce. You understand that it’s a framing device to showcase incredible singers and ballet dancers. There’s a flimsy story that allows these moments to be connected. As a movie, it doesn’t make sense. The plot could be explained in a sentence or two, there’s almost nothing here. But then things that should be further explained are ignored. Jennifer Hudson’s Grizabella has no context and I still don’t quite understand what was happening there, but it seemed important. Again, the only chance they took that did pay off was the changes made to Mr. Mistoffelees, giving that character context that the musical didn’t seem to have.
Oh, and Taylor Swift shows up for a song? What?
For most of this film, I was horrified and traumatized. It’s visually upsetting. In the climax however, a few killer songs and a few standout actors redeemed the movie just a tad, saving this from the lowest ranking I can offer. You might be curious, but I’d wait to see this movie so you’re not rewarding bad behavior.