‘Cats’ // Film Review: Talk About a Claw-ful Musical

The best kinds of adaptations of Broadway musicals are those that can be creative, contains a fascinating story, good music, and can be memorable enough entertaining for those who are fans of musicals. Past examples include, West Side StoryHairspray, and Dreamgirls have succeeded in being nearly better than their counterparts. But then you realize that not everything can translate perfectly to the big screen, and Cats, the latest musical to come out for the holiday season, is definitely one of those musicals that should’ve just stayed on stage. 

Based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit Broadway musical, which came from T. S. Eliot’s 1939 book of poetry entitled “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” Victoria (newcomer Francesca Hayward) is dumped in an alley where she is surrounded by “Jellicle” cats and spent one night on which one will ascend into a cat-like heaven and return reborn for a new life.

James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward in Cats (2019)

Opened 38 years ago and still in production today, Cats is one of the longest-running Broadway shows in history. The first time I heard of it was from a preview on my VHS tape of Barney’s Great Adventure (Truth) that was filmed as a direct-to-video musical of the stage play in 1998. I guess it freaked me out as a kid. Never seeing it in its entirety, all I know is that this is one of those love it or hate it type of musicals, that’s been around.

Hooper already did a musical for Universal Pictures that led to success in 2012’s Les Misérables, which wasn’t bad for a movie that contains a lot of singing and not much dialogue. The last time a movie based on Webber’s work was back in 2004 with The Phantom of the Opera. Was I one of those people thinking that this would work as a movie? Indeed, I did. Just over a year ago, I was thinking this sounded like a good idea for them to make a live-action musical of this. Then when the official trailer was released online in the summer, the internet lost their minds in thinking this was some kind of joke, including me. Did you know that we were supposed to finally get a movie based on Wicked and this took its place? Well, we were robbed of something that could’ve been better.

Talking about how terrible the motion-capture work here seems pointless since the trailer wasn’t an indicator. Nothing about these actors looking like a nightmare-ish version of cats is normal with this so-called “digital fur technology.” You look at the show and see that the performers are in cat costumes and makeup that are convincing and unique in the kind of way that you can buy into. They barely looked finished in the final product, and it’s very noticeable when they didn’t even CGI the human hands and feet. The biggest problem with it overall is that I can still see human faces that don’t come close to being a cat. It becomes a head-scratching process knowing that the budget for this was $100 million and they still couldn’t attempt to improve on the effects more. In what world did this make the shortlist for Best Visual Effects at the Oscars?
Because of that, it takes away from noticing the production design that shows things from a cat’s perspective or the choreography from Hamilton’s Andy Blankenbuehler that might be impressive enough to notice.

Danny Collins, Naoimh Morgan, and Francesca Hayward in Cats (2019)

Thinking about the plot of this movie, was there any resemblance of one? Certainly not. Hooper and co-writer Lee Hall (Rocketman) didn’t have a clue in what will make Cats worth it to those who aren’t familiar with the story and how making it into a movie would work. All this is just cats singing to see who’s the best and then it ends. I found it frustrating, and I even know how it all ends. They based this on poems, so that’s probably why there isn’t any real narrative. Hooper’s direction, also, wasn’t anything remotely special about it and didn’t know how to use his actors perfectly. Finding the tone must have been hard since it wants to be humorous and then two scenes later more dramatic. This is the same guy that won Best Director against David Fincher? 

This cast of good actors and those who aren’t that good didn’t seem right to be in this, and you feel bad for them being a part of this. The likes of Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy, Idris Elba as Macavity, Jason Derulo as Rum Tum Tugger, Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella, Sir Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat, Taylor Swift as Bombalurina, and Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots aren’t given good performances anywhere in here. James Cordon appearing in this as Bustopher Jones was easy to reason this would be horrible in the first place, and the comedy he provided with his musical number made me wonder how people think he’s funny when he isn’t. The comedic bits with either him or Wilson weren’t funny at all. Hayward wasn’t too bad as Victoria if I had to be the least bit honest. Swift doesn’t get enough screen time, and I wonder if they intended to make her sexy as a cat to make us become furries. I dearly hope not. Did I mention Ray Winstone shows up as a cat too?

Taylor Swift in Cats (2019)

As it comes to the music that’s been established with the musical, I found it baffling that there wasn’t any amount of energy. Listening to the soundtrack of the Broadway show, it sounds good. But once thinking about them more, mostly all the songs that are the cats singing about themselves and what they do. Examples include “Gus: The Theatre Cat,” “Old Deuteronomy,” and “The Rum Tum Tugger.” Being sung by other people now made me question if they’re still good. The musical numbers themselves don’t have any time in between when it one song and moving on to the next with no good transitions into them. The best song that’s the most popular is “Memory,” sung by Grizabella. Personally, I love that song, especially when it’s performed by Elaine Paige. The scene shows Hudson is trying her hardest, and I wasn’t emotionally moved in the same vein as her iconic scene in Dreamgirls. The newest song that’s included in the film is “Beautiful Ghosts,” co-written by Swift and Lloyd Webber, and Hayward performed it. It’s fine, but not going to remember it even though it somehow got nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes.

Worst of all, Cats was just boring to watch and not fun. When they got to the sixth song or whatever, I checked out and just looking around the auditorium to pass the time. That’s what you get when there’s no actual story and you don’t care about any of the careless characters. I’m the kind of guy that started to appreciate musicals more than others out there, and this is the one that ends the decade? Yikes!

I didn’t know what to expect when walking in. This was either going to be the most unintentional comedy of the year or the worst movie of the year. I walked about with the latter. This could end up becoming a guilty pleasure that you can watch drunk with your friends, but you’ll just feel your soul left your body wandering around until the end credits. Fans of this long-awaited adaptation might find some enjoyment, but there’s no way of defending or recommending this massive pile of cat turd. Nobody should sit through when there are better movies to spend your two hours on. What happened with Hooper as a director? He started the decade with a movie that won Best Picture (The King’s Speech), and he ends the decade with a movie that could get nominated for Worst Picture at the Razzies.

If it wasn’t clear enough, Cats is the worst musical adaptation these eyes have seen since the remake of Annie. This happens to be the most atrocious and boring musical that makes little sense, and I’m fairly familiar with the play itself. Wasted talents, distracting CGI, and uninspired direction from Mr. Hooper makes nobody wanting for more. Grade: F

3 thoughts on “‘Cats’ // Film Review: Talk About a Claw-ful Musical

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