I have never seen the stage version of Cats and I barely know anything about it in general, so I was going into Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the classic musical relatively blind. I know the play is quite legendary, having won numerous awards throughout the years. I didn’t know the plot or characters or any of the songs, except “Memory”, of course, though I wasn’t aware that song was Cats until well beyond after I heard it.
Even not knowing anything about Cats, I have no idea what to do with Hooper’s film. This is genuinely one of the strangest movies I have ever seen and definitely the strangest of 2019. I was in complete awe of what I was watching on screen. Some of it was in horror, some of it was pure bliss, and some of it made me feel like I was on drugs, and some made me wish I had taken many drugs before entering my screening. This move might be a mess, but it is far boring.
Here’s the gist of what Cats is about. A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life. What any of this means I am still trying to figure it out. I don’t know what a Jellicle is, but they say it so many times throughout the movie that if I was playing a drinking game with that word and had to drink every time they said it, I would have died of alcohol poisoning in hour one. There are a ton of Jellicle cats and each one gets their own song to tell us who they are and what they do and then one of them ends up winning this competition to got the Heaviside Layer, which apparently is the cat equivalent of Heaven, where the cats are reborn as a younger, hotter cat. That’s it. That’s Cats. There isn’t much to it and about 99% of the film is sung, which allows a lot of the songs to merge together and become forgettable. “Memory” is the big ballad at the end of the film and while a decent song, the moment is only okay. My favorite song in the film belongs to the noir-inspired, catnip jam “Macavity” from Taylor Swift and Idris Elba and “Bustopher Jones”, in which James Corden sings an entire song about how fat he is and how much he likes food. All of this is very strange to watch on the big screen and I can only imagine any form of this play would be weird to watch, stage or screen.
Cats boasts an incredible ensemble, featuring Oscar winners, singers, and up-and-comers, all donning CGI fur and whiskers. Actors like Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson, and Jennifer Hudson share the screen alongside the likes of Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, James Corden, and new-comer Francesca Hayward to bring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s play to life. None of the performances are very good and some border abysmal. Dench looks like she sleep walked on set, McKellen is doing all sorts of nonsense, and Elba tries his best to have a ball, but you can tell this film is killing him inside. I enjoyed James Corden, who’s briefly in the film, but got a number of laughs.
This movie definitely has a ton of life to it, with tons of wild colors, giant sets, and the look of the cats. The choice to use CGI fur on everyone and stray away from actual costumes and make-up was a bold decision, though not the right one. I commend Hooper for wanting to try something new, but real make-up and costumes wouldn’t have looked as weird.
The problem with the film Cats isn’t the filmmaking or the performances or the weird CGI, though those do not help. The real problem is the source material. Cats is crazy, yet it is also very thin and regardless of how this is viewed, it would still be very thin and not feature much more than theatrics and unremarkable songs. I am astonished the original Broadway run was so popular and won so many awards because there is nothing here that is even close to interesting. Adapting this wild and crazy play into a movie was never going to be great, so what were our expectations?
Tom Hooper’s Cats will be laughed at for the rest of 2019 and the first couple months of the new decade. How this film will be appreciated in the future is if it is given the Rocky Horror Picture Show treatment and become a midnight madness film. Have sing-a-longs at midnight with people belting out the songs as the come along while being severely intoxicated or on drugs. These types of showings would allow people to appreciate just how strange, stupid, yet weirdly entertaining Cats is.
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