“Cats” stars James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, and Francesca Hayward. Released on December 20, 2019, the film follows a tribe of cats known as the “Jellicles”.
The film is directed by Tom Hooper, who also directed films such as “Red Dust”, “The King’s Speech”, “Les Miserables”, and “The Danish Girl”. It is based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical of the same name, and it is based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. Looks like someone had the balls to come out on the same day as “Star Wars”, or should I say “hair balls”? Just like last year and the year before that, a musical film is making its debut during the holiday season. This time, it’s a musical about humanoid cats. I guess they couldn’t afford to use actual cats for the film, so they have to rely on human actors in their computer-generated cat costumes instead. I’m pretty much one of the very few people who have not seen the stage musical that the film is based on, but I am familiar with its director Tom Hooper. This is Hooper’s second time directing a musical film following his film adaptation of “Les Miserables” back in 2012, which I thought was excellent by the way, so it would be interesting to see if he can hit the right notes again with this one. Not a lot of people were excited for the film, with many of them calling it out for its uncanny mixture of live-action and CGI on the cats. I’ll get to that part later on, but first, let’s see if this latest musical film is good enough for me to recommend it.
Taking place in London, the story follows a white cat named Victoria (Hayward), who has been abandoned on the streets for some reason. She then encounters the “Jellicles”, a group of cats that is known for their sexualized cat-like dancing that would put the dancers from “Dirty Dancing” to shame. She is invited to take part in a competition called the “Jellicle Choice” in which they compete with one another through song and dance and the tribe’s leader, Old Deuteronomy (Dench), decides which cat will go to the Heaviside Layer and undergo reincarnation. That’s it. That’s the entire plot. It’s just “American Idol”, but with humanoid cats. I’ve seen a lot of strange films that left me feeling speechless, but this film is quite possibly the most strangest thing I have ever witnessed on the big screen. I don’t know if there’s anything that could top this one. But is that a good thing or a bad thing in terms of its quality? Honestly, it would depend on your expectations. If you go into this film expecting it to be more than just a weird hallucination that you would get when you’re overdosed with drugs (or in this case, catnip), you’ll wind up having a hissy fit on your way out. If you’re expecting it to be a weirdly-attractive wet dream that comes from the mind of a cat lady, you might be somewhat satisfied with the end result. From my perspective, “Cats” somehow works as a PG-rated fantasy dream in terms of the set designs and its unusual visuals, but compared to the other musical films from the past, it lacks a special soul in its storytelling to match its music and its talented cast. As I mentioned before, all these characters do in the film is sing, dance, and take part in a competition where the winner goes to the great beyond and comes back in the next life. It never took the time to fully explore the characters and their personalities, especially Victoria. Some of them were just there to show off their singing and dancing talents, while others were there to make them feel important to the story despite the fact that they’re not convincing enough to earn that importance. If the narrative is like this in the musical, then I would say it’s fine when it comes to translating it from musical to film, but since I’m reviewing it as its own film, I’m gonna have to say that the story was pretty underwhelming and almost non-existent. There were also some pacing issues that may become troublesome for young kids, especially those who haven’t seen the musical. Part of that might be due to the lack of grandness in its visual flair, especially from some of the musical numbers. The music sequences were pretty enjoyable, especially the “Beautiful Ghosts” sequence and the “Macavity” sequence by Taylor Swift, but they didn’t quite pop out as much as I thought they would. Aside from those icky flaws, I was okay with everything else, including the cast. Francesca Hayward made her first on-screen debut as Victoria, the main character of the film. Hayward is a professional ballerina and a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet in London. Her dancing skills and singing voice were undoubtedly remarkable, but her performance could use some improvement. It’s not bad, but I wouldn’t say it’s award-worthy. James Corden and Rebel Wilson both serve as comic relief as Bustopher Jones and Jennyanydots respectively. They’re all right for the most part despite their humorous moments falling a bit flat at times. Instead of relying on actual costumes and makeup, the film uses CGI to transform the live-action actors into human-like cats as well as the mice and cockroaches during the one music sequence, which I thought looked unintentionally hilarious. I’m not kidding, I was seriously laughing my lungs out when I first saw what they did to the mice. I didn’t think it was possible that it couldn’t get much weirder than humanoid cats, but the film managed to prove me wrong. That moment right there is now in my list of cures for my depression. Anyway, the CGI effects for the characters were the most common criticism that has been plaguing this film, with most of the people hating the film just because the cat designs are giving them nightmares or something. I’m actually fine with how the cats were portrayed, although I did get weirded out by the mice and the cockroaches. They’re pretty much what I expected them to look like based on what I read about the source material. I think if they went with the practical costumes or make the film fully animated instead, the backlash wouldn’t have been so severe, but hey, what can you do? There were some visual effects that looked a bit lazy at times, especially with how they edit certain scenes, but other than that, they’re nice to look at. The dance choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler was also quite impressive as it is one of the only things that kept the nifty musical numbers from landing head first into the litter box. The other thing being the songs. It’s swift, elegant, and oddly whimsical. They dance like humans, yet they behave and move like cats. Yeah, it’s so flipping weird.
Overall, Tom Hooper’s take on “Cats” is undoubtedly high on catnip, but it isn’t “purr-fect” enough to convince everybody to take this bizarre trip. Great, now I’m starting to use those dumb cat puns in my review. The cast was fine in their roles and the musical sequences were mildly entertaining due to the choreography and some passable visuals. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to scratch their way out of the film’s mediocre plot and underwhelming characters. It’s funny that I had no problems watching this film despite being disappointed with the end result while the rest of the world were losing their minds over the cat designs and its concept. Another sign that people have nothing better to do other than complain about a film. So sad. If you like the musical and you happen to like this film more than I did, then hey, good for you. Don’t let anyone from social media treat you like garbage for liking it. As someone who hasn’t watched the musical, this film isn’t flat-out terrible, but it could’ve done a lot more to prove the naysayers wrong.