Okay, before we begin, I need to get something off my chest. As stated on this blog many times in the past, I am a true bastard for a musical, but I must admit that Cats is something that I have never been able to get my head around. I’ve seen it on stage and I’ve seen the 1998 direct to video filmed version many, and besides loving the obviously next level Memory and enjoying a couple of other numbers, the show as a whole has always been just a bit too mad and a bit too baffling.
This big screen adaptation was always something that I was going to see, but given the absolutely resounding wave of negativity upon its release, I can’t deny that my excitement was purely that of wanting to see just how much of a car crash had really been achieved.
And here’s the most disappointing thing of all. Cats isn’t even the earth shattering, record breaking disaster that some have painted it as, it’s just really, really, REALLY boring. Already battling with a batshit premise, the film tells the story of a group of ‘Jellicle’ cats, who assemble for a ball at which one successful contender will be chosen to ascend to the sky and be given a new life.
The narrative advances as a repetitive procession of each significant cat introducing themselves with a song. Just like any musical, some numbers are stronger than others, with the aforementioned Memory being the clear standout. The film’s new awards season song, penned by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber, is genuinely impressive and somehow manages to outshine many of the much loved show tunes like Macavity: The Mystery Cat, Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat and Mr. Mistoffelees. To me, that’s a clear indicator that this big screen version of Cats does not do any kind of justice to its wildly successful source material, and that is coming from someone who isn’t the biggest fan of it to start with!
And mate, I haven’t even MENTIONED the visual effects yet…
The inescapable fact of the matter is that every single visual element of this film is completely baffling, completely distracting, and completely ugly. I actually can’t believe this is a finished product that was approved at multiple levels of authority. Some cats wearing clothes, some completely ‘naked’, all with human hands and all with human noses with whiskers coming out of them. The mind absolutely boggles. And the scale, the SCALE OF THE THING. From one scene to the next, there are cats stood next to bicycles that look ten stories high, cats wearing human rings as bracelets, cats eating cockroaches like they are French fries. What fucking size is anything supposed to be? It’s actually offensive to me that the filmmakers didn’t spend more time trying to bring some sort of consistency to this.
It’s barely worth commenting on the array of bonafide stars that have given their time to this project. They know what they’ve done. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the likes of Rebel Wilson, James Corden and Idris Elba are going to have this as a stain on their records forever. For some reason, actual legends Judi Dench and Ian McKellen thought this would be a good idea, and whilst they both manage to bring a smidge of gravitas to their respective roles, it all still feels very much beneath them.
Shout out also to Taylor Swift, who was tasked with the responsibility of singing Macavity, and who did a much more theatrically enjoyable job than I imagined she would. One of the more sonically satisfying performances in the film to be fair.
I’m very aware that it is simply down to the fact that she is blessed with the best song in the entire film, but I will extend an olive branch to Jennifer Hudson for her portrayal of Grizabella the Glamour Cat. Memory is the only song most people know from Cats for a reason, it’s in a tier of its own compared to the others, and Hudson smashes the hell out of it in the same way that she smashed the hell out of everything that came her way in Dreamgirls. One of the thousand problems is, however, that the film takes an AGE to get there, and then misses its opportunity to go out on a high by continuing for another ghastly ten or so minutes after that rightful climax.
Here’s the thing, Cats has always been mad, but a show does not become the fourth longest running on Broadway and the sixth longest running in the West End out of pure luck. Something works on the stage that absolutely did NOT work on the big screen. It may well be a case of a phenomenon that could never have been translated, but the horrendous visuals and all around bad execution of this particular attempt really are a joke. This is a film with a heavily stacked A list cast, helmed by a literal Oscar winning director. I’m astounded by how wrong they got this one. Utterly astounded.