Cats – Is It Really That Bad?

Year: 2019
Runtime: 1h 49m
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: Tom Hooper, Lee Hall, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Poems by T.S. Eliot
Starring: Francesca Hayward, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson

By Caz Armstrong

By now we’ve all seen the utterly disastrous reviews of Tom Hooper’s adaptation of “Cats” (2019). Apparently somewhere between a psychedelic fever dream assault on the eyeballs, and one of the most original and compelling films of the decade.

It has its problems but I don’t think it’s deserving of the zero stars it’s been receiving. There are a number of films I liked much less this year.

The “story” that loosely holds the songs together is that the cat Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) is about to choose which cat should be reborn into a happy new life in the Heaviside Layer. As the cats vie for the position Macavity (Idris Elba) attempts to do away with the competition.
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Criticism – There is no plot
Response – There is a plot, it’s just wafer-thin. But it’s not supposed to have a strong plot.

The source material is a series of poems “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot, published in 1939. The poems are odes to various kinds of cats and are unrelated. It was adapted into a stage musical in 1981 with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the loose plot was inserted.

If people can continue to see the stage show after almost 40 years why can’t they get on board with this adaptation’s lack of solid narrative? Perhaps because it isn’t a performance of songs for their own sake. It’s presented as though it’s a story. Plus some of the singing is sub-par.

Either way, it’s not supposed to be a narrative journey.

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Criticism  – The effects are terrible
Response – Yes, some of the effects are obviously unfinished*. Some are ok though.

The director Tom Hooper admitted to some forgot-to-start-the-assignment cramming before release. Some parts are hilariously terrible, with faces that don’t match the bodies, backgrounds that are lit completely differently to the characters in the foreground, and elements that look like ‘90s computer game graphics.

But it isn’t terrible in its entirety. I liked the big bold sets of the milk bar and the Egyptian theatre. A lot was being asked of the powers of my imagination but if you can look for the good parts you will definitely find some.

The shop names gave me a giggle at least. Like something out of an Aardman Animation film, and they’re all feline related.
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Criticism – It’s just creepy and bizarre
Response – I guess it is. Is that entirely bad though?

At one end of the scale, they could have just had humans in leotards like the stage show. At the other end is a Lion King 2019-esqe rendering of actual singing cats. The filmmakers would have been better to land about 20% to the left of where they did.

If you can see this as humans pretending to be cats (which would still be weird) rather than cats with human faces it works better. Their ears did add to their expressiveness but the fur and whiskers on their faces were weirdly gross looking.
As for why some cats have clothes and shoes while others are naked I don’t know.

Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson) unzipping her fur to reveal clothes over her real fur was … unexpected.

Macavity was one of the strangest when he loses his fur coat (whose fur was it?) His furry body was the same colour as his skin tone with the contours of his body clearly visible. So it was uncomfortably like watching a naked sexless Elba.

Yes, some bits push the bizarreness into creepiness, especially for something with a child-friendly rating. But I wouldn’t say it’s actually disturbing.

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“Cats” is a wild ride. It’s big and bold and does what it says on the tin. But if you just go into it expecting feline mayhem for the sake of a spectacle you won’t be disappointed. I’m not having nightmares but don’t blame me if you do.

3 stars

* I saw the film a couple of days after its general release in the UK. At the time of writing it has been reported that a “fixed” version is being rolled out to cinemas.

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