REVIEW: Cats (2020)
Spoiler-Free Review of Cats the Movie. So where do I begin with the meowdness that is, Cats?
Let me start out by saying that, for someone who is a huge fan of musicals, I find this movie adaptation of the stageplay of the same title by Andrew Lloyd Webber as a “glaring disappointment.” (“Glaring” also actually refers to a group of cats uncertain of each other). TBH, I don’t wanna get stuck in an internet echo chamber where critics are having the time of their lives lambasting this film. Instead, I would like to share a couple of points on why I wasn’t impressed with the said movie, and to balance it out, I’ll also note a few things that I like about it.
For those who do not know what Cats is and what it’s all about, this classic Broadway musical was based on T.S. Eliot’s book of poems, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Webber was a huge fan of the said book and so he turned these poems into songs. Because the source material is made up of poems, Cats doesn’t have a strong plot to it, and is entirely sung through, with a big chunk of the story interpreted through dance.
The story presents us with a group of cats called the “Jellicle Cats,” who all gather together for an annual ball, to pick out which cat from their tribe will be reborn to a new Jellicle life, and ascend to the Heaviside Layer – which is the cat equivalent to Heaven.
It starts out with Victoria, (Francesca Hayward) a young cat thrown into a world she doesn’t understand, where she finds herself in a junkyard full of cats, who introduced themselves one by one in a song, telling a story about their lives. Each cat had a moment in the spotlight – there’s the chubby ginger cat, Jennyanydots (played by Rebel Wilson), who is lazy during the day, but gets more active during the night, running around the house eating cockroaches and mice; then, there’s the old theater cat, Gus (played by Ian McKellen); and then, there’s Bustopher Jones (James Corden), an enormous cat who actually belongs to the upper class, but is nevertheless friendly to the street cats; and then we got Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), a young tuxedo cat who knows a few magic tricks; and there’s also Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), a hot, bad-ass cat who easily gets the attention of all the Jellicle female cats; then we also got Rumpleteazer (Naoimh Morgan) and Mungojerrie (Danny Collins) — two playful young cats who enjoy stealing food and other valuables; and Grizabella, the lonely old tabby cat who is constantly rejected by the other Jellicle cats because of her dark past as a sexual worker.
There’s also the railway cat, Skimbleshanks (Steven McRae); the guardian of the tribe, Munkustrap (Robert Fairchild); then there’s Old Deuteronomy, (Judi Dench), a sweet and loving senior cat, who is loved and highly respected by the Jellicle cat community; and of course, we have Macavity, (Idris Elba) the criminal cat who is always bound to defy the law, yet is expecting to be ascended to the Heaviside Layer.
Truth be told, if you’re going to watch Cats at the cinema, and you’re totally clueless as to what it’s all about, I bet you’ll be confused as to what is actually happening throughout the film, as there wasn’t any explanation of some sort about the whole thing. I myself had a bit of a difficulty figuring out what the “cats” were discussing about as their exchange of dialogues were mostly done in a song.
I’d also have to admit that I find some of the scenes a bit disturbing, weird, and awkward, that halfway through the film, I was already probably muttering out loud as to what Tom Hooper, was smoking when he directed this film. It felt like the scenes would most probably do well on stage performed rather than getting them reimagined on the big screen – what, with humans wearing furry coats and sneakers, pretending to be cats with smoothed out crotches, while also sporting sequined cat suits, and digitally made ears, fur, whiskers, and tails? No, thanks. We can actually manage without this remake.
Rebel Wilson and James Corden provided the much needed comic relief in this flick; however I wasn’t at all that too impressed with Corden’s, nor that of Taylor Swift’s acting. Seeing them act out their scenes felt like Corden performed even better in his skits in his TV show, while Swift’s acting looked more convincing in her music videos.
Hooper’s dizzying camera angles also gave me vertigo, which made me wish that he had realized just how important to make sustained shots of the beautiful ensemble choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler, but instead, Hooper would get so caught up at making the camera zoom in at other background fillers and solo dance-offs. That’s not how they do it in theater, Mr. Hooper. We’re actually here for the group dance. Sigh.
I also felt like some scenes were not even apt for the musical theme that’s playing in the background. A whimsical overture plays while a helpless cat gets brutally thrown and abandoned in a junkyard? Seems to me like Hooper was more lost than the cat, Victoria.
Also, I have noticed that there was an inconsistency with the scale of the cats vis-a-vis their art deco setting. There were scenes where the cats were as big as the backdrop doors; in the next scene, you’d see them as small animals frolicking under the table.
I guess I’ll just have to commend Idris Elba’s, Ian McKellen’s, and Laurie Davidson’s acting, and that of Jennifer Hudson’s superb singing. Their scenes were the only ones that have stirred emotions from most of the viewers, save for those with hand licking and nose booping, and those scenes with allusion to sex. Also, Francesca Hayward deserves to be praised for her natural acting skills and exceptional ballet dancing. For me, she is that ray of sunshine in this rather dull film.
There’s just so much to be said about Cats the Movie. I expected it to be as magical as they claimed it to be in their promotional videos but, alas, instead of falling steady on its feet, it fell flat and hard on a junkyard. One thing’s for sure though, older kids and probably a number of theater enthusiasts will enjoy and appreciate this film. If you’re a fan of musicals and enjoy theater, go ahead and watch this adaptation on the big screen. Otherwise, if you’re difficult to please, better stay at home, stream Cats 1982 Broadway musical performance on Youtube, and enjoy the show.
Cats is now playing in cinemas nationwide, as presented by Universal Pictures, with a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, and a PG rating for suggestive humor.