CATS / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: TOM HOOPER / SCREENPLAY: LEE HALL, TOM HOOPER / STARRING: FRANCESCA HAYWARD, JUDI DENCH, LAURIE DAVIDSON, JASON DERULO, NAOIMH MORGAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Jellicle cats go to the Jellicle ball in this adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit stage musical. Les Miserables and Into the Woods director Tom Hooper helms this big-screen reworking, which transplants human faces and performances onto humanoid yet feline bodies. If you thought that Aladdin’s Will Smith Genie or Sonic the Hedgehog were the most troubling thing you’d see in 2019… hoo, boy, you didn’t see Cats.
Ridiculed from the first trailer onwards, this finished product will do little to win over those who mocked. Impressive as the CGI fluff and fur may be, everything else makes for the stuff of nightmares. Distinctly human features blob around inside heads composed of photo-realistic whiskers, fur, and kitty ears - like sentient porridge or tormented human souls screaming for help within their own kitty Hell. The Cats rum-tum-tug their disturbingly phallic tails about and prance around on human bare feet, and someone even forgot to edit out poor Dame Judy’s wedding ring.
As per the stage version, the story is largely formless, with the cats vying for first place at the Jellicle Ball, where Dame Judy Dench’s Old Deuteronomy will reward the winner – her Jellicle Choice – with a spot in the Heavyside Lair, and, ultimately, reincarnation. The story isn’t so important, though, even if Hooper does attempt to structure it a bit, with the revised machinations of Idris Elba’s worryingly sexy Macavity.
Gamely, Hooper’s cast all do their best, from the tone-deaf (Rebel Wilson, Ray Winstone) to the earnest (Jason Derulo, James Corden) all the way through to those trying a little too hard (Jennifer Hudson). The iconic songs are all there, and even if some struggle to do them justice, everyone is firing on all cylinders. Too frequently, the bizarre CGI gets in the way of real emotion, but it works to a crescendo anyway, in the one-two punch of Magical Mister Mistoffelees and, of course, Memories.
This adaptation is going to do nothing to deter those who misunderstand or dislike Webber’s Cats and, likewise, those who loved the musical won’t be too put off by what has been created here. It’s a weird and creepy surrealist nightmare, like A Clockwork Orange meets Babe: Pig in the City. The formlessness and wacky flights of whimsy were always the point of Cats – and there’s nothing any adaptation could have done to change that, short of starting the whole thing over from scratch. The CGI is less excusable, but horror fans and those who enjoy the wrong-headed and the bizarre should get a kick from it nevertheless.
In that respect, Cats is review-proof. As Cats has always done, it marches to the beat of its own drum – unconcerned with trivial things like structure, tone or coherence. Cats is as Cats does, regardless of whether you like it or not.
Expected Rating: 4 out of 10