When it comes to stage musical to film adaptations, there have been some questionable choices made. Sometimes they work out creating underground cult classics such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and sometimes they fail stupendously, like Will Smith’s fevered idea to drag the story of Annie, quite literally kicking and screaming, into the modern day. There is an art in adapting one medium for another and when it comes to Broadway musicals, there’s really no difference. Sometimes changes have to be made, songs need to be cut and sometimes a whole narrative has to be devised for the cinematic vision, but when it comes to the recently released Cats, it seems that the only effort made was adding a new (and pointless) song and casting an ensemble cast of actors whose singing ranges from diva to dying rat. Yep, this film was not good.
From the moment the film starts the confusion ensues and if that isn’t a sign of things to come then what is? The movie opens on shots of 1930’s like London, where a group of humanoid cats stalk a passing car. It is revealed that within the car there is a young cat about to be abandoned by the disgusted driver and it is through this sequence that we meet our POV character Victoria, a kitten searching for a home. And although there is nothing wrong with this set up, it is all back-tracked by the iconic Cats overture, so already we see a split in terms of tone and aesthetic. And believe me, the problems only continue from there.
After an actually pretty good rendition of ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, the film introduces us to Rebel Wilson in the role of ‘The Gumbie Cat’ and it becomes horribly clear that not only can the Australian comedian not sing, but she also doesn’t have the star power or skill to make this role work. So what we are treated to is a nightmare-inducing sequence of mice with children’s faces (yes, I know!) And tap-dancing cockroaches rendered in dodgy CGI. And it was from then on that I knew that this movie would continue to fail and disintegrate, like the sand one may find in the bottom of a kitty litter tray.
All of this is also is being supposedly shown to us through the eyes of the young Victoria, a character who’s primarily role in the stage show is to dance and be the only white cat on stage, making her appearance striking when necessary. But the film doesn’t seem to understand the difference between seeing something from a character’s eye or just having the character be in every single musical number. We don’t see this world through Victoria, we see it as we see most films, as the general, detached audience. There is nothing here to convey Victoria as the main character other than her presence and additional song. Which is dropped into the movie, literally out of nowhere. Although I have no qualms with the actual song in terms of music and lyrics, it still serves no purpose but to try and give the movie an identity outside of the iconic stage show. But it feels hollow, like one of those new songs that is horribly added to the newest Disney remake.
The decision to also cast an unknown in the role of Victoria was brave, for although Francesca Hayward does a nice job, she isn’t the kind of actress who can hold your attention. The fact that she is a trained ballerina actually shines through more, her talent for dance greatly eclipsing her vocals and acting. Beyond her the film boasts quite the star-studded ensemble of Hollywood and musical talent. Judi Dench walks through her lines and scenes and probably sits quite comfortably at home knowing she got a pay check for basically nothing. While on the other end of the spectrum you have wisened actor Ian McKellen, as Gus the Theatre Cat, giving a strong performance, but ultimately one that falls into the background due to the simple nature of the show. Then we have horrific standouts in the form of James Corden, who is in this movie playing himself once again. And Jason Derulo as The Rum Tum Tugger, a character who is known to have a substantial presence in the show, but who sadly is relegated to an extra for most of the movie. I’m guessing Derulo’s lack of acting know-how greatly affected this decision because the lack of Tugger will be noticed by any major fan of the show. But the worst actor award has to go to Idris Elba as a poorly conceived Macavity, who serves as the primary antagonist of the film. Elba better start seeking a new agent or before long his career will be in the gutter, and will only be saved by the inevitable return of Luther (it’ll so happen). Jennifer Hudson does steal the show somewhat, although once again her character doesn’t have the time to really develop. Strange seeing as the show feels more concluded that this film ever does.
The music of course is amazing. The songs of Cats have always held a timeless quality to them and that still resonates here. But the music was always going to be good so I was never worried about that. The dancing is also impressive even though there are some shots where the cats’ CGI feet don’t gel with the set, making it look like they’re floating in some scenes. And of course, we need to talk about the look of the cats, which is still pretty bad. By the end of the film it seems that the creative team has simply given up, with the overall effects taking on a blurry and unfinished quality. There was a way to turn this musical into a film but it wasn’t like this.
So what we have here is a film that simply falls apart from beginning to end. The casting choices are questionable and the overall narrative and aesthetic is as confusing as the sight of an everyday cat being able to lick every inch of its body. The film fails on a lot of levels, but I guess some people will get a kick out of it. But I know that I definitely don’t believe.