Happy New Year! After only 3 days, I decided to kick 2020 off with a very questionable trip to the cinema. I could have watched Jumaji or seen Star Wars for a forth time. But no. I bought tickets to see Cats.
To answer a few questions. No, I didn’t want to. However, I was just too intrigued. And yes, it is a very hard watch. Consider it a noble sacrifice. I went to see it so you lovely folks don’t have to. Having said that, if you did find joy in watching Cats I salute you, I really do.
So, what is Cats about? Well, I’m still not sure. To strip it down to its simplest form, Cats is about a bunch of cats taking part in a singing contest where the prize is being reincarnated. It’s X-Factor but with Cats.
If you’re familiar with the musical I think you’ll have a better time understanding the actual film but I struggled. There were a lot of… distractions. Before jumping into the actual review, check out the names of these cats:
- Bustopher Jones
- Old Deuteronomy
- Mr. Mistoffelees
It was hard to keep up with names like these being thrown around.
Unlike my other reviews, I’m going to get the positives out of the way and I really had to search for them. Victoria, the main character played by Francesca Hayward, is actually rather pleasant. Her dancing is elegant and very touching and her soft voice helps her project her innocent and naive personality. She is new to the streets of London and watching her experience the lifestyles of different cats not only builds her character but helps her realise what sort of cat she wants to be- a jellicle cat (more on that later).
The soundtrack is an odd one. I love a good musical, but I really struggled to work out what the songs were telling me. Apart from “Memory” which was definitely a highlight, but by no means close to Elaine Paige, I couldn’t really engage with any of the other songs. I felt many of the songs went on for too long and were incredibly repetitive. Having said that, I’m fairly certain “Memory” is a reasonably long song but it felt ridiculously short in this adaptation. “Memory” is one of my all time favourite musical songs but it didn’t have the spotlight it deserved.
There is a really great dance routine with Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat. But again, the song goes on for too long and the entire aesthetic just throws the song off.
That’s all I could muster. I’m sorry. I tried my best.
When the film started, I really wanted it to surprise me. It definitely did. When I read some of the reviews I was slightly skeptical. Could this really be that bad? or were people exaggerating?
To put it simply. I considered walking out very early on. It was bearable to begin with. While the CGI was even more noticeable than I had realised, the film was, so far, endurable. That all changed when Rebel Wilson appeared. Suddenly, Cats entered a new level of weird and I had had enough. The visuals plummeted further and the cat puns and slapstick humor were claw-ful… look what you made me do. If you don’t believe me, try and google what Cats did to Mice and Cockroaches. From that point on, the musical was very difficult to look at. I love an aesthetically pleasing film. I love to be blown away and taken to a believable world. This wasn’t the case. The scaling of the cats felt wrong in certain scenes and the actual visual representation of each cat was just constantly off.
Obviously the visuals of this movie have caused quite a commotion and there are many reasons why. The most obvious thing is that the cats don’t look like cats. Every cat has too many human features that pushes them more towards mutations rather than mysterious felines that prowl the streets. They have human toes, finger nails, human eyes, and a very human face. The faces are just slapped onto the badly rendered body and it looks as though the faces sometimes float, like they don’t quite fit on the head.
The original stage musical does a lot to avoid what this movie did. While I assume it is equally as weird and crazy, at least these characters actually looked more like cats. They have make-up which gives them a cat-like nose and the fur that they wear just gives them a more appealing look. In a world where we are suppose to believe that cats run the streets, Cats does everything to avoid making these cats believable. Prosthetics and make-up have come a long way so I refuse to believe that there was no way to make these actors look like cats instead of actors donning a dodgy Snapchat filter.
This is how the cats look in the musical. Less terrifying isn’t it?
What doesn’t help either is how everything else looks. Since these characters have been scaled down, the backgrounds have to be scaled up and this was mostly done digitally- with the odd prop here and there. A lot of the backgrounds in the film just look very fake and it takes you out of the moment because you are trying to juggle multiple things. You are trying to make sense of the story, the characters, the visuals, and on top of all that, you now have a world that doesn’t appear real.
While this is no comparison, it reminds me of the criticisms surrounding The Hobbit. The digitally created Middle-Earth still looked great but you could tell that it wasn’t real. The way characters moved, interacted and the way environments reacted took audiences out of the film and the sense of realism was lost. The problem with Cats, is that there is no established realism- it’s just a very bizarre fever dream consisting of magic humanoid cats and a corner shop dedicated to just milk.
I tried to take this movie seriously. But it gave me nothing. I wanted to like the characters and I wanted to root for a character to be the “Jellicle Choice”. The problem was, despite the world Jellicle being uttered 100 times, I still didn’t know what a Jellicle was. It was just something you had to accept. The same can be applied to the introduction of magic, there is no reasoning behind it, magic just exists. Things just happened and you were forced to just roll with it. The best example of this is when Rebel Wilson’s character unzips her catsuit to reveal another cat suit- at this point I heard someone sigh behind me.
Going back to “Memory” which is sang by Grizabella, I’m suppose to feel sorry for this cat who has obviously had a very hard time. No one seems to like her and she’s run-down. However, I’m still not sure why the other cats hate her and what happened to her in the past. I’m pretty sure it was explained in a song but I didn’t get it. There were clear characters who you were meant to like. Judi Dench’s character even states that the Jellicle Choice is based on a cats soul and heart, but I wasn’t convinced by any of them nor was I attached to any of them. How could I be when they looked liked they were plucked from a nightmare. The Jellicle Choise is fairly obvious but you aren’t given enough reasons to care.
Cats is a strange and messy disaster that is full of talented people. However, the overwhelming amount of problems overshadow the cast entirely. The combination of bad visual effects that push this movie back to the early 2000s and a story that is unbelievably mad makes for an uncomfortable and soul crushing viewing. While the singing and dancing are by no means bad, they aren’t enough to erase the fact that multiple people thought this would be a good idea. As you sit and begin to adjust to the horrific walking cats, the film will then say “if you thought these cats looked bad, check this out”.
Putting this film in an animated format, whether it was the Disney style or a style reminiscent of How To Train Your Dragon, really would have saved this musical adaptation. Not only would it have prevented people from watching cats walk on 2 legs in converses (yes) but they could have experimented with the animation style and expanded on the magical aspect that just appears. It really would have solved many of the issues that plague this movie. But, it is what it is. Unfortunately, despite it’s disastrous run in the box office with only $57 million, we won’t be forgetting or forgiving Cats anytime soon.
James Lister is a University student in the UK, currently undertaking his Masters degree in Media & Communication. He has a strong passion for everything Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and Anime related.