PLOT: Honestly I have no idea. According to Universal, “over the course of a single night, a tribe of cats called the Jellicles make what is known as ‘the Jellicle choice’ and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.” I mean, I guess that sounds about right…
REVIEW: CATS is getting trashed by critics nationwide, with about 99.9% of them trying to find new cat-puns to work into their pans, calling it a “purr-fect” disaster, or a “cat-tastrophe”, and to be sure I’m not saying this is “meow-sterpiece” or anything like that but I do think some of the critics are lying to themselves. In no way is this a good movie but it’s an utterly fascinating acid trip of a film that no doubt will become a cult classic in years to come. Everyone panning it is relishing the opportunity proving that even if they know intellectually that it’s not a good movie, they still found it compelling. For what it is, CATS could never be accused of being boring.
Director Tom Hooper’s made a slavishly faithful adaptation of the play (at least according to my girlfriend, Laura, who it turns out is a closet “Cats” superfan – you think you know someone) with only a few new additions, including a bigger role for the cat Victoria (Francesca Hayward in a role Laura called “unnecessary” as the audience doesn’t need a cat surrogate to relate to). There are a few new songs, which are easy to spot because they’re the ones that don’t sound like 80’s cocaine nonsense, but the trashiness of the whole thing is a large part of its charm.
Again, this is not a good movie. But it’s also totally watchable and full of striking imagery you won’t be able to forget, such as Idris Elba removing his cat coat to resemble a naked version of himself only minus genitals and with a tail, or Dame Judi Dench wearing a fur coat that I assume is made of the pelt of her many cat adversaries. Yes, you won’t be able to forget these images, as much as you may want to.
Hooper went all in, and no one could ever accuse him of not swinging for the fences. Making a CGI animated version of this movie would have been the way in, but instead, he’s opted to recreate the stage experience by having humanoid nightmare cats as our leads. Most of the cats are unknowns, and truth be told had the entire cast been this way the movie would have been easier to take. Whenever a cat is too recognizable (such as having Ray Winstone and Ian McKellen show up) it takes you out of the movie.
The movie takes place over a single night centered around what seems to be a kind of cat-rapture, with the opportunity to be the “Jellicle choice” meaning you have to win what seems to be a cat talent show, complete with a cat magician (meow-gician?). Plus lots of singing. We hear from all kinds of cats, including a train cat in a show-stopper of a number (Laura says there were originally several more, including a pirate cat, who’s been neutered out of the film). Idris Elba’s villainous Macavity wants to be the Jellicle choice, but just can’t sing, so he’s eliminating his competition, including Rebel Wilson as a lazy house cat, and James Corden as a chubby alley cat, “Bustopher Jones”.
There’s both a lot going on here and virtually nothing, and it must be said, Hooper’s made a garish, nightmarish looking film, but again, this seems to be right in line with the musical. The songs are incredibly silly, but also frighteningly catchy (I woke with a tune about Jellicle cats in my head). I doubt any will hit the Billboard charts, with even Taylor Swift’s number about Macavity being more Broadway in that talk-singing way than pop, but they get in your head and stay there.
In the end, I truly have no idea what to rate CATS. Intellectually I know this is bad (right?), yet I still found myself entertained by it so I can’t give it an all-out pan, can I? I’ll say this – if you liked the show you’ll like this. Also, if you have a taste for the “awfully good” (Jason Adams and Jesse Shade will have a field day with this one) check it out. I for one can’t wait for the inevitable “How Did This Get Made?”