Cat-calls categorically deserved
Cats doesn’t make a great transition from stage to screen
PERHAPS the strangest cinematic release of 2019, just the trailer for Cats baffled audiences back in July when it was released. Many were apprehensive after seeing the strange creatures before their eyes, despite the popularity and success of the West End musical upon which it is based. But the nightmarish creations that dominate director Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Cats are the first of many glaring issues, mistakes and bizarre choices that culminate in his creation being one of the worst films of the year.
The choice to plaster the actors’ faces on to strange cat-human hybrids is such a strong yet disturbing visual statement that it mars the film from the very beginning to its very end. The time you’re not spending getting annoyed by the songs, frustratingly working out the point of the plot or wondering why so many good actors appear in such an awful film, you’re just looking at the ‘cats’ and thinking, who the hell approved that?
This central visual concept which is shockingly peculiar isn’t even presented well. Although the visual effects look commendable at first, there are countless instances when the faces don’t correctly sync up with their bodies, another factor that totally pulls you from the confusing feline world Hooper is trying to create.
This brings us on to the plot, which just feels pointless. Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is abandoned by her owner in the streets of London. She is found by a group of alley cats who are part of the Jellicle Tribe, led by Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench). These cats explain to her that tonight one of their tribe will be chosen to go to Heaviside Layer, where they will get the chance to embark on a new life.
We then follow this gang of ‘cats’ as we bounce from one character to the other, witnessing Victoria gawping at each of them in turn (with an open-mouthed emotionless expression that she maintains throughout the entire movie) as they perform songs that they hope will win over Old Deuteronomy’s affection. This is the biggest issue with the film’s narrative. Instead of trying to develop the various ‘cats’ and establish some sort of arc for Victoria, all the film does is flip-flop between these individuals and their songs before we barely, if at all, see them pop up in the film again.
Admittedly, I am not a fan of musicals, so this style of narrative is not my normal cup of tea, but even Les Misérables, also directed by Hooper, has an engrossing story, with interesting characters that I really enjoy. Les Mis uses its songs to build upon its story; Cats is the complete opposite. The narrative is based around showing off the songs, which results in a rushed plot that lacks substance.
If you’re a fan of the songs from the musical, you probably will have a half-decent time watching this film. I found nearly all of them to be forgettable and annoying, the only stand-out numbers being the iconic Memory, performed beautifully by Jennifer Hudson, and the sweet Gus The Theatre Cat sung by Ian McKellen. One noticeable aspect of the songs is the poor quality of the backing tracks, with most of them sounding like they should belong on a cheap children’s karaoke CD rather than a $100m film.
On top of all these issues, the film is shot and edited very poorly. The huge number of close-ups forces you to study in detail the weirdness of the characters and the shakiness of the camera movement is vertigo-inducing. The film often randomly cuts between different times and spaces, giving no indication as to where we are in this horrifying world of unfunny cat puns, scarily uncanny CGI and wasted acting talent. Cats deserves all the backlash it is getting. Although it can be said to
be an entertaining watch due to the risible absurdity of it all, in nearly all ways cinematic, it is a colossal failure.