Ever since the trailers for Tom Hooper’s Cats released, they have been put under much scrutiny given the sheer absurdity on show in their handful of minutes. So you can imagine just how wild the whole, 113-minute feature is.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage production in the 80s was quite an unparalleled theatrical work for the time that led it to the acclaim it went on to receive. Trying to rekindle that for his adaptation, Hooper’s take brings in a new kind of motion capture – “advanced fur technology” as its known – to turn his starry ensemble into a hybrid between human and feline. The result has played as the butt of a joke for a while now, paving the way to internet memeage so it’s easy to get caught up in it all and quickly bash the $73-million cinematic endeavour. But the thing is, there’s very little about Cats that is actually redeeming. It really is as bad as you’d expect – a plotless, nightmarish acid trip gone wrong that is hilarious and unsettling all at the same time.
The story, what little there is, follows a group of Jellicle Cats as they each introduce themselves via song for Judi Dench’s head cat to judge. The winner, whom she chooses at the end of the night, is gifted the opportunity at a new life. And that’s really it; at almost 2 hours, the majority of the film is just one cat singing a song about who they are before the next comes on and does the same – these cats played by a handful of recognisable names, the likes of Ian McKellan, Rebel Wilson, Idris Elba, James Corden, Taylor Swift, and even Jason Derulo (to name a few). There’s little characterisation and every cat is expressionless and horny all the time. So the novelty of the singing cats quickly wears off.
The CGI is atrocious; the cast look nothing like cats, obviously. But the way they’ve been grafted onto these feline bodies just looks bizarre – and, quite frankly, creepy. The way they move; how they interact with one another (which is also uncomfortably sexual, I should say); none of it works or even feels real. It’s just weird. Each number is equally as nightmarish as the next – a particularly haunting sequence involves Wilson’s cat eating cockroaches, with human faces, as they scream and beg for her to spare them… The film is rated U, might I add. Then you have Idris Elba with magical powers trying to sabotage the competition for a reason we never find out in an arc that goes nowhere. Some cats have clothes, others don’t.
Honestly, you know what to expect from Cats at this point. It’s exactly what the trailers promised – the most absurd, unusual cinematic event of the year. If there’s a positive to be found, it’s that the songs are certainly performed capably. When you have musical talent like Derulo and Swift involved and on singing duties, that much is a given. I can’t say I’m hugely familiar with the musical and I wasn’t aware of the songs prior to seeing the film; if you’re a fan, you’ll get to see them done in a live-action manner of sorts. But if, like me, you’re just going in to see a movie…
I can’t even say this is one. It’s devoid of plot, full of paper-thin characters with no sense of direction whatsoever. The CGI is hideous, the cats are constantly terrifying and the whole thing is surreal because you’re sort of watching it in awe of the fact it’s even real. What is this? How did we get here? Why is Rebel Wilson constantly ripping her fur off? Is that Jason Derulo stroking someone’s foot? Am I going to have nightmares? I’d answer all these questions but I’m as baffled as you are. This is the kind of film… Well, you have to see it to believe it. But tread lightly. Once you see Cats (2019), you can’t unsee it.
Cats is now on general release.