Did us theater people try to warn the studio that this was going to be a disaster? Yes, especially after the first trailer released and we saw the terrifying cat CGI.
Did they listen? Nope…and so we ended up with “Cats,” the movie — and not the “Wicked” movie Universal Studios promised us back in 2016…
To no one’s surprise, “Cats” is one show that really does not work as a movie.
For those who may not know, “Cats” is based on a collection of cat-themed poems written by T.S. Eliot, called “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Andrew Lloyd Weber took the poems and put them to music.
“Cats” isn’t a typical musical, letting music and dance be more central ways of telling the story over a conventional, linear narrative. What connects the songs is more of a theme than a plot: Jellicle cats all singing for the chance to get a new life.
That means when it comes to the movie, there’s no solid plot to really connect the songs. Although the writers did try, throwing in the occasional dialogue to connect musical sequences and letting James Corden as Bustapher Jones ad-lib a bit in the middle of his song (“Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town”) — which, oof, took you out of the moment because it was pure James Corden and not at all in-character.
Such non-sequential songs work well in a stage production. But with films, you need an even somewhat linear storyline or plot — and because the songs of “Cats” are non-sequential, this made the movie feel disjointed.
Additionally, there are many moments in the musical where the show breaks the fourth wall. These were all cut in the film except for the last one, when Old Deuteronomy (Judy Dench) sings “The Ad-dressing of Cats.” This song is meant to be a final address to the audience. Suffice it to say, this made for a very awkward and weird ending to the movie.
Speaking of songs, I must say that “Beautiful Ghosts,” the new song written by Taylor Swift with Weber for the film, was actually good. I appreciated a song that helped develop Victoria (Francesca Hayward) as a character. Musically, this song matched the rest of “Cats,” although the lyrics did very much feel like a Taylor Swift song.
A couple of notes on the costumes:
I understand that in the musical, certain characters have signature costume pieces, like Skimbleshanks’ red pants. And it made sense to give Mr. Mistoffelees a sparkly jacket and top hat, since his character’s costume is typically sparkly and the top hat — well, he is the magical Mr. Mistoffelees.
But there were certain costume pieces for other characters that were just unnecessary. Like the random times certain characters wore shoes but no one else is — such as the two break-dancing cats, played by Les Twins, who wear sneakers. Or when Grizabella, Macavity, and Old Deuteronomy are given fur coats. This would make sense when transforming humans into cats onstage, but it just looks weird onscreen when they already have fur.
As for the CGI…
Let’s talk about how Universal decided now, after “Cats” got HORRIBLE reviews and was #2 on The Hollywood Reporter’s “10 Worst Films of 2019,” to re-release the film with revised visuals — excuse me, “improved visual effects.”
People have been slinging shit at “Cats” over the terrible CGI since the first trailer dropped in July. That’s five months Universal has had to pull a Sonic — aka, take the negative feedback and revise the visuals before the official release. And according to director Tom Hooper himself, the movie wasn’t even finished until the day before the “Cats” premiere on Dec. 16.
So what on earth took them so long to CGI this film? And considering Universal had feedback to work off of, why did the studio not do anything until now?
There were SO many flaws in the CGI.
I’ve been disturbed about the human noses since the first trailer, and how the “cats” look more liked furries than actual cats. It got even worse when I was watching the movie and realized the cats had human hands and feet – and they were NORMAL SKIN COLOR.
With all the CGI work done, why did they not bother with paws or claws? Why weren’t the hands and feet even CGI’d to match the cats’ fur colors?? Every time Victoria and Old Deuteronomy were on screen, all I could see was their human hands and feet, and how Victoria and Mr. Mistoffelees’ (Laurie Davidson) hands were normal white skin-colored. WEIRD.
I also have a question for whoever was in charge of animating Jennifer Hudson into a cat: why was her makeup so visible? I could see the beat face through the “fur” especially on her cheekbones (hi highlight).
What was particularly odd were the proportions. Apparently, it was never clear on what size these cats were supposed to be: sometimes they seemed really small, and other times they appeared to be human-sized. The perspectives they were placed in compared to the objects around them changed quite often.
I also must mention that giving the cockroaches and mice human faces as well made it SO DISTURBING when they got eaten. Just…why.
Speaking of the cockroaches, I’m a little disappointed in how “The Old Gumbie Cat,” which is supposed to be a major dance number, got a major downgrade from the show-stopping tap number it is in the musical. Rebel Wilson was being literally every single character she’s ever played, instead of something unique, to make things worse…
Thankfully, the film wasn’t all bad.
To start, the talent in this movie was PHENOMENAL!
We’ve been fated to see too many movie adaptations of musicals that took the stunt casting route over actual talent (ahem, “Rock of Ages” and “Les Miserables”), or that cut down the plot thus eliminating shining moments for the actors to sing (side-eying you, “Into the Woods”).
So “Cats,” surprisingly, was refreshing with how good and legitimately talented this cast was. Having such a talented ensemble made the movie enjoyable and was a great distraction from the iffy visuals.
Everyone in this cast gave wonderful performances, each having been cast exceptionally well in their roles. Sir Ian McKellan was adorable as the doddering old Gus the Theater Cat, Idris Elba was a haunting Macavity, and Taylor Swift (to my surprise) was cast perfectly to sing and portray Bombalurina.
Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella nearly made me cry, her performance was that powerful. Hudson has always proven herself to be a strong actress and a powerhouse singer, but Grizabella really gave her a chance to showcase how emotionally intense Hudson can be.
However, and maybe this is just the marketing person in me, I don’t get why the movie’s promotion focused so much on the stars and ignored two actors with MUCH bigger roles: Mr. Mistoffelees, played by Laurie Davidson, and Munkustrap, played by Robbie Fairchild.
The promotion was already “introducing” Francesca Hayward as Victoria – this was a prime opportunity to do the same for the other two primary characters in the film.
The choreography was amazing.
Andy Blankenbuehler is an accredited Broadway choreographer, working on “Hamilton,” “In the Heights,” and the 2016 revival of “Cats.” I was blown away during the big dance numbers, particularly “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat” and “The Jellicle Ball,” and the ballet choreography Victoria does was beautiful.
However, because of the attempts to make “Cats” into an actual story, this caused some of the dance moments to feel more like filler than actual moments in the story. In the stage production, these dance numbers are the story, which is really normal in musicals — but in the film, it came off more as “let’s fill this screen time with some dance.”
So let’s restate this one last time:
While “Cats” was well-cast and bursting with talented people, it just does. Not. Work. As. A. Movie.