If you were a time traveler and you wanted to travel back in time to prevent this monstrosity from being birthed into the world, how far back would you have to travel? 1972 and kill baby Tom Hooper? 1948 and kill baby Andrew Lloyd Webber? Or 1888 and kill baby TS Eliot? I think it would have to be latter, as, from its conception, Cats is truly cursed. It has wrongness boiled into its DNA. I suppose Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (published on the brink of WWII in 1939) started out innocently enough. But how innocent is a book about thugs, delinquents, thieves and criminals, even if they are cats? Admittedly, probably the most fudged-up aspect of Cats was added in (from some of Eliot’s other writings) by Lloyd Webber – the concept of the cats competing at the Jellicle Ball to be the one who will ascend to the Heaviside Layer. Why all the judgment and religion, Andrew? What is this, Catholic Guilt: The Musical? Despite being really into musicals as a child/teen and my Nan taking me with her on the OAP coach trips to Birmingham and London to see the likes of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, I somehow managed to escape Cats on stage. Old Deuteronomy must have been looking out for me. Anyway, we all know that, inexplicably, it ended up breaking records for being the longest-running West End musical. Fast-forward to 2019 and one of the world’s worst and most boring directors, known for directing terrible Oscar-baiting period biopics The King’s Speech and The Danish Girl, as well as an awful adaptation of Les Miserables, decides to take on the singing and dancing cats. What could possibly go wrong? Well, somehow Hooper has managed to take a bad concept – a musical in which a series of cats come on and sing a song about their name and themselves, with no discernible plot – and somehow turned it into a horrorshow of unimaginable proportions.
From the initial spark of the thought that turning this musical into a film would be a good idea, the project was doomed. Every single decision involved in this movie is more baffling than the last. But the biggest and most fundamental problem is in the concept design of the cats themselves. Hooper and his overlords decided to take the idea of humans-in-leotards prancing around on stage, augmented with a bit of make-up, some furry ears and a felt tail and turn this into DIGITAL FUR TECHNOLOGY. The three most cursed words of the year. Firstly, humans prancing around in leotards was never going to work on film in the way it works on stage. Add to this digital tails and ears (which move freakishly independently and are massively distracting) and horribly creepy facial designs seemingly inspired by the FaceSwap App, Cats has been heading for disaster since day one. If you are a Twitter user, I’m sure you will fondly remember the day that the Cats trailer was unleashed and we truly realised the spectacle we were in for. Oh boy. We then heard that Hooper had been up for 36 hours doing last-minute edits up-to-and-including the DAY of the Cats premiere and that a few days after release, a new version of the film with ‘improved’ VFX would be sent out to theatres. This level of disaster will live on in infamy. It is thoughtful of Hooper to deliver a turkey just in time for Christmas.
So, go into this knowing that you will spend the majority of the run-time crying “my eyes” to yourself, as everything you’re watching is a nightmarish vision of hell….but with crappy songs! As well as the cats looking… well…. like they do, their size is also an inconsistent fluctuating bumblefuck – they are almost always far too small for the giant sets, but their relative size varies from scene-to-scene, frame-to-frame. This movie cost $95 million. The shapely womanly bodies (including human boobs) are extremely apparent… we wouldn’t want to see Tay-Tay in a movie and not get to leer over her, of course. The men have had their appendages digitally removed however, saving our blushes. James Corden and Rebel Wilson only exist in this movie for fat jokes. Jennyanydots’ (Wilson) number is probably the point where you will start questioning your own sanity, as it involves mice and cockroaches in the same human-animal splinched hell-hybrid, straight from a Cronenberg movie…but you know, for kids! Further *decisions* that Hooper makes, in his wisdom, include having Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), who sings the only “good” song in the whole musical (Memory) have snot streaming from her nose, onto her lips and into her mouth every time she appears. Another one is having Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) and Grizabella wear fur coats….made from lord only knows what poor sentient creature….over their digital fur technology. Jennyanydots UNZIPS HER FUR MORE THAN ONCE to reveal more fur but with spangly waistcoats underneath. Nothing that happens makes a lick of sense. Not one thing.
Does anyone come out of Cats with any dignity intact, we ask ourselves? Sir Ian McKellen, playing Gus the Theatre Cat is one of the few who seems to know where he is and what he’s doing. Idris Elba and Judi Dench have attended the Rex Harrison School of Painful Speak-Singing which is truly unbearable to endure. Newcomer Francesca Hayward, in the main role of Victoria, is unfortunately bland and forgettable. Two lesser-known cast members – Laurie Davidson (Mr Mistoffelees) and Robbie Fairchild (Munkustrap) are probably the strongest in the cast, in terms of singing, dancing and having a personality. Popstars Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift have not done themselves any favours by attaching themselves to this omnishambles. It is truly astounding that a big-budget musical has been made in 2019 that fails so spectacularly on every conceivable level.
We will not see the likes of Cats again. Which, in a way is a shame. This is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. I also hope that everyone I know goes to see it and that it wins Best Picture at the Oscars in 2020. One star. Can’t recommend it highly enough.
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: Tom Hooper, Lee Hall
Cast: Francesca Hayward, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Laurie Davidson, Rebel Wilson, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Mette Towley, James Corden, Jason Derulo, Ray Winstone