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Cats (2019) - Movie Review

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cats (2019)

There’s a reason Cats had such a successful Broadway run as one of the longest-running musicals in history with over 7,000 performances spanning some 18 years. Many reasons, actually. The biggest being the brilliant songs and catchy tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber. They are simply wonderful, and several – namely Memory – have even managed to penetrate popular culture.

Conversely, there’s an even bigger reason why Cats makes such a terrible movie: because the source material has very little structure and even less story. In other words, it’s purr-fect for the stage, but not so much for the big screen.

"Cats was made for the stage, and after seeing this big-screen rendition it goes without saying that it should have stayed that way"

Let’s face it. Cats, the Broadway musical didn’t ride its wave to popularity based upon the simple story it told – one cat is chosen from a group by an elder to be reborn into a new life. That’s all there is to it, really. And director Tom Hooper’s (Les Miserables) choice – along with screenwriter Lee Hall (Billy Elliott) – to do very little else to beef up the story hobbles this thing quite significantly. All that is left are the lively dance numbers, the over-the-top production value, and those memorable songs which add nothing to the narrative. Hardly enough to help this thing scratch its way out of the litter box.

Then there’s the elephant in the room wanting some attention. Let’s talk about him. It’s what everyone has been buzzing about since the first trailer came out and we saw those dreadful feline/human hybrid catsuits worn by the cast. Certainly, one of the biggest decisions faced by the filmmakers was how to portray humans as cats. Should the actors be loosely costumed as in a stage play and let the audience suspend disbelief? Should the film be a total animated presentation? Or should they go for a more realistic effect, add cgi, and try to make everyone look exactly like cats? Unfortunately, Hooper and company went for something in between, and the result is far less whimsical than intended. In fact, it is often downright creepy.

What we get is a strange hybrid creature with a human face, human hands, digitally painted(?) fur, ears that move (but not like a cat’s), and tails that awkwardly protrude from human buttocks. Sometimes the kitties crawl hunched over and scamper about on all fours, at other times they walk and dance on two feet. So, why the decision to make them look so realistic if they’re just humans pretending to be cats? Makes no sense. It is all just a strange experience. More poor decision-making from Hooper.

Needless to say, it is quite jarring to see a whiskered Dame Judy Dench as the elder Old Deuteronomy – who will decide which of the Jellicle (don’t ask) cats will be given immortality – sitting down with her bare human feet protruding from beneath a cowardly lion costume. Sadly degrading to her, not the least bit entertaining to us.

As Hooper did with his Les Miserables, the film is almost entirely sung-through, with little spoken dialogue. There’s also a lot of dancing which calls for a large supporting cast with strong ballet backgrounds. Among the cast are Ian McKellan as Gus the Theater Cat, Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots, Ray Winstone as Growltiger, Laurie Davidson as Mr. Mestoffelees, James Cordon as Bustopher Jones, Jason Derulo as Rum Tum Tugger, Jennifer Hudson as Grizzabela, and Taylor Swift as Bombularina among others who make up the balance of the Jellicle cats. Idris Elba is the evil McCavity who sets out to disrupt the selection process and garner himself a spot in the Heaviside Layer to be reborn.Cats (2019)

The story plays out in the eyes of Victoria (newcomer Francesca Hayward) who is looking to become welcomed into the Jellicles. Hayward totes the bulk of the screen time and she is unquestionably loved by the camera. Fans of the play will notice the tweaks the movie makes, namely bringing to the forefront the Victoria character, as well as the introduction of a new song Beautiful Ghosts performed by Hayward, Dench, and Hudson, mostly over the closing credits.

Despite the stellar cast, no one performance particularly stands out. In fact, the show gets its biggest lift when Hooper’s camera pulls back to show the entire cast dancing and gyrating to the songs. Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography is often quite good. One particular scene stands out as it features Skimbleshanks (Steven McRae) making his case for immortality. It takes place in the rail yards with all the other Jellicles dancing along the rails. The scale of the surroundings in comparison to the cats is a much-appreciated effect.

Cats was made for the stage, and after seeing this big-screen rendition it goes without saying that it should have stayed that way. Many filmmakers had taken up the project through the years (including Steven Spielberg who executive produces here), but none was ever able to bring it to life on the big screen. Until now. However, Hooper and company have – yes, I’m going to say it – spit up a huge hair ball with their Cats. Forgoing substance in favor of the cheap buzz of spectacle rarely ever works in film, and in this case, the spectacle doesn’t even work.

1/5 stars

Cats (2019)


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cats (2019)

MPAA Rating: PG for some rude and suggestive humor.
110 mins
: Tom Hooper
Tom Hooper, Lee hall
Taylor Swift, Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba
: Comedy | musical | fantasy
You will believe.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Don't mess with the crazy cat-lady!"
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 20, 2019
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.

cats (2019)

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