Since it’s original stage production in 1981, Cats has never had its own feature film adaptation until now. Off the back of his well received version of Les Misérables, director Tom Hooper has been given the reigns to another classic musical in a bid to win over audiences to a show that notoriously has a marmite effect. Cats tells the story of a group of cats all competing through song and dance at the Jellicle Ball to become the “chosen one” to move onto a new life (the Heaviside Layer) and be reborn. When the first trailer appeared 5 months ago, lots of people were pretty disturbed by what they saw, us included. It’s worth nothing here that this is our first encounter with the musical in any capacity at all! So without further adieu, let us tell you what we thought of it.
Honestly, we were pleasantly surprised by the whole thing! From all the conditioning on social media, we really expected to hate it. Going in with open minds, we reminded ourselves that it is a fantasy musical using the words from a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot so there’s bound to be elements of the unexplainable and whimsical. That being said, it doesn’t mean that can be an excuse for sloppy CGI or poor editing as quite a few times it seems like the size of the cats change dramatically, and the CGI on whole is really quite hard to get your head around wether you are terrified of, or attracted to the characters. The most important thing about enjoying this is that it needs to be taken with a pinch of catnip.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score has had slight modernisations and is as beautiful as any of his work with so many songs getting stuck in your head for days on end after seeing the film. Neither of us were big fans of “Memory” before seeing the film but now with context the song has much more emotional gravitas and was performed wonderfully by Jennifer Hudson with such raw emotion, captured in the unique live way that Hooper has done before with Les Mis.
New song “Beautiful Ghosts” has been written by Taylor Swift and Lloyd Webber for the release of the film. It fits as a response to “Memory” and is a beautiful piece, although it’s content and style does stand out, highlighting that has been added in retrospectively and created much more recently than the rest of the tracks.
The cast is jam-packed, featuring some professionally trained ballet dancers on screen choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In The Heights) who makes the movement captivating. Two stand outs from this are Steven McRae (Skimbleshanks) who performs a fantastic tap routine in his number “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat” and Francesca Hayward (Victoria) who’s new character carries the plot really well (as a reason to explain the madness) and provides beautiful ballet throughout. West End royalty Zizi Strallen (Mary Poppins) makes an appearance, along with other musical theatre names too. Of all the A-listers, Judi Dench (Old Deuteronomy) and Ian McKellen (Gus), the two heroes of stage and screen whilst not the strongest singers, have the most wonderful presence and give so much depth to their performances. Taylor Swift’s rendition of “Macavity” is full of energy and grandeur, standing out as one of the best numbers in the film.
Most of the comedy didn’t really land that well for us. Rebel Wilson (Jennyanydots) tries to bring some comic relief with her song but it’s amidst a horror of personified cockroaches and mice and it’s all a bit distracting. James Corden (Bustopher Jones) gets some laughs but his song falls a bit flat too.
The story is as basic as it comes, but is made even easier to follow with the help of Robbie Fairchild (Munkustrap). There are some plot-holes, like half of the competitive songs performed without Old Deuteronomy (Dench) the adjudicator present (get it? adJUDIca- nevermind) and all effectively wanting to die for no good reason. In summary, Cats feels like some rushed visual nightmare we didn’t really ask for, but it’s worth a trip to see for most of the well performed numbers. Definitely something you need to see with an open mind to come to your own conclusion on.