This movie shouldn’t exist. It’s bad. Whoever initially came up with the idea to make this movie should be embarrassed and so should everybody who had the chance to stop it from being made, but did nothing.
Cats, the infamous Broadway musical that now stands as one of the longest-running shows, has no real plot. It is a series of introductions and dance numbers as the cats, or Jellicles, pitch themselves as the next one worthy to die and ascend to Heaviside Layer. Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) is who makes this determination by judging the soul of each candidate.
Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), Bustopher Jones (James Corden), Gus the Theatre Cat (Ian McKellen), Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson), and Macavity (Idris Elba) are the leading candidates before Old Deuteronomy. Observing the commotion, and learning the ways of the Jellicle cat, is newly abandoned Victoria (Francesca Hayward). Jennifer Hudson plays Grizabella, who offers the iconic performance of “Memory” that Cats has become famous for.
Again, the story is a series of introductions, all through song and dance, with few spoken words in between. That’s the gist of the movie. Each cat has its own characteristics. Macavity serves as the villain, and he has some help, such as from Bombalurina (Taylor Swift). Beyond that, there isn’t much.
When you see this production on stage, an agreement is made between the audience and performers. The leg warmers and tights, along with the fur costumes, are just that; costumes. The suspension of disbelief is very different here. On film, however, the story doesn’t work. There’s no agreement being made, and the suspension of disbelief is very different, especially when the film is intentionally trying to make each actor look like a real cat and not just a portrayal of one.
In other reviews, Cats has been described as a fever dream and the stuff of nightmares. I wholeheartedly agree. If you find yourself dozing off at some point during the movie, you will wake up to something so startling and unsettling that you would be convinced your bad dream continues. The story lacks any sense and, because it’s on-screen and not on stage, you have no opportunity to invest in the characters or their struggles as they jump from one character to the next.
Especially egregious is the incredibly poor visual effects. Tom Hooper, who directed this, and the production team were working on finishing touches up until the premiere last week, and it shows. Bare faces and hands where there should have been fur, a couple of faceless cats forgotten in wide shots, Judi Dench’s wedding ring left in post-production, and blurry, baby-faced mice and cockroaches. And, while I didn’t notice it myself, there were apparently some floating Jellicles in the background if looked closely enough. It is laughably bad, and, unfortunately, the studio felt it needed to be rushed out by Christmas rather than delaying it so it could be better and finished.
To be fair, though, some of the performances work. Idris Elba is a convincing villain and could’ve been much more fascinating as Macavity given enough space and time to do so. Ian McKellen, as the haggard Gus, provides us one of the better scenes in this film, but his time is all too short with us. And, perhaps the best character and performance throughout the whole affair, is Laurie Davidson as Mr. Mistoffelees. Davidson plays the cat that helps Victoria the most and, along the way, discovers his own purpose. The musical number involving Mr. Mistoffelees is one of the more entertaining ones.
It’s unlikely that I’ll ever watch Cats again. What reason is there to watch it again? It’s plotless, and there’s no time to invest in what’s taking place onscreen. The visual effects were rushed along, and it clearly shows. In the end, there is a feeling of defeat. As awful as the initial trailer looked, it failed to capture how bad the movie would actually be in the end. You go in wanting to like it, even with some irony, but that proves to be impossible.
Cats exhausts all nine of its lives with nothing to show for it.