Cats (2019) Review

No. Yes. Ho. Hi. Oh my eye!

Just like the lyrics from “Old Deuteronomy” featured in one of the many songs in Cats, I couldn’t believe what I saw in this big-screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 long-running musical of the same name.

I remember when I first saw the trailer back in July. It was unbelievably weird and horrifying at the same time, particularly the way all the actors looked as humanoid cats covered in the so-called “digital fur technology”. Yes, director Tom Hooper thought it was a good idea to CGI-ed his cast instead of using the old-school makeup and costumes seen on the stage musical.

Then the movie finally arrived and I kept an open mind, hoping that Tom Hooper might able to spring some unexpected surprises. The kind of hope that trailers may look bad but the movie tells another story altogether.

Well, that didn’t happen. I hate to say this but Cats turns out to be even worse than I expected. Sure, there are moments where I enjoyed some of the songs such as the catchy opening numbers of “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” and Jason Derulo’s funky beat of “The Rum Tum Tugger”. Elsewhere, Jennifer Hudson made quite an impression singing her heart out in “Memory”.

And yet, those aforementioned song moments can’t mask the fact that Cats is such a cat-astrophe at many levels. Let’s start with the story co-written by Lee Hall and Tom Hooper. What I understand that the movie set in an alternate reality of London where cats nicknamed “Jellicles” roamed the streets with no trace of humans on sight (don’t ask). Then, there’s the introduction of a white kitten named Victoria (relative newcomer Francesca Hayward, who is a principal ballerina at The Royal Ballet), who gets abandoned on the streets. From there, she meets a group of Jellicle cats including Mr Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson) and Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench). The latter happens to be a judge of sorts, who determines the rightful winner to go to so-called heaven called Heaviside Layer for some sorts of reincarnation. A new life, if you will.

So, throughout its nearly two-hour length, the participating cats each have to sing their own songs. Songs that would touch the heart and soul and something like that to prove their worth.

The movie also introduced an antagonist named Macavity (Idris Elba), who wants to go to Heaviside Layer as well. He kidnaps the participating cats utilising his magical ability of sorts to make them disappeared.

Now, Cats is the kind of movie that demands us to accept the story as it is. No matter how silly, confused or preposterous it turns out to be. But it also poses a bigger problem. A movie musical with barely a cohesive narrative like Cats means it sacrifices most of the essentials. There is no conflict, no character development, no emotion and hardly a soul to be found here. Even with a scene where Jennifer Hudson’s Grizabella shedding tears while singing the otherwise strong numbers of “Memory”, it’s hard to feel emotionally attached whatsoever. And frankly, I don’t care who’s going to make it and who’s not since just about everything here is flat and uninvolving.

Then, there’s the cast. I felt sorry for the otherwise all-star cast who have to go through such an abomination of a movie. It doesn’t really matter how passionate they sing their respective songs or committed to the elaborate dance choreography. Hooper’s ill-advised creative decision of making them as human as possible, except with the face and body of a cat sure gives me the creeps.

At one point, there’s an unintentionally queasy moment where Rebel Wilson’s chubby orange tabby Jennyanydots scratches herself while spreading her legs wide. And again involving Jennyanydots, the scene where she sings “The Old Gumbie Cat” while eating some of the marching cockroaches has to be one of the most unbelievably disgusting scenes ever seen in the recent memory. Hooper also likes to use a lot of closeups in this movie, which at times he tends to shake his camera as if he wants to mimic the movement of a cat.

The same also goes with James Corden’s appearance as the oversized bourgeois cat named Bustopher Jones, who looks hideous enough that he should be a prime candidate for any 18-rated cat-centric horror movie. As for the rest, the fact that Judi Dench plays a cat but wears a thick fur coat really bothers me and so does Idris Elba, whose nude sight of his black cat body looks disturbing.

It’s hard to believe this is actually Tom Hooper’s work in Cats. The same director who gave us the Oscar-winning historical drama of The King’s Speech (2010) as well as Les Miserables (2012) and The Danish Girl (2015) — two of which has earned a respective Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway and Alicia Vikander. Cats? More like a rightful candidate for multiple Razzies nominations and most probably would win big as well.

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