Cats 2019 ***

Can we retire, or look for alternative phrases to describe, the phrase computer generated effects? Because it’s not computers that generate the uncanny look that ruins movies, it’s the people who operate the computers. Tom Hooper’s film of Cats has attracted a circle-jerk of critics keen to put the boot into one of his film version of one of musical theatre’s most venerable properties; aside from some regrettable uses of CGI, it’s pretty much exactly what any film of Cats would be expected to be like.

Without making any great claims for Hooper’s film, the people who hate this film wouldn’t have liked it if Christopher Nolan and Greta Gerwig had co-directed it; Cats is what it is, a twee slice of 1970’s musical theatre. One of the obvious reasons that Cats has not been filmed before is the lack of narrative; taking a cue from TS Eliot, the action of cats is really just a slew of famous people dressed as cats of different characters, introducing themselves and then vanishing.

Old-stagers like Judi Dench and Ian McKellen just about make their sections work, young bucks like James Corden and Rebel Wilson make fools of themselves; without a story to preoccupy us, there’s a train-wreck fascination about watching confident performers like Jason Derulo so far from their comfort zone. In terms of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, Jennifer Hudson does well with the show-stopper Memory, but there’s three or four decent tunes here, with Magical Mister Mistoffelees landing well. And while celebrity casualties include Idris Elba and Ray Winstone, who deservedly crash and burn squarely with their genuinely awful work here, Taylor Swift really dominates the screen in her bit, and suggests that she could be a real musical-theatre star if the pop-star gig doesn’t work out for her.

Cats is something of a freak-show, but it probably doesn’t deserve to the butt of every joke. It’s a straight, reverential adaptation of a well-loved property that will appeal to and satisfy fans of the music. Rather than polish off their strained cat-based puns, critics might be better to let this kind of thing live-and-let-live; it’s a random collection of stars performing a random collection of songs in weird make-up. There’s a place for such a film, and it’s likely to be gifted and re-gifted between elderly relatives for many Christmases to come. But watching Jennifer Hudson perform Memory, it’s hard not to be distracted by her having a massive hairy torso like Geoff Capes. Perhaps the real problem for any film of Cats is that it puts the audience too close to the stage, as some things look better from the back of the dress circle.


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  1. I previewed the 1997 “Cats” DVD on Amazon Prime before going to the theater. I fall into the “cat-tastrophe” crowd. I could not have been more bored. The players were amazing as were the costumes. But a series of weird cats with no plot could not keep my interest.

    I was just a little interested to see the CGI version just because of all the hate it received (reminded me of the complaints of the eerie eyes of “Polar Express” in 2004). But even that could not get me out of my La-Z-Boy.

    Thanks for this even-handed review. It saves me the trouble of watching it myself!

    • Thanks for your comment! There’s a lot to be even-handed about here; a lot of care and attention has been used to create an unimpressive result. Stay in that comfortable chair, this is no reason to part with hard cash!

  2. “{Cats is something of a freak-show, but it probably doesn’t deserve to the butt of every joke” It has been the butt of every joke since I saw it opening night on Broadway in 1982 and is still the 4th longest musical on Broadway (even beat MY beloved “A Chorus Line”–another show that Hollywood made into a horrendous movie!)
    You can go to Talkinbroadway/allthatchat and the fights between the pros and cons are still going on.
    I am in that 3rd category–I neither like or dislike it. I don’t seek it out but if I see it that’s okay too.
    I am a HUGE fan of Hudson and Dench but wouldn’t know Taylor Swift if she was sitting in front of me!
    My disappointment here is that it wasn’t the Christmas movie musical I always look forward to! I saw “Dreamgirls” a dozen times when it came out Christmas week and loved the musical version of “Les Miz”, in spite of the smashing of Russell Crowe by critics who I thought did a good job and then there was the surprise hit “The Greatest Showman” so I am not going to beat up Hooper or the ‘Hollywood’ version of “Cats” but just wait patiently for the coming December 2020 Christmas musical!
    Happy Leap Year!

      • But In The Heights isn’t aimed for Christmas as far as I know and right now anything with “Lin Manual Miranda” on it will be a hit plus I really liked Heights on stage–it’s main competition will be the new movie version of West Side Story–my second favorite musical (stage and movie) of all time!

        • True…hopefully we’re on the edge of a rebirth of musicals on film. From Book of Mormon to Gentleman’s Guide, I’ve seen many Broadway shows that I thought could work on film…share your enthusiasm for West Side Story too!

  3. I would much rather have seen them play this as a continuous take in costume and no CGI period. More like a live broadway show captured on film to experience it as audiences would. Instead, we got … whatever this was.

    • I wondered about a cast of unknowns too, rather than familiar faces. Still, I feel a cult classic may be the eventual destination. For any other film, that UK opening would be considered to be more than decent…

  4. Thanks much! While this has historically been my least favorite broadway show and least favorite Eliot poem set, it also has my all time fav power song (Memories). It reminded me of A Chorus Line when I saw both shows back to back…with Cats Griselda being cL’s Cassie… I liked some of the animation and pratfalls…actually made me like Cats a bit more. I Must admit my mind raced with cat puns like catscan and cath-ogic… It wasn’t purr-fect but it didn’t make me cough up a hair ball either…it was hisssssterrically Claw-full…

    • These puns are the cat’s pyjamas! It’s probably the most unfilmable Broadway show, and yet, despite all the hate, there is always an audience for this music, and Memory is the classic show-stopper…

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