Cats! It’s the film where as soon as the trailer came out everybody said WHY. I wasn’t too weirded out by everybody dancing in CGI fur-suits, but I appeared to be in the minority there. Surely watching a cast of high profile actors pretending to be cats would be … entertaining?
Let’s begin with the thing I enjoyed the most. Cats honours its Broadway roots by presenting everything like it’s being acted out on a stage. And in that sense they did really well! The sets look great and the dancing is (mostly) fun to watch. Oddly enough, it also makes humanoids walking around on all fours in CGI skins a little more palatable. Though we only see what the camera sees, so there are moments of impressive choreography that plays just off-camera, which is a little sad.
I haven’t seen the original, but I am familiar with a couple of the songs. For those who do know the play may not be surprised to find that the plot … is lacking in substance. There’s a leader cat who gets to choose one of the street cats to get a new life, but (MINOR SPOILERS, if you care about spoilers for the fourth longest-running musical of all time) … why only one cat? And where do they go? Who replaces the chandelier every year?
My other pet peeve with the plot; in the first scene, pro-cat-onist Victoria (played by Francesca Hayward) gets abandoned (though doesn’t seem particularly upset by this) and all the street cats ask for her name. Then there’s a whole song about how cats have three names, the ones their owners call them, some other name, and the name they call themselves. There’s a moment where it looks like Victoria is getting a chance to say her new name, but then it’s interrupted and we never return to the idea. Victoria remains Victoria.
Is it unfair to comment on the plot since it’s lifted straight from the play? Perhaps. But for those who also don’t know what Cats is about: it’s about not much at all. So don’t go in expecting a good story. There is, however, some funky musical moments sung by many familiar faces.
Everyone played their parts prrrretty well. In the age of blockbuster films it’s nice to see some stage acting once in a while. Cats has an amazing ensemble cast of comedians and actors gifted with great voices (except for one… but I’ll talk about that later). Jason Derulo was absolutely fun, Rebel Wilson managed to slip in a few great lines, Taylor Swift stole her scene and Ian McKellen… He was paws down my favourite. Oh my goodness, please give me more Ian McKellen pretending to be a cat. (I would have given Cats a 5.5 but Ian McKellen booted it up to a 6).
Jennifer Hudson, who played Grizabella, totally nailed the song Memory. Hot diggity dang. The first couple of times I wasn’t too sure, but that reprise… oh man. If you haven’t heard Memory before (though you probably have), here it is, performed by Elaine Page in 1998:
Someone who didn’t quite nail their songs though, was Judi Dench. The great Dame Judi Dench, bless her soul, has amazing dramatic flair and was a solid choice for the role of Old Deuteronomy. Except her singing was definitely subpar compared to everyone else’s. It wasn’t until the end of her last song that it sounded like she was getting the hang of it, but by that stage the movie was feeling too long and it was an effort for me to keep watching. I’m sorry, Judi Dench. You’re amazing, but whoever was supposed to be your vocal coach failed you.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I thought the motion capture was both impressive and occasionally disappointing. Victoria’s coat is purrfect throughout, but I couldn’t help but notice the odd bobbing of a few characters’ foreheads. I could forgive some of the background dancers (of which there are many, and the fact that they decided to keep AND motion capture them all somewhat okay is impressive), Jason Derulo’s cat notably had some CGI problems going on.
His fricken close ups had his forehead bouncing away. How? As I said before, Francesca Hayward almost looked like she was wearing her fur! And there were moments where the CGI was completely forgotten, with human hands slipping through the editing process. EDIT: since writing this, a CGI update has been sent to theatres with “improved visual effects.” So, I guess my comments are now void until I see the film again.
There was another thing about the CGI that bugged me. Everyone looked pretty cat-like, but you don’t really notice this until you compare them to Idris Elba. He doesn’t look like a human pretending to be a cat. He looks like a naked furry man with a cat tail. This was probably done on purpose. I didn’t like it. He looked too human and it threw me out of my suspension of belief. But maybe a naked Idris Elba is what you’re here for.
Despite all this, I was actually having fun. Until the end, which is a shame because I wanted to leave Cats on a high. It just started to outstay its welcome with that last song. I wanted it to finish so I could stay happy with the film.
If you’re a fan of the original musical you will have heaps of fun. For the rest of us, if you do want to see it, I think this is the kind of spectacle you would see in a cinema, but not really anywhere else. Like a stage show!
If you’d rather not spend the moolah on a movie ticket, and you’re interested in the behind-the-scenes (and more Ian McKellen!), the Blu-ray could be worth it. Cheaper than seeing the actual musical in any case! But essentially you’d go see Cats for familiar songs and all the famous people who are obviously having fun. If anything, please see it for Ian McKellen.