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Cats – Movie Review

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Cats – Movie Review

Rating: D+ (Bad)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats is one of the most successful Broadway musicals to hit the stage. It’s accomplished this despite the fact there’s not much of a plot and the entire show consists of actors in creepy cat makeup coming out to introduce themselves. The film adaptation of Cats doesn’t solve this problem and the result is baffling. Even with the actors giving the roles their all, there is so little material in Cats and the insipid songs don’t help matters. The whole production has an unsettling feeling to it, with surreal moments that are more frightening than charming. Dogs everywhere should rejoice, because they’re about to get more pet owners on their side.

It doesn’t take long to be disturbed by Cats and the decision to put the actors in digital feline costumes. From the very second we see the actors crawling on all fours and trying to imitate cats, it looks off. The decision to paint the cast in computer-generated makeup has merit, but the required suspension of disbelief never materializes. Things get even harder to watch when the movie throws in child actors as mice and Rockettes as cockroaches. One almost starts to wonder if bringing Rick Baker out of retirement and putting them in prosthetic makeup might have been the better option. This could be somewhat forgiven if the story and musical numbers were up to par, but those also disappoint.

The film, much like the stage musical, mostly involves these cats showing off their skills and singing about how amazing they are. However, very few of the characters are remotely interesting and that makes it hard to care. There is an attempt at some conflict, involving the magical Macavity, but this is resolved surprisingly quickly. The audience is given a surrogate in the form of Francesca Hayward’s Victoria, but aside from the opening scene where she is thrown away by her human owners, we don’t find out that much about her. The other major problem comes from the songs from the original Broadway show. Many of them run together with nonsensical lyrics and are more corny than sentimental. Even the orchestrations are strangely rinky-dink.

There are a few bright spots in Cats, though. Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber have co-written a new song for the film and it’s a million times better than the stage show tunes. “Beautiful Ghosts” is a genuinely lovely piece of music, but that also means it sounds out-of-place with the rest of the soundtrack. It’s incredibly jarring when we cut to one of the Broadway songs immediately afterwards. The film does come alive for brief moments when Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat and Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina launch into their respective musical numbers. There is an energy sadly missing from the rest of Cats, which is mostly dull and tiring. There is also a bit of invention to Eve Stewart’s production design, which imagines London from a cat’s point-of-view.

The potential was there to fix many of the issues of the hit Broadway musical and create a genuinely entertaining and unique musical experience. Cats is certainly unique, but probably not in the way director Tom Hooper intended. At some points, it’s horrific and scary to look at. At other moments, it’s just a dull series of character introductions that lead to an underwhelming conclusion. One has to give the actors credit as they are clearly trying to elevate the material as best as they can, with Taylor Swift coming out the most unscathed. Cats is a noble effort on everyone’s part, but the final result sadly doesn’t work.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison