Cats is certainly a cinema experience – and here’s our review.
When the announcement was made that the Oscar nominated director Tom Hooper was due to bring another Cameron Mackintosh production to the big screen (following his success with 2012’s Les Misérables, it appeared to be a match made in heaven. Adapted from TS Eliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’, following its 1981 premiere Cats became one of the longest-running shows in West End and Broadway history.
Full disclosure: this reviewer grew up with a strong love of West End musicals, regardless of quality, having seen Cats on stage at least three times before the age of ten, with the soundtrack on repeat likely driving the rest of the family to distraction. And so, when it finally came to seeing the stage show realised on screen the experience revealed itself to be a strange and emotionally confusing one. One moment overwhelmed and on the verge of tears during ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’ and ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’, transported back to childhood memories, bored and detached in the next.
While the marketing makes the most of the star-studded cast list, Judi Dench is the only one with a significant amount of screen time as Old Deuteronomy. Our way into the London streets and cats’ world is instead provided by newcomer and Royal Ballet Principal ballerina, Francesca Hayward as stray cat Victoria, awaiting Old Deut’s Jellicle choice as to who to send to the Heaviside Layer (aka a Heaven-like place for cats where a new life awaits).
While the well-known names are clearly having a lot of fun (maybe too much in the case of Rebel Wilson and James Corden, who unfortunately revert to their standard comedic fool schtick), it’s the relatively unknown names who demand your attention alongside Hayward. Most notably Laurie Davidson as Mr. Mistoffolees and Robbie Fairchild’s Munkustrap, who takes on the majority of the vocal responsibilities.
Jennifer Hudson (who definitely got a raw deal with her ‘catification’) also shines in her short screen-time, delivering the goods when Grizabella’s iconic ‘Memory’ moment arrives – a song with such incredible power that is possesses an almost magical quality.
Much has been made of the use of effects since the first trailer essentially ‘broke’ Twitter – immediately becoming one of the most talked about (and giffable) films of the year. While the filmmakers have gone to Sonic the Hedgehog level efforts to remedy as best as they can (Hooper is said to have been working on final tweaks the day prior to the screening), with refinements most evident in the cats’ hair and ear movements, it’s still hard to get past the ‘uncanny valley’ face-swap app style look of the ‘cats’’. Be it Judi Dench as a cat wearing a fur coat or a moment involving Idris Elba dancing that leaves very little to the imagination (literally!). Many may take that as a reason to go and see the film. In addition to Elba’s birthday cat-suit the sexual undertones and apparent (unintentional?) sexual tension throughout doesn’t sit quite right in a film with a ‘U’ certification.
While the set design incorporating the London scenery and streets is exquisite, and the dancing is simply sublime (from ballet to breakdancing to tap, there’s almost too much going on), the film never quite recovers from the decision to merge human and cat digitally. A production like Les Misérables may translate seamlessly to the big screen, but Cats is more suited to a life on the stage.
However, for the musically inclined younger generation and for those looking for family friendly fare, this may provide the purrfect* cinema trip for the holidays.
*sorry, had to be done (No it didn’t – Ed)
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