I can’t say that Cats was a film I was really looking forward to. Since the first trailer was released with the terrifying images of the cats I was creeped out and didn’t originally intend to watch the film. However, as more information about the film has come out and I read reviews, I must admit a sense of morbid curiosity overcame me so I decided to give Cats a go and it was every bit as bad as I feared it would be. But I can’t deny I had a fun time watching the film, although not in the way intended.
The film follows the Jellicle Cats, a tribe of cats in London on the night when their leader, Old Deuteronomy, chooses which of the cats is reborn to a new life in the Heaviside Layer, with the Jellicle Cats competing for who gets that honour, whilst the criminal cat Macavity tries to make himself the Jellicle choice, taking out the competition to do so. Now the plot, as much as there is one, is complete nonsense and there isn’t really an effort to establish the world of the film, we’re just thrown in to songs about Jellices and we never know what Jellicle actually means. In a more stylised film, this could have worked, creating a sense of surrealism for the film, but everything is played 100% seriously and this creates a lot of tonal issues throughout the film, putting too many dark elements into something which should be silly and openly ridiculous. From what I’ve seen of the stage version, the costumes and stage design works in creating this surrealism, but in a film context, with this particular design, it doesn’t work at all. Furthermore, most of the film is just cats introducing themselves and showing their one personality trait and as such there’s no real character development or way to get invested in the film. The only attempts made for character development are for the characters of Victoria, who’s the audience POV character, but isn’t written well enough to actually work in this role, and for Mr Mistoffelees, having the song about him be a confidence boosting song, but this is a double edged sword of forcing character development into something which didn’t have any, meaning that the pace of the film grinds to a halt during these scenes.
The performances meanwhile don’t help with the tonal issues. James Corden, Rebel Wilson and Ian McKellen play into the stereotypes you imagine when you hear of these performers, to mixed success, McKellen does a good job with body language, but cannot sing; Corden is just bland and forgettable, even with some baffling moments of him spitting food into other characters faces and Wilson is insanely annoying. Judi Dench meanwhile tries to give weight to the film, but it’s clear the only reason she was cast was as an in-joke to her being cast in the original stage version but had to pull out and as much as she tries to make the material work, it just doesn’t. Jennifer Hudson gives a great performance of the signature song Memory but isn’t in the film long enough for her character to have the impact it should, with most of the developments for her at the end coming right out of nowhere. Jason DeRulo meanwhile is just awful here, I’m not a fan of his singing in the first place and the accent he chooses to do here, I’m not sure what it was but it wasn’t in any way British, whilst Idris Elba tries to give some menace to the film, but it just comes across as embarrassing, the same being true for Ray Winstone. Francesca Hayward meanwhile is a good choice for this material given her skill as a ballet dancer, but her singing voice isn’t the best and her signature song is begging to have dancing, rather that being really flat. The only time I felt a performer really made the film come alive was the 5 minutes Taylor Swift was on screen, she really suits the more jazz inspired element of her song, her stage presence works well with her character and it seems like she’s the only one of the big name cast members who gets the film and if there are any positive feelings I have for the film, it’s because of her.
The technical side of the film is where the film really collapses. Much has been made of the digital fur technology and how it was used to create the cats and it just doesn’t work. Whilst it is better than it was in the trailers that’s not saying much. The whole thing is just creepy and you never get the chance to get used to it. Every few minutes you see a new horror like a cockroach with a human face or a different facial expression from one of the cats. Putting human faces on the cats was completely the wrong call and makes the whole film feel weird. However, this does open up some entertainment value in the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ way. Everything with the design of the cats is so weird, with the CG and scale for them being so wrong that there is an entertainment value in seeing how wrong it is and the attempts to have such horrifying characters in goofy musical numbers which are meant to be whimsical creates such a strong tonal clash that I couldn’t help but be entertained. My brain did melt seeing how terrible it was but there is an entertainment value to this. The songs meanwhile add to this weird charm. None of them are good and the way Tom Hooper directs the scenes just doesn’t work. He clearly wants this to be a big prestige film like his version of Les Miserables, but the material he’s given doesn’t match his style and this adds to the unintentional hilarity of the film in seeing how serious this is all treated. For example, Hooper stages Memory like he staged I Dreamed a Dream, but the CG, especially the decision to have snot running down Jennifer Hudson’s face, removes any emotional weight and creates this weird humour to the scene. The only highlight of the technical elements is the excellent choreography and dancing, with skilled dancers being used to make the musical numbers have any life, but again the offputting CG makes these scenes uncomfortable in a weirdly sexual way. If you see the film you know what I mean, especially with Taylor Swift’s song.
Overall, Cats is a complete disaster on every possible level and you should all go and see it. This is destined to be a cult classic in the same way something like The Apple is. Nothing about the film, aside from the dancing and Taylor Swift, works and the fact this big a budget has been given and the film has been treated this seriously makes every wrong decision for the film even more baffling. Any entertainment value in the film will come from laughing at it and, in a weird way, the terrifying nature of the film works to its advantage, creating a unique experience, one of those truly magnetic terrible films that rarely comes along. This is in no way a good or even watchable film, but you need to see it to understand just how badly this type of film can go.
My Rating: 1/5