Where to begin with “Cats”? The film adaptation of one of the longest running Broadway shows is boasted by a stellar cast, an Oscar-winning director, and co-written by one of the voices behind “Rocketman” and “Billy Elliot”. So what went wrong? Everything. To fully describe the film “Cats” is to open up one’s mind and delve into utter madness.
Tom Hooper, director of the overrated “The King’s Speech”, “The Danish Girl” and the atrocious — Anne Hathaway notwithstanding — “Les Miserables”, has decided to tackle Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic, coked-up Broadway smash. Instead of delivering a crowd-pleasing adventure, Hooper has made a film that is a journey into pure chaos. The creatures that make up this film are not cats, but something that was created in a lab one day, but then escaped, and evolved into something far scarier. At least that’s what they look like.
There’s not a single moment you believe you are watching actual cats, but actors in terrible CG. These anatomically incorrect, humanoid cat-like creatures are the stuff of night terrors. Uncanny valley doesn’t even apply here, because these designs are of their own disturbing creation. The unfinished CG certainly doesn’t help try to sell you that these monstrosities are actually cats. Trying to judge the film on its own terms apart from the character design and effects is nearly impossible because the narrative is so limp, all you’re stuck with is dissecting the look and movements of the Dr. Moreau rejects prancing around in front of you.
There is no attempt at any sort of narrative. A cat introduces themself and sings a song about who they are. Repeat for 110 minutes and you have the narrative spine of “Cats”. Perhaps the narrative (or lack of one) works better on stage, but in the cinematic medium, it simply fails.
Apart from their horrendous designs, none of the characters are particularly memorable or likable. The cast are all giving what is expected of them, but only a few walk away unscathed. Idris Elba — looking like your childhood sleep paralysis demon — feels like he comes from another bizzarro film that exists on Planet 9. Elba understands the film he’s in and chews his scenery like only a true professional can. Taylor Swift is over-performing here, consistently mugging for the camera. For some reason James Corden and Rebel Wilson show up to only be the fat cats and provide the film with putrid attempts at humor. Jason Derulo — reportedly upset that his bulge was digitally erased — comes off simply as clownish, making matters more unnerving as Hooper consistently frames him in extreme close ups.
Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench both look stranded, probably wondering what they’re doing there. Jennifer Hudson, crying and nose dripping of snot, is performing for the back row 10 blocks away. Hudson takes melodramatic to the next level with her rendition of “Memory”, the shows most popular number. Even newcomer Francesca Hayward, playing the audience surrogate, is stuck with only one facial expression of whimsy the entire film.
“Cats” is also filled with moments of pure WTF-ery. Most of which I don’t want to give away because they actually need to be seen to be believed. However, James Corden drinking out of a milk saucer is something I never wanted, nor even thought I would see in my lifetime, but here we are. There truly are not enough drugs in the world to put you on this films level.
Fans of the musical most likely won’t find enjoyment here either as many of the songs just don’t have much energy to them. Using the same practice Hooper used in “Les Mis” with having the actors sing live on camera, “Cats” suffers from a terrible sound mix. Often times, the orchestral background will drown out the actors’ singing or vice versa, creating an uneven musical sound. Some numbers I couldn’t even hear what the actors were saying, and it wasn’t the fault of the theater I saw this in. One of the only musical numbers that proves to be effective on all fronts is “Beautiful Ghosts”, the new song written by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Is “Cats” one of the worst films ever made? Yes and no. It’s less worst film of all time and more of a disaster for the ages. This is a soon-to-be legendary case of miscalculation on all fronts. Like “The Room” for Feline Musicals, how this thing got made and no one stopped this at any point is both absurd and hilarious at the same time. Only a director like David Lynch or Panos Cosmatos could potentially make something like this work. If you want to see something that will have your jaw hanging in disbelief for 2 hours, “Cats” is the film to do that.