You remember that trailer, right? The one that instantly set the Internet a’blaze with gasps of horror, hilarious memes and near-unanimous “what were they THINKING?!?!”s as the world caught its first confusing, terrifying glimpse of Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper’s big-name big-screen adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway musical. “Bup, bup,” the filmmakers replied, “Cool your jets. Don’t judge the movie based on THAT. It’s not finished yet!”
True enough, obviously, as Hooper was reportedly still editing the film on December 16... THE DAY OF ITS WORLD PREMIERE. Erm, that kind of down-to-the-wire completion for a project of this magnitude isn’t exactly a sign that everything went swimmingly.
And guess what? Despite repeated claims to the contrary, the final film does indeed deliver exactly what its trailer teased and what audiences feared: unknown actors prancing around as über-creepy, proportionally challenged “cats” with CGI fur in a movie woefully lacking plot, purpose or pizzazz. (Warning: if you thought the cats were scary, wait until you see the mice and the cockroaches – NIGHTMARES.) Worst of all, the whole thing is mind-numbingly B-O-R-I-N-G, making its near-two-hour running time feel like an exercise in cinematic penance.
For anyone unfamiliar with the stage musical, the story is pretty one-note: a bunch of London “jellicle cats” (I still have no idea what that means) compete to see who gets to die (!) and be reborn in a new life. The entire production is essentially just a series of songs in which each bizarrely named cat introduces itself. That’s it. Two minutes of story stretched waaay too thin.
Unfortunately for moviegoers, the film sticks to that “plot.”
One forgettable song after another plays out, each accompanied by an equally flat and far, far too long dance sequence that just kinds of lands there, inert, onscreen. I kept waiting for the magic to start, for something exciting to happen or for any of it to make sense... but no. One of the key criticisms of the trailer was also the scale of the cats: how big (or small) are they supposed to be??? Who knows, because sometimes in the finished film, the cats actually look to be cat-sized. Other times, though, they seem to be the size of human children. Then, later, roughly the size of Barbie dolls. It’s never the same from scene to scene or even prop to prop, and the rampant inconsistency just felt lazy. Nevermind that some of the cats wear clothes while others do not. Some have on shoes (?), some have naked human feet and some have what appear to be latex “socks” where their back paws should be. WHYYYY? Where was the continuity team?!
There’s also been so much hoopla about the CGI cat fur and whiskers, but neither are enough to make up for the film’s shortfalls. Newsflash: despite what I imagine was a huge effects budget and thousands of hours of painstaking work by the effects team, everyone in the movie still looks like they’re just wearing furry costumes.
And before you get all excited about the Cats cast, let me break the bad news to you: the film’s “stars” are Francesca Hayward, Robbie Fairchild and Laurie Davidson. (You’re forgiven if you just said, “Who???” I’ll wait while you IMDB them.) They get the most screen time. Everyone else – from Judi Dench to Taylor Swift, Ian McKellan, Rebel Wilson and James Corden – is a supporting player with, basically, an extended cameo. Jennifer Hudson – who, as Grizabella, at least gets to belt out the signature showstopper “Memory” – earns a teensy bit more attention, as does Idris Elba as the villainous Macavity... but it’s all relative. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time watching a lot of people you don’t recognize. (Fun fact: for the first few minutes of the movie, I kept wondering if Robbie Fairchild was Stephen Colbert.)
Overall, I’m not really sure who thought making Cats would be a good idea. Or that making it the way they made it would be a good idea. The hugely disappointing outcome is baffling, if perhaps not entirely surprising, given the time, talent and resources that went into making it. The film is a chore to sit through and would be entirely forgettable were it not so unsettling. Yet despite all this, PEOPLE APPLAUDED at the end.
I can only assume they were showing their appreciation that the whole mess was finally over.