Verdict: This stage-to-screen recreation is curiously kitschy.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running Cats musical is in itself an adaptation of T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The collection of poems that turned into the award-winning musical is now transitioning into a big-screen production directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper. With a formidable ensemble cast, the release of the trailer also revealed the highly criticized CGI versions of the Cats characters that took audiences by surprise and left us to wait and see what the movie would eventually deliver.
What’s Cats About:
Abandoned in a London alleyway, a cat named Victoria (Francesca Hayward) meets the tribe of Jellicle cats. Through her eyes, we are introduced to other feline inhabitants of the streets of London including Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson), Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), Bustopher Jones (James Corden), Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), Gus The Theatre Cat (Ian McKellen) and more. Each year, as all the cats attend the Jellicle ball, matriarch Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) must pick one cat to be the Jellicle Choice who will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life. With all the Jellicles hoping to be chosen, the ‘Napoleon Of Crime’ Macavity (Idris Elba) has sinister plans.
Taking something that’s thoroughly theatrical like Cats to the big screen is definitely unexpected and not an easy feat. So let’s focus on what director Tom Hooper got right with this adaptation. He drifts away from the simplistic setting of the stage musical to create a neon-lit befitting 1930s London, which acts as a stylistic background for the questionable CGI human-hybrid cats. Taylor Swift’s cameo-like appearance as Bombalurina is a quick treat while Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat delivers a rueful salute to the time gone by filled with nostalgia. Meanwhile, newcomer Francesca Hayward stands out in the big-name ensemble as she empathetically and smoothly acts in the audience’s perspective. One of the Royal Ballet’s principal dancers, the promising on-screen actress carries us around the characters and through the narrative with charismatic ease.
What Could’ve Been Better:
The screenplay by Lee Hall and Tom Hooper sticks so closely to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical and T. S. Eliot’s poems that it fails to bring in the narrative required for the big screen. Its redeeming performances are also often overshadowed by the jarring human-feline hybrid characters and the music is often disenchanting. Although Jennifer Hudson melodiously belts out the emblematic track Memory, her sobbing delivery is somewhat underwhelming. If nothing else, this movie owns its flaws with such confidence that it becomes delightfully kitschy.
Why You Should Watch:
In spite of its shortcomings, Cats has plenty of charisma and enough redeeming performances to become a worthy guilty pleasure. Also, watch it to witness the talented actress and ballerina Francesca Hayward at work.