The reaction to Tom Hooper’s Cat‘s adaptation is a prime example of how trendy negativity has become.
Starring James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, and Francesca Hayward.
At the end of 2019, the adaptation to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats hit the big screen, directed by Tom Hooper (who had previously directed the film of Les Miserables. In a similar vein to Les Mis, Cats boasted a host of stars, perhaps trying to assure itself of a large audience. What happened, unfortunately, is perhaps the biggest witch hunt against a film I have witnessed in years. It seems genuinely baffling to me that a bunch of CGI cats can cause such a stir when a film that is literally about a white man going crazy and shooting Robert DeNiro is being lauded as the masterpiece of our time. And I’ve already ranted about my worries upon that particular film…
Am I claiming that Cats should be nominated for Oscars too? No, that would be absurd. But is it as bad as the critics have made it out to be? Not even slightly.
Cats has always been bizarre. It is literally a musical that is crafted out of a completely random selection of T. S. Eliot’s poems. In terms of a film adaptation of a musical, it’s accomplished. Let’s start with where the film thrives. Unlike Les Miserables (and yes I’m going to draw that comparison a lot), Cats makes no apology for its music – and it is front and centre here. A lot has clearly been put into making it sound as sleek and as gorgeous as possible, though I understand that creatives were working pretty close to the wire to get it ready in time. While everybody is familiar with Memory, which is beautifully performed by Jennifer Hudson here, other songs also stood out, such as Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats and the new addition Beautiful Ghosts.
The music is wonderfully complimented with the choreography, of which there is ample here. There are only rare moments of stillness, and you can definitely identify its roots as a Lloyd Webber musical, with energetic and absorbing musical numbers.
Additionally, the film actually makes more narrative sense than the stage show. Cats is often regarded as a musical that doesn’t really have a plot, but the film has made great strides and additions to actually make the story make sense – chief among them being the refocusing of the film to have the protagonist as Victoria, played by Francesca Hayward. This change allows for Victoria to be the audience substitute. Since Cats is essentially a long list of cats arbitrarily introducing themselves to the audience, this means that instead the story can be moderately retooled around the concept of the Jellicle Ball, in which one cat will be chosen to ascend to Heaviside Layer with the promise of a new life. Sure, this is pretty much also the plot of the actual musical, though the film definitely makes great strides to make this more coherent.
What could be improved – once one looks past the entirely bizarre premise (because, let’s be honest, who goes to see a film about humanoid cats and expects it to be ordinary?) – is the costuming and the graphic effects. On one hand, I have to applaud the ambition of the storytellers involved, as it is no mean feat to use CGI to the scale that it has been used here, though I cannot help but feel that it was entirely unnecessary in the first place. Watching videos of the stage musical and the costuming choices that have been made there are in many ways superior, and no audience member was actually going to believe that these were real cats, because they are shaped like humans. So why go down the route of making dancing and singing cats realistic in the first place? It’s somewhat difficult to make logical sense of, but I suppose logical sense has very little sense within the world of musical theatre anyhow. While I’m not going to pretend as if it was as harrowing as lots of people on the internet enjoy acting as if it is (for, let’s be honest, the characters look incredibly little like cats, except for the tracings of fur and the tail), it was somewhat distracting during the large group numbers to see people’s feet disappearing into the floor. The decisions made to use as much CGI as there was meant that ironically I was removed from the realism of the film, which is what I feel like Tom Hooper was trying to bring to the project in the first place, especially considering the work that he did on Les Mis to make it feel as realistic as possible. It is definitely a sobering set back for Lloyd Webber and those involved that one cannot skate through on celebrity castings and the merit of ones’ work along and expect people to enjoy it, though I do not believe it is as bad as others claim.
To summarise, Cats doesn’t fall short in as many ways as critics have suggested. It has brilliant music and choreography. While it does suffer from slightly dodgy graphic effects, this isn’t so disconcerting as to entirely remove the enjoyment of the film, but it was a thoroughly faithful adaptation of the stage musical which is at its heart completely bizarre and entirely fucked up. So, what did you expect?
Now, if we could stop being so negative, we could discuss climate change, maybe?