Cast: Francesca Hayward (Victoria), James Corden (Bustopher Jones), Judi Dench (Deuteronomy), Jason Derulo (Rum Tum Tugger), Idris Elba (Macavity), Jennifer Hudson (Grizabella), Ian McKellen (Gus the Theater Cat), Taylor Swift (Bombalurina), Rebel Wilson (Jennyanydots), Laurie Davidson (Mr. Mistoffelees), Mette Towley (Jemima), Robert Fairchild (Munkustrap), Steven McRae (Skimbleshanks), Ray Winstone (Growltiger), Larry Bourgeois (Plato), Laurent Bourgeois (Socrates), Zizi Strallen (Tantomile), Eric Underwood (Admetus), Melissa Madden-Gray (Griddlebone)
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer (poetry collection “Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats”): T.S. Eliot
Writer (musical): Andrew Lloyd Webber
Writer: Tom Hooper, Lee Hall
Cinematographer: Christopher Ross
Editor: Melanie Oliver
Composer: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Rating: PG for some rude and suggestive humor.
Run Time: 110 minutes
I went camping with some friends this past summer. One night, we sat around a fire and talked about the movies we’d seen, the ones we wanted to see, and the ones we thought would bomb. The trailer for Tom Hooper’s Cats had just come out, and many people were harping on it, including one of my buddies. “This is the worst-looking movie I’ve ever fucking seen,” he declared. “Why would anyone okay this?” My friend predicted that Cats would go down as the worst movie of 2019. It would be, pardon the pun, catastrophic.
Jump forward half a year later. My girlfriend and I went to see Cats in it’s third week from release at a local AMC. Neither of us had high expectations. I had listened to some podcasters talk about the movie and I had seen the lukewarm reviews, but that was all. I had never seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical or read the book of poems by T. S. Eliot it is based on. I braced myself for waves of cringe.
Cats turned out to be one of the most fun experiences I have had in a movie theatre. The audience was all in. The movie began to chants of “Cats! Cats! Cats!” Folks around my girlfriend and I mewed, purred, or sang along with the actors, like a choir giving a live performance in an animal shelter. Someone must have complained, because a staff member came in halfway through the movie to shush a group of girls sitting in the front row. It was the same as going to the Super Bowl and asking fans not to make too much noise.
While Cats is not a hot mess, it is held back by several flaws. The visuals are not great, or even good. The special effects and tricky camera shots take away from the occasionally beautiful choreography. Francesca Hayward, who is a principal ballerina for the Royal Ballet, has one or two arresting scenes that showcase her grace and range of movement, but the camerawork in Cats distracts from these moments all too often. The performances vary wildly. Where James Corden and Rebel Wilson’s brand of physical comedy are low points, Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Memory” as Grizabella is a show-stopping highlight. Cats has a pretty straightforward plot for those that know it (or, like me, Google it): a clutter of London strays called “Jellicle cats” hold a competition to see who will get sent to the “Heavyside layer” to be reborn in the next of their nine lives. However, the movie has such poor sound mixing that the instrumentals overwhelm the lyrics. The uninitiated will likely be lost all alone in the moonlight trying to figure out what is happening.
Cats is a passable filmed musical, but if the theatrical experience my girlfriend and I had when we watched it is any indication, I think the movie will enjoy longevity á la cult classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). The energy in the room was infectious. It started with me nodding my head, then snapping my fingers and tapping my toes. By the third act, my girlfriend and I were caterwauling, “Oh, well I never,/was there ever/A cat so clever as magical Mr. Mistoffelees!” Back in the summer when the trailer dropped, I wouldn’t have thought I’d recommend Cats as a movie worth checking out, but here we are. Just make sure you watch it with the right crowd.