Written By: Marie Rose: Domenichini & Sophia Poulimenakos
As two extreme Broadway nerds walked into the theatre to see Cats, the expectation were honestly quite low. But nothing could have prepared us for the mess this movie was about to be. Musical adaptations from Broadway normally are not the best – but they at least understand the foundation of their original stories.
Cats follows a tribe of cats known as the Jellicles as they participate in the Jellicle Ball to determine which cat will be chosen to brought up to their own version of heaven called the Heavenside Layer to be reborn again. Cats had the opportunity to be a good movie, however some musicals just don’t translate to the screen well. Some musicals should just be left to stage. Cats is one of those musicals. With the original musical’s success and longevity, they must have done something right. However, when adapted to the screen in this 2019 rendition, Cats is an animation nightmare with eerie musical choices.
The cinematography in Cats is almost laughable, and going into this movie I truly believed this would be my one praise of the film. The care towards how your own movie looks can determine how audiences will ultimately feel about the movie as a whole – and with this the film, I already left with a very weird feeling. I understand, in the stage version, this is also the case. However, with the stage version there are limitations as to what you can do. In the film, these humanoid cats are just spookily off-putting. It just seems wrong and you can’t place your finger on why. Perhaps it’s the fault of lazy animation. Rather than opting for a humanoid version of the animal, the creators could have placed the characters in the true form of the animals, similar to that of the widely successful live action adaptation of The Jungle Book (2016).
With the animation the way it was done for Cats as I saw it, to me, the film was a indolent (failed) attempt at a cash grab. Why do I say that? Well, for one, their sizing was inconsistent throughout the film, looking almost human size at some points and then jumping to the size of an average cat the next. Two, the CGI was severely glitching throughout the entire feature: their feet never touched the ground, their faces separated from their bodies and there were even moments when the characters would become transparent. Third, and possibly the aspect that bothered me the most was the fur placement. The faces, hands and feet were mostly bare of fur (again, another inconsistency as some of the characters did have some fuzz here and there). As for their faces, it seems as if director Tom Hooper was more focused on selling the big names he got for the film rather than selling the story itself. In an interview with The Atlantic Hooper said: “I sometimes felt there was too much fur covering [the actors’] own faces. What it did for me was reconnect me with my original intention, which was to see the actors’ faces. So my direction of travel after that was paring it down, simplifying it, making it purer”. Overall, the animation of Cats was a poor choice that detrimentally affected its success. Had it been different, perhaps the outcome of the film would not have been as bad.
Hollywood has an interesting habit of creating movies from existing Broadway musicals, but not using Broadway actors; Cats is no exception. The cast in this movie can only be described as awkward, or just downright odd. With James Corden (Bustopher Jones) and Rebel Wilson (Jennyanydots) adding immensely unfunny comic moments to a musical that is not meant to have any comedy whatsoever, to Jason Derulo (Rum Tum Tugger) and Taylor Swift (Bombalurina) acting hypersexualized in moments where it is completely unnecessary, and quite uncomfortable to watch.
With big name stars seeming misplaced in a movie they were casted in, performances by any other character become even more forgettable; especially Francesca Hayward (Victoria) who played the main character. I cannot recall a single memorable moment she had in the movie. Don’t get me wrong, the memorable moments I had from the big-name stars were not good memories – but I can name the things they did. The movie seemed to fall victim to the writers wanting people to focus on their money markers, and as a result, created an even more unbearably awkward movie experience. The writers knew exactly what they wanted to shine throughout the film, and that clearly was not on the actual story, but rather how many celebrities they were able to fit into this movie. Cats to me is already an interesting experience someone can have at the theatre, but casting various big-name celebrities into a story they cannot properly tell overall radiated the most un-organic feelings I have ever experienced watching a movie.
Now, for the music. I want to keep this short and sweet. When it comes to making an adaptation of a musical, the music is bound to change a bit. However, when comparing the film soundtrack to the Original Broadway Cast Recording from 1983, there are definite differences and not in a good way. Where the original songs ensure a distinct individual voice for each character, the 2019 soundtrack blends them together, creating one sound rather than embrace the different voices available. This can be seen clearly through the prologue song, “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats.” The other point that I wanted to make in regard to the soundtrack is that everything seemed to have a disturbing veil of sexual suggestion to it.
This can be plainly heard in the comparison of the song “Macavity: The Mysterious Cat.” While it is most prominent during that song, that air of sexuality is present throughout most of the soundtrack and film. Now finally, despite all its flaws, I was looking forward to “Memory,” perhaps the most well-known and well-loved song from the musical to make up for this disaster but to my disappointment, it didn’t quite hit the mark. That’s not to say it wasn’t good. It was. However, I think that in the grand scheme of the whole film, it seemed like one last reach for hope that ultimately was lost within the first 15 minutes. There is no doubt that Jennifer Hudson is an amazing singer with an Oscar for her performance in Dreamgirls, and Memory was a perfect song to showcase that talent. Unfortunately, she was thrown into this mess and did the best she could given the circumstances.
Overall, Cats as a movie was completely unnecessary. With the show’s success on Broadway, I understand why this movie was made. However, if the creative team was not going to put the effort and care into making actual good movie instead of a cash grab, I truly do not see the point of having this movie exist. With lousy animation, extremely bizarre casting, and music choices that do not fit the mold of a Broadway musical, Cats as a film is something the world never needed to see.