Directed By Tom Hooper
Starring – Idris Elba, Francesca Hayward, Jennifer Hudson
The Plot – A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.
Rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor.
– Elaborate set designs. London, England during the 1930’s is brought to life with a beautiful neon aesthetic and a three-dimensional scheme in props that easily marries the practicality of the stage with the fantastical imaginative quality of the screen. Attention to detail also plays a pivotal role here, as many creative Easter Eggs filled with cat puns pop-up in every business sign and advertising board throughout the city, and better established this dreamy setting for the human-less enterprise that is clearly evident far beyond its feline-dominated characters. Hooper as a visionary crafts a world that feels so far from our own, yet one that remotely exists in much smaller measurements, and with an ambitious eye for replicating what stood out about its smaller-stage show, he grants it a big budget rendering that cements the popularity that this thirty year evolution has taken in getting here.
– Musical performances. Refusing to settle just for what got it to the dance in the first place, Hooper and musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber have teamed up to write a majority of fresh material exclusively for the film. This isn’t to say that classics like “Memory” aren’t included, but rather a modern spin in musical orchestration is taken with the numbers, and offer an array of genre offerings that will satisfy every kind of fan this soundtrack throws at it. Aside from this, the dance choreography and spectacle of the sequences glitter with the same tinsel and gold that radiate ever so boldly with a cast with no shortage of chemistry between them. The movements are sleek and animalistic to faithfully depict the air of their species, and the amount of diverse dance styles being depicted in one single frame gives the film immense replay value for any dance students looking to duplicate what they’re enjoying.
– Originality. Part of what I believed to be the major factor in why “Cats” was a huge Broadway success during the 1980’s is transferred equally in the cinematic adaptation, and that’s its indisputable branch of being and feeling unlike anything else going within its competition. This is especially a difficult thing to pull off in 2019, as Hollywood has found more than a few ways to rip-off successful properties. But “Cats” fever dream imagery, which includes some of the craziest shit that I have ever seen put to film, as well as its “Twilight Zone” idealism, truly does establish a fresh, memorable personality that at the very least kept me from ever growing bored, and succeeded in being that film that is so crazy that it must be seen to be believed. This gets pulled off in this grand of scale, both in celebrity appeal and budget, around once a decade, and even if you have zero interest in seeing it, believe me when I say that if it’s bad cinema that you seek, your all-time lists will never be complete if you don’t see “Cats”.
– Scarring special effects. The facial resonation effect put to the feline body is not only nightmare fuel for horror fans like me who have grown immune to what the genre has to offer, but also contradicts two brands of species; human and cat, that are represented terribly by what the production have constructed. The cats themselves are too small compared to the huge structures surrounding them, the cats have breasts and crotch bulges that over-sexualize what should be anything but a sexy picture, and the facial skin color tone of each respective actor is never fully rendered to match the fur surrounding its face, so it just comes across as a terribly cheap Snapchat filter that doesn’t go away for nearly two hours. These aren’t humans, they aren’t cats, they’re just some kind of mutant offspring that only exist because things like a furry convention exist in this terribly disgusting world.
– Unappealing presentation. The camera work in this film is dreadfully under average in capturing the magnitude and spectacle of what’s taking place, and thanks to some decisions used in post-production, it harvests an air of attention-deficit-disorder that makes it very difficult to focus on anything at any given time. The choppy editing feels like the mouse that is constantly running away from these cats, complete with over-zealous cuts that happen far too early, and never allow the actors to command the attention they need to make their turns memorable. In addition, the handheld work zooms in and out of frame to try to capture as much as possible about the personality within the environment, when a wide angle lens could’ve easily depicted the madness in mayhem that you seek. On top of it, there are no daring or challenging shot compositions or styles to make the film breathe the same level of unorthodox visual storytelling to authenticate the strange shifts and inhuman movements that our protagonists emit so effortlessly.
– Minimal plot. For the first 70 minutes of this film, we are treated to song after song of character introduction, to which there are absolutely NO shortage of. It’s normal to expect an abundance of songs in musicals, but there wasn’t a single minute during this film that didn’t feature a song, and what’s even worse is the tracks themselves are so condensed so only tell us about the character singing it that they ignore the necessity to push the narrative outside of them further. Because of this, the film doesn’t have a plot or conflict until there’s about a half hour left in the film, and by then you have already checked out because of the whimsical coma that has crippled what youth you have left in your now frail psyche. When it does materialize, this plot is nothing but a one-scene adversity that is solved with the most convenient of plot devices, and proved how little of depth or creativity that this screenplay had in giving this adaptation a dusting of purpose for why it was made in the first place.
– Brutal sound mixing. You don’t expect a movie like “Cats” to annihilate your eardrums with ruthless intensity, but the violent shifts and spikes in volume during the most melodramatic of moments made me clutch in the same fetal position that brought me into this world in the first place. The musical and vocal capacities never feel on equal ground, allowing the former to far overlap the latter, resulting in lyrics of character exposition that were unfortunately missed because I couldn’t hear myself cry, let alone comprehend a single consonant that any of these actors expressed so gently. The sound even tries to ruin the greatest musical number of the film; Jennifer Hudson dominating “Memory”, standing shoulder to shoulder with her fiery registry, choosing not to elevate slowly in volume like her performance, and instead blowing to ten once the memorable chorus comes to fruition. This is easily some of the worst sound mixing of the entire year, and ruin what should easily be a glowing positive from a musical genre selection.
– Contrasting performances. Some actors do a good job in understanding what kind of movie they are in. Mostly Hayward, who has extensive Broadway experience playing an overly-animated personality for her audience. She is great here, and brings along that same unorthodox energy for the central protagonist. But aside from her and maybe Laurie Davidson as the magician cat, the rest of the talented ensemble never fully grasp what kind of film they are rightfully in. Judy Dench, Ian McKellan, and Jennifer Hudson are competing for an Oscar, Rebel Wilson and James Corden are in a Saturday Night Live skit that continuously soils what little heart the film conjures for itself, and Idris Elba is in a crime noir film about stealing souls? If everyone is on the same page, this film has a chance to succeed, but the diversity of deliveries from everyone contained keeps this from ever feeling like one cohesive tonal capacity, and stilts Hooper’s questionable direction from a big name cast whose popularity may have gotten the best of him.
– Unexplained ideology. When the film begins, it clearly takes place in a human world, full of signs, language, and culture to communicate such a setting. But once the protagonist cat meets the Jellicles (A word that is said no shorter than 200 times throughout the film), it obviously converts over to a cat world, full of the very same puns that I previously mentioned in my positives. My question is what converted this change? Was it being in the company of a cat cult? On top of this, there’s a decision from the group’s leader to send one cat off to be reborn as a new cat. How does this take place in a fantasy cat world that is an immersion from the human world I previously mentioned? Do they purposely kill the cat to be reborn? Is the cat dying of age? If so, why is it no bigger than the rest of the cats? These are only the beginning of a novel full of questions that I left the theater with. Questions that make debate the positivity of a group who lessen the importance of this girl cat who is going through sort of an existential crisis once this film begins.
– Manipulative and insensitive. When you watch the trailers for “Cats”, you will come to comprehend that Taylor Swift is not only in the movie, but also a major lead, considering she receives one of the top five billings once the names roll across the screen. The reality is that Swift comes along to sing one of the forty songs in the film, introduces and denounces her character, then disappears into the mist without even a shred of notoriety. This will not only feel disappointing to Swift fans, but should be called out for a decades old trick in cinematic advertising that values the name over the importance to the film. On the insensitive front, the cameos by Corden and Wilson bring less than surprising results in the dynamic of their character, especially for Wilson, who has been riding the same one joke for the entirety of her mostly disappointing career. The film wastes no time ostracizing them both for being fat, even pointing it out in lyrics of their songs. Their characters never grow above this or defeat the odds against their rendering. They are just obese, disgusting cats, and that’s it. How could you say no to a role this trail-blazing?
My Grade: 3/10 or F+ or HISS AND MISS