Critics seem to be coughing up hairballs, but I think they fur-got what the show was in the first place.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for a musical older than almost any of you reading this)
There are few summaries as Cat-sh*t crazy as this film’s plot, but it’s mostly the same as the musical.
Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is an abandoned cat in the middle of London. She is greeted by a group of “Jellicle” cats who inform her that they are on their way to the Jellicle Ball. Jellicles will be judged for their singing by Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi “Thank the Phoenicians” Dench) and the winner will be given a unique gift: They’ll be reborn into a new life. Along the way, Victoria meets the “narrator” Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild), the magical cat Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), the theatre cat Gus (Ian McKellen), the twin cat burglars Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan), the railway cat Skimbleshanks (Steven McRae), the fickle Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), the fat elite cat Bustopher Jones (James Corden), and the more-than-a-little-stir-crazy cat Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson). Trying to upset the contest is the mystery cat Macavity (Idris “Black Superman” Elba) and his agents Captain Growltiger (Ray “Come on, you know who I am” Winstone) and Bombalurina (Taylor “Tay-Tay Von Swizzlesticks” Swift), who attempt to abduct the competitors and the judge. However, in the end, the contest is won by Jennifer Hudson when she sings “Memory.” Yeah, her character’s name is Grizabella, but it’s Jennifer Hudson and YOU WILL RESPECT HER.
This movie has been beaten by critics with every known implement of cinematic abuse, including bad puns. Hell, the Rotten Tomatoes summary says “Despite its fur-midable cast, this Cats adaptation is a clawful mistake that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their mew-sery.” I admit that I, myself, only saw this film because I was dragged, clawing and hissing, by another person who has tolerated similar-caliber films on my behalf and I expected a travesty of near Biblical proportions.
Instead, I got a mediocre adaptation of a musical.
Yes, as everyone has been talking about, the actors in this movie are given coverings of CGI cat bodies and they are fairly unnerving. Yes, the sets are designed to give the actors the same proportional sizes as a regular cat, which can be extremely disorienting. Those are going to turn a lot of people off very quickly from the film and I get why. Honestly, I was surprised how little it ended up bothering me after I acclimated to it. Given that Cats has always been super weird I think others would have felt the same if the film didn’t have what I’m now realizing is Tom Hooper’s musical signature: Pointless realism.
If you watched the film adaptation of Les Miserables, I’m sure you have an idea of what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t, the movie has several scenes of realism that bring the audience out of the movie. Musicals aren’t supposed to be accurate to life, after all, so we don’t need to hear the sick “crack” of Javert’s head hitting the ground when he jumps off of a bridge or the bloody splatters of Gavroche getting shot. Those moments don’t make us more immersed in the experience, they create a greater incongruity between the musical parts and the rest of the film. Similarly, watching Rebel Wilson eating a bunch of roaches (even tap-dancing ones) and scratching her thighs while spread eagled like a regular cat doesn’t exactly mesh well with her subsequently unzipping her skin to reveal another outfit underneath. This is the kind of thing that permeates the film… too much realism matched with too much surrealism or theatrical realism. Now, I can say that I see what they were going for, having the cats sometimes act more beastial and sometimes more human in order to emphasize their emotions, but it just doesn’t feel like it. It feels… well, gross.
Having said all of that, the movie does have some good things going for it. Almost every performer is cast perfectly. They added a little talking and gave the film a slightly more exciting plot by expanding Macavity’s character, even though the plot is still minimal (and always has been). The song that Taylor Swift wrote for the movie, “Beautiful Ghosts,” gives Victoria a solid number that helps expand her character and give her more of a connection with Grizabella. Several of the songs were given a few updates and changes that were really solid and the performance of “Macavity: The Mystery Cat” by Taylor Swift and Idris Elba was freaking amazing. Lastly, Jennifer Hudson did absolutely nail “Memory.” I know that the song has been overdone and covered so many times that there is a joke in the film Jersey Girl about every single child at a talent show singing it, but it’s still a great song and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t misty-eyed after it.
Overall, this movie wasn’t necessarily “bad” as much as it is “disappointing.” With so many great performances and so much going for it, the film still falls flat because of some really bad creative decisions. Can we maybe just keep Tom Hooper away from musicals from now on?
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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