By Chris Hughes (Manchester, England)

 

When the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats opened in cinemas the reviews were virtually unanimous in condemnation of it. The producers hoped that it would be embraced by moviegoers who care nothing for the views of critics in the same way that The Greatest Showman was. The precedent set by that box office blockbuster was not repeated, resulting in a critical and financial failure. Could Cats finally find an appreciative audience now that it’s available for home viewing?

Unfashionably, I admit that I enjoyed the stage show. Whilst the trailer didn’t dissuade me from seeing the movie it did give it quite a good try. I also decided to overlook concerns as to the choice of director, Tom Hooper, bearing in mind his uncinematic treatment of the musical version of Les Misérables.

This surely couldn’t have been as bad as the reviews had claimed. Perhaps the cats, so peculiar in the trailer, would not look quite so strange as one relaxed into the visual style of the film. Lloyd Webber seems sometimes to inspire unjustified derision and this may have played a part in the adverse response to the screen incarnation of one of his biggest hits. Viewing this, it soon became apparent that catharsis had been offered on a plate to any critic harbouring enmity towards him.

So what could be so awful? Tom Hooper’s take on the theatrical smash is ill judged on virtually every level but most strikingly, as the trailer indicated, in the appearance of the cats themselves. Artifice is often a gift to musicals. One of the factors which accounts for the success of The Lion King on stage is its lack of camouflage. It accentuates the use of puppetry rather than attempting to disguise it. The stage version of Cats is effective in simply showing its cast in human form. The look of the felines in this movie, hybrids of human and animal, is more akin to science fiction than musical comedy. These are weird, partly CGI sourced creatures. The strangeness, just as prevalent on a TV screen, never goes away. It’s impossible to get beyond it.

The story, such as it is, tells of a tribe of cats known as Jellicles, led by Old Deuteronomy who meet at the Jellicle Ball. They are to decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. Being a musical interpretation of T S Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats it is not a plot driven piece. The movie shoehorns in an unnecessary story of abduction of cats by Macavity (Idris Elba) and his accomplices to ensure his selection as the Jellicle choice. This contrivance, like the film itself, is clumsy and ill conceived.

The star studded cast are all at sea in this disaster although some fare better than others. Idris Elba and Judi Dench show that an inability to sing in this case really does matter. Jennifer Hudson’s youthful, vibrant vocals are at odds with weary Grizabella, the faded glamour cat she portrays. There are pleasing turns from Ian McKellen and Jason Derulo whilst James Corden and Rebel Wilson simply aren’t funny. That Taylor Swift and Francesca Hayward manage to be appealing at all is the ultimate accolade to them both given the manner in which they are presented.

There are films like Fight Club and Blade Runner which died at the cinema but were reincarnated by video, DVD and TV which gave them an enthusiastic fan base. Sadly, the leap from big screen to small is not going to result in any kind of new life for this misguided misfire.

Cats is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and via selected streaming services.

Rating 2/5

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