Cats: Film Review

When a film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s stage musical Cats was first announced, I let out a groan because I’m not a massive fan of the show. I didn’t really know what to expect from Cats the film, but I now know it is the weirdest, most bonkers and unique cinema experiences I’ve ever had.

In the film, unlike the musical, Victoria the White Cat (ballerina Francesca Hayward in her film debut) has the lead role. It follows this newly abandoned cat around the streets of London as she meets a group of Jellicle Cats, many of whom are vying to be crowned the “Jellicle Choice” at the Jellicle Ball so they can ascend to the Heaviside Layer and start a new life. Yep. 

Cats is one of the most successful and long-running stage musicals ever, so when it was revived in London a few years ago, I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about – and I came out none the wiser. I’ve never understood its popularity, as it has virtually no plot – it is basically just a series of musical sequences introducing new cat characters. I figured the film would have to add a more substantial plot but it doesn’t really. Some points are made clearer and more explicit – during the stage show I didn’t really know what was going on – and the film audience has Victoria to help them learn that world. 

When the trailer was released in May, there was a big commotion about the digital fur technology, which is used to make the actors look like cats in post-production. The effects have certainly improved since then but the resulting look is baffling and I couldn’t wrap my head around their disconcerting appearance. They are human-cat hybrids, with human faces, hands and feet but then feline fur, whiskers, ears and tails. Also, the female felines had breasts but the males had no packages – WTF?! And sometimes they looked as small as cats and other times the perspective was totally off. I also didn’t understand why Taylor Swift wore high heels as Bombalurina when all the other cats were barefoot and I felt like I was seeing Idris Elba naked when he took off Macavity’s coat and danced in all his furry glory – even though most of the cats are naked the whole way through. SO ODD. 

There is a massive cast featuring some amazing names but my standouts were actually the relative unknowns – Victoria and her two pals Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild) and Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson) because they were the likeable leads who guided the flimsy narrative. I also enjoyed Jason Derulo as the suave Rum Tum Tugger (I know, I’m shocked as well) because he had the swagger and can sing and dance, Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy, Ray Winstone cracked me up as Growltiger, and tap-dancing whiz Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks because he had the best dance sequence. Jennifer Hudson was well cast as Grizabella but she overdoes Memory, the signature song, James Corden as Bustopher Jones and Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots tried to make their scenes funny with little success, Ian McKellen didn’t do much as Gus the Theatre Cat, and Swift didn’t look right in her five-minute appearance. 

I just don’t know who would go and see Cats. Unless you are a fan of the stage show or just curious about how it’s made, there is no reason to. Once the novelty wears off, the film is actually quite dull – the pacing is slow and the dance sequences aren’t given the grandeur they should have. Plus there’s no story for audiences to connect to and there aren’t that many standout musical numbers to pull you in – although Mr. Mistoffelees and the new Beautiful Ghosts are decent.

It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and I spent a lot of time thinking ‘What the hell?!’ I just couldn’t cope with how weird it was. It is just the most bizarre cinema experience I’ve ever witnessed. I can appreciate what Tom Hooper was trying to achieve, but I didn’t like it – it is a hollow spectacle. 

In cinemas Friday 20th December 

Rating: 2/5 

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