Written by Lee Hall & Tom Hooper, from material by T.S. Eliot and Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber
Directed by Tom Hooper
I know what you are asking. “Why are you doing this to yourself?” When a film like Cats, which has been so memed and mocked, comes along, you have to watch it. I wanted to know if the roasting of Cats was warranted. Maybe the trailer wasn’t a great representation of the whole. Perhaps the critics are nitpicking it. Maybe this is a fantastic reimagining of the box office smash on Broadway. Maybe…oh, who I am kidding? This film is shockingly bad in almost every aspect that a movie could be. Let’s get into it.
The plot is incredibly thin and is a slight framework that only gives a reason why we are meeting each of these cats. Victoria is a young cat abandoned on the streets of London. The alley cats surround her and reveal themselves as “Jellicles” (I think this is a slang version of ‘angelical’?). These Jellicle cats take Victoria on a tour of all the competitors in the Jellicle Ball. This event involves choosing a cat to travel to the Heaviside Layer and be granted reincarnation. Each cat presents itself with a signature song with some cats being friendly and others being mischievous or dangerous. By the end, a cat is chosen, and they ascend while Victoria begins her new life with these castaway pets.
By its very nature, Cats doesn’t have a plot. It’s a showcase for dancing and Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber’s adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s poems. It’s a product that will appeal to people who love it and not much of anyone else. I wish I could say I at least enjoyed the music but….no. Weber has a very distinct style of music that I almost universally hate in everything he has made. The Phantom of the Opera is probably the only soundtrack I could listen to. There’s a sound to these songs, a very electronic synth tone that makes my skin crawl. I enjoy 80s electronic-inspired music, but these pieces are trying to live in a space between popular music and Broadway show tunes. They don’t quite fulfill the promise of either.
All of this could be forgiven, but the terrible computer effects are just horrendous, they cannot be overlooked. Now, I don’t blame the actual people designing the effects but rather the awful producers and studio for demanding significant changes. These demands were so terrible they put out a different version of the movie in theaters after it had already opened with effects changes that were ground out in a sweatshop-like environment. The choice of what the effects would be is squarely blamed on director Tom Hooper.
Hooper wanted to do motion capture but not animate over the actors with people; instead, he pushed the development of a digital fur technology, so make them cat-like. It does not work. I am assuming the digital fur is not a hand-painted element, but it is done by a computer algorithm that uses the motion capture data to cover the actor’s body in hair. The result looks horribly computer generated with heads feeling disconnected from bodies multiple times throughout the movie. If characters are standing still, it is palatable, but if someone moves around quickly, you suddenly see the breaks in the effects. This is a movie where dancing is a significant element, so you can see how all of this becomes a problem.
Let’s get back to the plot, what there is of it. Macavity (Idris Elba) is the antagonist of the picture and manages to kidnap four of the cats. They are held on a barge on the Thames but manage to escape in the third act. Do we see them ever again? Nope. The rest of the movie stays focused on the cats in the Jellicle Ball and manages to cobble together some resolution. Then in the big musical finale, those kidnapped cats are just there. There is no character development beyond the songs which can work, I have seen musicals where people are fleshed out through the songs. Not here. Each character is one-note. That’s a fat cat. That’s another fat cat. There are some trouble-making cats. That’s a sad cat. And on and on.
Cats is not a good movie by any definition. It is edited sloppily and not aided in any way by the lavish effects the budget was spent on it. I will compliment the production designers who made some pretty impressive upscaled sets to make the cats look to scale with their surroundings. However, the special effects team ruins that by making the mice’s proportions so off that I was confused most of the time by their presence. This will become a possible midnight movie favorite, the type of bizarre artifact audiences gathering to make fun of, and that’s about the best the picture could hope for.