Jacob Richardson | 19/12/2019
Existence is futile, and nothing makes sense, in a world where this movie exists. Book your therapist now; you’re going to need a LOT of emotional work to get rid of the trauma of watching Tom Hooper’s latest.
A cat named Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is abandoned by her human family in a London alleyway. She runs into the Jellicle Cats, including Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild), Mr Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), Bustopher Jones (James Corden), Jennyanddots (Rebel Wilson) and more. These cats are led by Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), and each year attend the ‘Jellicle Ball’ - effectively a cat talent show (including a performance by Ian McKellan’s Gus the Theatre Cat), where the winner is selected by Old Deuteronomy to earn the honour of the ‘Jellicle Choice’ - a new life in the afterlife. But this year, while Victoria fights to induct herself into this motley assortment of talented felines, she must also help stop the dastardly Macavity (Idris Elba), who is intent on winning the Jellicle Choice at all costs.
It’s difficult for someone who hasn’t seen - or should I say, experienced - Cats on the big screen to fully comprehend just how batshit crazy, utterly incomprehensible, and completely and unimaginably horrible it is. Every single creative choice made in the development of this piece, when seeing the whole put together, can be plain-as-day identified as the wrong choice; and not just the wrong choice, but the most wrong choice possible. In every instance.
Take, for example, the decision to have Jason Derulo do a cockney accent, or at least his imitation of one, for his performance as Rum Tum Tugger. Jason Derulo isn’t an actor. He’s a singer. Why stretch the man, when it is so unnecessary? Or perhaps take the decision to have Ian McKellan, Judi Dench and Ray Winstone all carry key musical pieces - despite a distinct, distinct lack of musical talent.
And the list goes on - there’s a band of mice, a marching band of cockroaches, Rebel Wilson and James Corden doing whatever it is they can to debase themselves for the almighty dollar, a strange obsession with catnip, and Taylor Swift strutting in to deliver one of the strangest duets with an inordinately muscular Idris Elba cat that you have ever seen. It all melds together into one hedonistic, unintelligible, unnecessarily sexual pastiche of garish unbelievability. And not merely unbelievability at the story presented on screen; Cats feels like an acid fever dream that makes you question your own sanity, and the existence of time itself. Like the densest of objects sitting in a space-time continuum, time seems to bend around Cats, making it feel like you’ll never escape this neon-lit fur prison.
Cats, much like the stage show and T.S Eliot poetry before it, has no real storyline, and is in effect a series of musical performances from cats with specific, one-note identifiers - a love of trains, for instance. This means that the film is an utter bore. Whereas Hooper overcame concerns about singing focus on the big screen in Les Miserables through a combination of incredible performance (and camera work that focussed on it) and the strong plotting of that musical, here one feels nothing but boredom watching this cat talent show.
But that also speaks to the inappropriateness of Tom Hooper’s direction with this material. Whatever it is, Cats is not Les MIserables. It has none of the poignancy, none of the emotion, and none of the gravitas. So when Hooper pushes in on the face of whatever singer is performing a song about their cat love of food, or their cat love of trains, we get none of the emotion. Not only that, but we get close ups of the worst bit of this movie - the horrid, untenable ‘digital fur technology’.
It is tough to think of a worse choice in cinematic history than the utilisation of ‘digital fur technology’ on this film. While it looks better than it did in the original trailers, on the big screen it still never escapes the uncanny valley - and that is just in the faces. The faces, while truly truly terrible, have evidently been worked on much more than the remainder of the body, which consistently fluctuates in size, proportion and colouring. Any accoutrements on the cats, like collars, coats, etc. look like they were added in the last 5 minutes before the film was released, constantly jutting into necks, or looking wildly different quality-wise when compared with the fur. And then there is the feet, which for the most part never seem to actually connect with the floor - instead coming across as floating over CGI surfaces. Oh, and two breakdancing cats wear sneakers for some inexplicable reason.
The horrible CGI also has the added disbenefit of making every movement feel digital and sluggish. For a movie with a significant amount of live performance, and lots of dancing - along with a lead who is the principal of the London Ballet - that is egregious in the extreme.
Cats, like Icarus who flew too close to the sun, is undoubtedly a cautionary tale for filmmakers and society in general about the advent of technology and unfettered capitalism. The important thing to take away though is that while the ‘digital fur technology’ will go down in history as one of the greatest villains of the 21st century (or indeed one of the most nefarious foes of the human-led epoch of Earth’s inhabitation), even if they fixed that this movie would still be the worst thing you have seen on a big or small screen in your entire life.
Cats is an unmitigated disaster, worse than even your wildest expectations, and undoubtedly the piezoelectric spark to light a raging, neverending nightmare in your sleeping and waking mind. Approach with caution, fully cognisant that you will NEVER be able to unsee this movie.