Cats - 2019
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
I never knew I was such a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, until I saw this film and hated it with a complete and unbridled passion.
I want to preface this review by saying that before viewing this movie, I'd both read other reviews and seen the trailer and wasn't deterred from watching by either of these. Growing up, I wouldn't say that I was a fan of Cats. I did watch the 1998 DVD production at a friend's house more than once, but less than five times and four of the songs from the soundtrack found their way onto my mp3 player in my teenage years. I never really understood the story, but I thought some of the songs were fun, and considering the all-star cast in this new rendition, I anticipated that although the CGI may be a little creepy, it would probably still possess some of the musical magic of the original. Let me save you some time. It doesn't. However, if you'd like to know my reasons, feel free to keep reading.
Firstly, the direction is incredibly inconsistent. There is a scale of cat-ness. Some actors sit at a one. They are somewhat cat, and may occasionally make a movement that could be associated with a feline friend, but for the most part they just look like a particularly furry human. Then there is Sir Ian McKellen, who is a 10/10 on the scale of cat-ness. Would you expect anything less from a brilliant performer like McKellen? He embraces the cat, he embodies the cat, HE IS THE CAT! The only issue with this is, while McKellen is displaying some beautiful cat-acting (c-acting), he looks out of place because few others are on his level. I don't care whether Hooper directed the actors to be a one on the scale or a ten, but greater consistency was needed in order to create more believability and reduce the awkwardness when McKellen licks milk out of the bowl. Similarly, actors frequently hiss like cats throughout this film. This works at times (when they are properly acting like cats), but when this hissing is delivered by an actor who genuinely just looks like a furry human, it's just HISS-sterical (that wasn't just for the sake of the pun, people were laughing in the cinema). When viewing, it feels as though a great deal of time has obviously been spent on choreography, but not enough has been spent on "how much cat is right? Let's get this ensemble cast catting as one!"
Inconsistent c-acting aside, I was the most upset about some of the changes that have been made to the production. In this version, Hooper adds more of a villainous through-line for Macavity and a few of the other characters. I understand the logic of this, but I must admit, I didn't love it. It felt like more of a distraction than anything, and that to me is alarming because nothing much happens at the Jellicle Ball other than a bunch of cats singing somewhat embellished biographical information about each other. The biggest upset for me is in some of the changes to particular songs. In the original, I loved Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, because the actors enter stage right and as they sing, engage the audience with a bunch of acrobatic tricks. Don't get excited for acrobatic tricks in this version. You will be disappointed, as I was. The focus seems to be on the elaborate production design instead. Additionally, this version of Mr Mistoffelees' song is nowhere near as upbeat or fun. Going into this film, the soundtrack was the one component that I was particularly excited about. I was only really impressed by one song. Jennifer Hudson sings beautifully. There was a point where I had goosebumps. However, even her songs were somewhat ruined for me. Despite her incredible performance, it is a true and honest fact that Hudson spends more time on screen with snot running down her face, than without. I wish this were a joke. It's not. It's also very distracting to look at. There are several scenes where this occurs. I am fine with a little snot-face. Sometimes it is unavoidable and happens in moments of passionate acting (see Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables). However, in this film, it's excessive. The snot doesn't arrive at the climax, but instead at the start of the song, and is still on Hudson's face as her character stares longingly from a distance several moments after the song's completion (and after the camera has cut away from her more than once). The most irritating thing about this snot, is it's an easy fix. SHE IS PLAYING A CAT. I don't own a cat, but I'm fairly certain cats quite regularly lift their paws to their face and perform a wiping action. The snot could have been removed in this way, perhaps not during the song, but certainly afterwards. Had I been the director, I would have insisted upon it, because its presence absolutely undermines Hudson's performance.
There's another CAT-astrophic element in this film: the overuse of random cat idioms. We have cats saying, "look what the cat dragged in," and "cat got your tongue?" This is supposed to be playful, but it's definitely cringeworthy instead. However, these aren't the only alarming dialogue moments. [SPOILER] At the end of the film, we are gifted with a monologue by Dame Judi Dench, delivered down the barrel of the lens. A friend warned me that there is a fourth wall break before I saw this film and I thought I was prepared. I wasn't. Dench delivers the entire lyrics for 'The Ad-Dressing of Cats' directly to the audience. It is uncomfortable to say the least.
Finally, it's time to talk about the downright weird stuff. Yes, of course I am referring to awkward moments of CGI. However, there is more than just that. Be prepared for more than just human-cat hybrids in this film. We are also blessed with human-mice hybrids and human-cockroach hybrids, in a scene that looks as though it could have been created by Sid and Marty Krofft. In this same scene, a cat unzips and takes off their cat skin, to reveal another layer of cat skin underneath. Yeah...you read that correctly. There is also a mixture of complete cats, cats who are mostly catt-ish, but with human hands, cats who are mostly catt-ish but with human feet and cats who are somewhat catt-ish, but have both human hands and feet. There are also cats wearing sneakers. I can appreciate this a little more. I myself am a huge fan of sneakers, however for some reason the shoes just feel more out-of-place than all of the other random clothing items that the cats are seen wearing. We also have a dance that includes synchronised tail quivering. I will waste no more time describing this, as no amount of words will do it justice. And finally, are you familiar with UNO: ATTACK!? It is a boardgame that was popular in my youth. Anyway, Mr Mistoffelees seemingly has UNO: ATTACK! installed in his hat, because at the end of his disappointing song, his hat begins to spit cards all over the room a la Matilda.
I will say one thing in defense of this film. I was vibing Skimbleshanks' pants. If someone could sew me a pair of those, I would be forever in their debt.