Nothing quite like Cats has been attempted on the big screen – and one hopes nothing like it is attempted again. From the first trailer, Cats has been defined by the bafflement around its digital fur technology. After two hours of the finished product, the animal-human hybrids redefine uncanny valley. It is hard to know where to look, or even create the desire to stare at Tom Hooper’s godforsaken creation.
There may be good dancing, singing, and acting here, but it is impossible to tell under the body horror and laziness of every directorial, character, and musical choice. The bafflingly star-studded cast is entirely wasted. Judi Dench and Ian McKellen gamely pick up paycheques, but others seem lost in their feline bodies. In particular, Idris Elba is saddled with a thankless, ill-conceived villain arc for the mayhem cat Macavity. Any new life Andy Blankenbuehler’s revised choreography breathes into familiar songs is immediately shot down by thin, tired orchestrations and Hooper’s confusing blocking of each scene. The lens dances in direct opposition to the performers, in ways that would make Fred Astaire roll in his grave.
Indeed, any joy that can be wrung from this madness is deflated by Hooper’s lifeless attempt to add a plot. The newly added Andrew Lloyd Webber/Taylor Swift collaboration is immediately distinguishable by the fact that its lyrics are coherent. Cats works best in the abstract, and trying to make sense of the Jellicle Ball leads to the film’s ultimate sin: boredom.
‘I remember a time I knew what happiness was’ Jennifer Hudson’s Grizabella sob sings in the film’s final act. That memory will never live again. Cats’ audacity and commitment to all the wrong things may endear it to some, but its blight on artistry will cause others to question every choice that led them to buy a ticket.
CAST: Francesca Hayward, Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Idris Elba
DIRECTOR: Tom Hooper
WRITERS: Lee Hall, Tom Hooper
SYNOPSIS: A group of cats called the Jellicles introduce themselves through song in an attempt to go to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn into a new cat-life.