En route to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker this weekend you may accidentally saunter into the wrong cinema screen. Should this happen, you may inadvertently dip your paws into the claustrophobic and cluttered world of Cats. It’s always weird and sometimes wonderful – emphasis on sometimes. So if you’re not stressed enough by the concept of Christmas this time of year you may also relive hellish birthday parties of your youth where manic face paint artists roamed free.
Through the glassy eyes of the abandoned cat, Victoria, we delve into London’s back alleys and begin to (yet never fully) understand the world of the Jellicle cats. One night a year, at the Jellicle Ball, they decide who among them will be lifted to the Heaviside Layer and given a new life. It’s a to-the-death talent show that’s rigged by Macavity (Idris Elba).
The film features everyone and yet, lost in CGI, somehow no one. Every frame indulges us with a fur-lined face, whether it’s Judi Dench or Taylor Swift. Jennifer Hudson plays Grizabella and she does it well. Her voice is so show-stopping you wish you could stop the show and rewatch Dream Girls. James Cordon and Rebel Wilson are the supposed comic relief but the film allows no breathing room for any humour to rise out of the computer-generated imagery. The last act is particularly headache-inducing as the only bit of plot is so rushed that scenes jump manically between Jellicle cat talent show and a Thames boat prison barge.
Tom Hooper directs the near 100-million-dollar extravaganza. I suppose it’s true that when the figures get that big they start to lose meaning. Landing somewhere between avatars and, well, humans, his cats leave you wondering if he only looked to the musical for reference images. Perhaps that’s the real flaw of Hooper’s attempt. It’s really just a film version of the stage show but smothered in CGI, fluorescent lighting and tap dancing cockroaches. We already have NT Live. There’s no new world-building and the claustrophobia of the sound stage shows it’s all spectacle and little story.
Rumour has it that Hooper didn’t finish the film until a day before its release. Is that a humble brag or a “the dog almost ate my homework so you should be happy you received anything at all, Teach (Andrew Llyod Webber)?”
Cats is released nationwide on 20th December 2019.
Watch the trailer for Cats here: