Movie review: Star-studded cast couldn't save 'Cats'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 10 2020 11:06 AM

Since it was released in the US last month, "Cats" has been receiving one scathing review after another. It has been called one of the worst movies not only of the year 2019, but also of the whole decade. 

Financially, it was one of the worst box-office duds of the year, so far earning barely half of its $90-million production budget. Honestly, my main reason for watching this movie was to see for myself how bad it could be.

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I am a big fan of musical theater, but Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" is not really a favorite of mine. When we watched it performed live by a touring production locally, I did not really like it. I did not get why this musical had been as popular and long-running as it was. I cannot envision how such a practically plot-less musical could be adapted to the big screen as a movie. Hence, I really went into watching this film with very, very low expectations. 

Like the original musical, the movie also showed the Jellicle Ball -- that one special night among the Jellicle cats of London when one of them would be picked by their tribe elder, Old Deuteronomy, for rebirth into a new life. 

However, the film script tweaked the role of young white cat Victoria, played by English ballet dancer Francesca Heyward. From just a featured ballet dancer in the musical, she became the main character of the film version. It was also for her benefit that the various cat characters (Jennyanydots, Rum Tum Tugger, Bustopher Jones, Skimbleshanks, Mungojerrie ,and Rumpleteazer) were introducing themselves in their own song and dance numbers. 

The catchy songs "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" and "Mister Mistoffelees" did not have the energy of the stage productions. As for "Memory," I do not think Jennifer Hudson (as the faded Glamour Cat Grizabella) gave it the appropriate emotion and interpretation. 

To be fair, I did like the "Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat" number, with its lively tap dance sequences led by Australian ballet dancer Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks. 

Taylor Swift, as the sexy catnip-sprinkling cat Bombalurina, sang the song "Macavity: The Mystery Cat." But Swift here was pro-Macavity, unlike the original Bombalurina in the play who was anti-Macavity. 

Jason Derulo's Rum Tum Tugger and James Corden's Bustopher Jones, meanwhile, had forgettable song numbers.

As far as the much-maligned fur CGI for the cats, they were really creepy and cringey. The worst offender is that of Rebel Wilson's skin-stripping, cockroach-chomping Jennyanydots. 

The cat facial make-up was not good for most, especially for Judi Dench (gender-switched in the role of Old Deuteronomy), Idris Elba (as a nightmarish Macavity), and Jennifer Hudson (whose brown make-up looked awful on close-up). 

The sizes of the sets do not seem consistently proportional to the size of the cats in various scenes, which can be distracting. There was something about how the songs were sung that sapped all sense of heart from them, making the whole film a terrible bore.

I thoroughly enjoyed director Tom Hooper's take on "Les Miserables," but sadly he totally dropped the ball on this one. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."