DIRECTOR: tom hooper (the king's speech, les miserables, the danish girl)
STARRING: francesca hayward, taylor swift, idris elba, and laurie davidson
REVIEWER: purdie picot
A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.
For anyone who is not familiar, Cats is an award-winning, record-breaking, musical by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s been seen by over 80 millions people worldwide, translated into many languages and performed from Broadway to the humblest community theatre. The premise is simple, the songs are a collection of T S Eliot poems, a selection of cats each introduce themselves to the audience and to audition to be the one selected to go to Heaviside Layer for a new life.
After 38 years on stage, it was about time that someone sank their teeth into this iconic show and bring it to the silver screen. Tom Hooper with his success from Les Miserables has taken it on.
I feel there should be some disclaimers; I have never seen Cats on stage - I only know of how iconic and successful the show is. I also am a dog person.
However, when the trailers first came out, like the rest of the world I couldn’t look away. I was fascinated by the aesthetic of these creatures, no longer human, but not fully cat either. Many questions came to my mind; why did some cats wear clothes, how small are these cats, are those human hands and feet, how did so many big stars sign up for this.
And after watching the film, I can’t confidently say that those questions were answered, in fact some more may have arisen. Why did mice and cockroaches have human faces, why does Jennyanydots wear a sparkly dance costume under her fur suit, what is so good about this mysterious Heaviside Layer?
I now know what a Jellicle cat is, how a cat gets its name, how to address a cat, and that even if you are (in my opinion) a bad cat - you can still qualify for the one-way solo trip to Heaviside Layer.
Cats is a stunning movie, capturing that on-stage magic and blowing it up to the big screen. A skillful combination of real sets and props with a bunch of CGI. The scale of the cats feels a little off, just a little bit tiny - a glittery ring is worn as a bracelet, yet also sitting at a milk bar and looking over the counter. The whole thing is uncanny valley. Something going on that just keeps you from being fully immersed within the world. Personally, I wanted socks to cover the human toes, and for the hands to be a little less human. The mask-like faces has also been putting off audiences. The slick, fur-covered but still so humanoid bodies keep the characters firmly in the line of “actors in a bunch of CGI suits prancing around” rather than the animalistic cats they are trying to be - despite all pawing, saucer sipping and face rubbing.
But this was a stage show, from the ‘80s, we are lucky they didn’t include the excessive use of leg warmers from the costume department as well! The show has nearly 40 years of history, millions of fans to pay service to. Keeping that general aesthetic of the cats was a creative call, whether it was the right one, I’m not so sure. Theatre to film, it’s a giant leap, and two very different mediums, sitting up in the nosebleeds of a theatre - you need that slick colourful defined body moving on stage to be easily seen. In a film however, you are blessed with close-ups, and now we are possibly cursed with close-ups of a Ken Doll-esqe nude Idris Elba dance sequence. This is the kind of film I am excited for the behind the scenes. Seeing all these stars in the skin suits with dots prancing around will be an absolute joy to watch.
There isn’t an overly complex plot, but there are catchy nonsense songs. There is a feast of images for you to absorb. And the casting is spot on - it’s as if these cats were made for this cast. Right down to Sir Ian McKellen playing the older acting cat. Francesca Hayward’s first time on the big screen and she owns it, incredibly talented dancer and keeps up with Jennifer Hudson as they share the screen singing.
If you are looking for something that’s fun, albeit uncanny, like cats, musicals or just wanting to watch possibly one of the most talked about films of the year. Then I recommend it. If you also love to sit around and have a long discourse about what you just watched, then go see Cats.
I could spend forever discussing this crazy world from Tom Hooper and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, but at the end of the day, it’s a movie about singing cats.