Cert – U, Run-time – 1 hour 50 minutes, Director – Tom Hooper
The Jellicle cats meet for the annual Jellicle ball where one cat will be chosen to restart with a new life.
What is a Jellicle cat? What makes a cat a Jellicle cat? How does a cat become a Jellicle cat if it isn’t born as one? Can cats be born as Jellicle cats? These are all questions that the smash hit West End musical Cats never answered. For those going into this high-budget film adaptation of one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most famous works you won’t find them here either. In fact you may come out with more questions that you entered with, all part of the baffling, confusing, headache-inducing experience that is the film version of Cats.
There’s no denying the success that the original stage musical had, after all it spent over 20 years in the West End, and is one of the most successful musicals of all time, even if it does only have about one good song, doesn’t make sense and has, for some, become something to poke fun at when it comes to certain musical based jokes. So, it was only going to be a matter of time until a film version was made. In the musical cast members are dressed up in hairy costumes, with heavy make-up to give the impression of the common feline housepet. However, this film takes a slightly different approach. Giving the alleged cats human faces, hands and feet (and bodies – the female cats have breasts). It all makes for something that looks rather disturbing, during the opening sequence when central character Victoria (Francesca Hayward) – who does nothing but watch and stand in amazement at all other performances around her – is thrown into an alleyway by what was her owner various cats crowd around her singing about Jellicle cats, while never explaining what one is. The general look and feel of this sequence is one akin to an even more horrifying Pink Elephants On Parade, just with more fur.
The look of the characters of the film was criticised from the trailers, although many of us gave the film the benefit of the doubt due to the fact that the CGI probably wasn’t completed at the point, not that the new look looks any much better. In fact it’s lucky that the script and songs, which make up about 105 minutes of the 110 minute run-time – even for a musical this seems a bit excessive? – is filled with cringeworthy cat puns, almost one every five or so minutes, to remind you that these are cats, not weird humanoid figures in some form alternate universe. “Don’t mess with the crazy cat lady” explains Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots, a tabby cat who eats a group of humanoid cockroaches, to a disturbed response.
Ideas such as this bring an extra layer of confusion and bafflement to the film. Both of which, alongside the fairly poor and equally nonsensical songs, add to the headache that the viewer experiences during this loud film. Potential energy is simply transferred into hectic dance numbers, loud chorus’ that lead to the words not being properly heard or understood, not that many words need to be used to get the idea that James Corden’s Bustopher Jones is fat and likes to eat. Such simple points get three or four minute musical numbers before we see Idris Elba as Macavity, somehow transporting competition to an island with Ray Winstone – who is easily the best and worst thing about this film, a character that just needs his own film, not just a thirty second musical spot and growling – whose character is aptly named Growltiger.
So far this review has contained barely any mention of plot, and that’s because there isn’t one. The Jellicle cats meet at the Jellicle ball so that one can be chosen to go to restart with a new life. This is almost two hours of introductions, characters describing who they are and what their basic background is. From set-piece to set-piece we go, from naked cat body to furry coat wearing cat the general look of the sets, using large props and heightened sets to give the true impression of size, is something to be slightly admired, however much of the sets are darkly lit or aren’t seen for very long, so there isn’t much to be fully immersed in. Leading to something that creates a lack of connection with the viewer and something that’s very difficult to keep up with, especially with so many characters, songs and so little plot.
There’s a lot going on in Cats, yet at the same thing barely anything at all. When mixed with the musical numbers and the constant changes between scenes and ideas, some of which go on for too long, it’s difficult to keep up with the almost dizzying and confusing nature of the film. At the end of the day the designs are the least of the problems – even if you would genuinely forget that these are meant to be cats if you weren’t reminded every so often – the lack of plot, explanation and sense is. And therefore the film is brought down and simply can’t be enjoyed as much as the all-star cast (and director Tom Hooper – making something rather different to his Oscar hits Les Miserables, The King’s Speech and The Danish Girl) might hope that you would. It’s certainly an experience but it’s unlikely to create any lasting memory, or at least not one that could possibly fuel the odd nightmare.
The character design is at times questionable, and so are some of the alleged gags that run throughout, however Cats biggest flaw is its lack of plot, even still creating something confusing and headache inducing. Never properly clicking, or giving time to be immersed in what could otherwise be a detailed and decent looking world.