This Christmas week I saw a 10pm showing of Cats with my mom and my friend. Quite honestly, we went and saw the movie as a joke because the trailer looked hysterically bad. I went in to the movie with very low expectations, and I came out with few saving graces to offer. Among the lows were Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, "Magical Mister Mistoffelees", and the entire treatment of the plot. Among the highs were Jennifer Hudson, Victoria's song "Beautiful Ghosts", Jason Derulo, aspects of the CGI, and the overall cinematography of the film. Let's dive in.
I'm going to start off by saying I am not a Taylor Swift fan. Yes, some of her music is good and catchy and 1989 is a fabulous album, but overall I'm just not a fan. That being said, her version of "Macavity" was not horrible but wasn't fantastic either. In my opinion they catered the song to her voice and made sure she sounded sultry and good. In the couple of versions I've heard of the song the singers were a bit bolder and had a growl to them, which gave the song a very sexy vibe. This song is also typically sang between the two cats Bombalurina and Demeter, and I love that dynamic. In the production of Cats at my university we had two talented women sing this number, with one of them taking the line "or the greenhouse glass is broken" into a belt which was just fantastic. This isn't traditionally done in the original soundtrack, but I really loved it and was sad to not see something like that in the film. Not only that, but because Taylor Swift sang this as a solo, I found the whole song lacking. The two women that performed it at my university easily outshone her performance in the film.
Onto Rebel Wilson; I genuinely adore Rebel and find her so charmingly funny, but they really did her dirty in the movie. They catered "Macavity" to Taylor Swift but they did not cater "The Old Gumbie Cat" to Rebel, which is disappointing because she is a wonderful singer. This song is traditionally sang mostly entirely by Munkustrap and a trio of girl cats with Jennyanydots (Rebel) interjecting. The film however had Rebel sing most of the parts sang originally by the trio, and I just didn't like it. This is usually a pretty big tap number as well and I found it inadequate in the film. This fault was later made up for in "Skimbleshanks", which I don't believe normally has a tap number but it was very fun and added to the song quite a lot. On top of all that, the unzipping of her fur to reveal a flashier outfit underneath was concerning and gross. I deeply disliked seeing her undo her skin rather than removing her coat and hat to reveal the flashier look. They also wrote her many lines throughout the film that were cat puns meant to be funny, but I can tell you not a single soul in that theatre laughed. The lines were just too forced. Rebel, this isn't on you and I'm so sorry they did this.
"Magical Mister Mistoffelees" was another disappointment and I felt really let down by this. The character itself in the film was delightful and had a sweet shyness to him, but the song was too small for the extremity it should have been. Mr. Mistoffelees is traditionally a principle dancer, and his song is dance heavy with fantastic and spectacular magic tricks that result in bringing back the abducted Old Deuteronomy. In the film however, there was no magical dancing or showcasing of magic. Just a cat trying his best. I was destroyed. I wanted leaps and bounds of dance skill and I received none. Laurie Davidson, this is not your fault, but production team - why did you do this to us?
On top of that, why didn’t Rum Tum Tugger sing the song like he was supposed to? Traditionally RTT sings this song in a daze of wonder and amazement at how skilled Mr. Mistoffelees is. They have a friendship in the song and it’s fun. Instead the film had Victoria suggest him and encourage him, in an oddly romantic way, to bring back Old Deuteronomy. This felt like a weird heterosexual relationship push in a film that didn’t need it at all.
Among all these let downs, the storyline implemented was the largest disappointment of all. Cats traditionally doesn't really have a storyline. The Jellicle Cats are all competing to go to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn, with each song introducing who they are now. Macavity is a mischievous cat who abducts Old Deuteronomy, and at one point gets into a fight with Munkustrap, but that's about it. Yet, in the film he happens to abduct Jennyanydots, Bustopher Jones, Gus the Theatrical Cat, and Skimbleshanks as well. The little bits of the abducted cats and of him talking throughout the film felt out of place and very forced. I understand he was taking them so that he'd be the only one standing for the Jellicle Choice, but I didn't find all the addition necessary. However, movies must have plots for audiences to follow, and I suppose this was sufficient enough. But please, give me my cat songs and huge dance numbers and move on.
Now that I've covered a handful of the lows (I could've went on about the whole Mungojerrie and rumpleteazer situation but we don't have time), let's move on to the successes of the film. Jennifer Hudson is a great place to start. This woman can out sing anyone when it comes to the emotional integrity of a song. She put so much more into "Memory" than I have ever seen or heard, and for the first time in my life I cried for Grizabella. Real tears came out of my eyes from the beauty that was JHud. I thank you, my dear queen, and congratulate you.
Jason Derulo played Rum Tum Tugger, a cat who never seems satisfied with what he is given and very self-centered. His song is a sexy little number and more importantly, my favorite of the musical. When I tell I was shocked by Derulo, I mean shocked. First of all, that range is beautiful and what he did with the song was just so fun. He milked the shit out of it and I was there for every second with a smile on my face. He also reinforced the confusing and slightly concerning fact that I, a human girl, find Rum Tum Tugger oddly sexy and am infatuated with him in all versions of the show. I don't know what this says about me, but it's how I feel and I'm glad Jason Derulo delivered such a fun song. I am sad he didn't get to sing "Magical Mister Mistoffelees" though because it probably would've lived up to my standards.
Although some of the songs were let downs, the addition of Victoria's song "Beautiful Ghosts" was a delight. I found the arrangement beautiful and Francesca Hayward exceptional. The song was haunting, and reached deep in the psyche of a young girl (or cat) longing to know if she'll ever be accepted and have her own glory days. Taylor Swift did happen to write the lyrics for the song, so A+ to her on that note, but otherwise get out of Cats.
I've picked apart the actors, song choices, and dancing of the film, but let's get into the cinematography and CGI. Although the CGI was a bit off-putting at first, I found it very easy to fall into and accept as the film progressed. It's also a wonderful feat for technology in film, so although I am slightly sad the makeup and costumes weren't included, I'm not as upset as I thought I would be about the CGI. And to all the critics who mention the characters still have human hands, that's how it is in the musical as well so get over it.
The cinematography of the film was beautiful as well. I really enjoyed the way everything was shot and I thought the lighting of the set was really cool and aesthetically pleasing. Tom Hopper did well on that aspect.
Overall, the film was simply not good even with the few redeeming qualities it may have. If you're going to see Cats, please go see it on a stage rather than this film. It isn't worth your money or time. Shoutout to my university for doing so much better than this movie. You guys rocked.