Cats (2019): Even Skimbleshanks Can’t Save This Trainwreck
Director: Tom Hooper
Producers: Debra Hayward, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Screenplay: Lee Hall, Tom Hooper
Based on the 1939 book of poems “Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats” by T.S. Elliot. and the musical adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Production: Working Title, Amblin Entertainment, Monumental Pictures, The Really Useful Group
Distribution: Universal Pictures
While Cats is not one of my favorite stage musicals, I have a strange respect for it. I mean, realizing that Lost Generation poet T.S. Elliot’s work lends itself to musical interpretation and using his children’s book as a base is quite brilliant. Not all of it works, and I wouldn’t blame people for tapping out after the awful opening number, but at least 10 of the 20 songs are fun, and, of those, 4 are really good, and “Memories” and “Gus The Theater Cat” are home runs. So when I heard Tom Hooper, the man who directed Les Miserables, and the writer of Billy Elliot and Rocketman were teaming up to bring it to the big screen, I was interested. Then I heard it was going to be actors faces on digital bodies, and I got nervous. Then I saw the trailer and I prepared myself for the worst. Dialogue in a show that famously only uses dance and song to get its point across? And a cliché, low effort story added to a fairly plot-less story? I mean, the little plot they have is just an excuse to set up why all these different personalities of cats are being introduced/introducing themselves. What’s the new plot?
An abandoned kitten named Victoria meets London’s tribe of cat, the Jellicles, and is invited to watch the Jellicle Ball; certain cats will present themselves to the leader, Old Deuteronomy, and make their case for why they should be chosen to ascend to the Heavyside Layer and be reborn to a new life. Macavity the mystery cat, wanting to shore up his chances, decides to kidnap the other contestants so that he will be the only choice when the time comes. That’s basically it.
The music is fine, it’s Cats, like I said ten fun songs with four really good and two home runs. Except that they forgot to hire singers for the most part. Taylor Swift is great as Bombalurina, in the one scene she’s in (on stage her character is the secondary female lead), giving 110% percent with her short screen time. Jennifer Hudson was always going to knock “Memories” out of the park, but everyone else just doesn’t get it. It’s not just Jason Derulo, most famous for needing auto-tune in all of his songs (gets what music publisher he’s signed to), murdering “Rum Tum Tugger”, it’s Rebel Wilson stopping the movie to do her tired old “big girl fall down, go boom” schtick, followed by James Corden doing the exact same thing in the very next song. Then there’s Ian McKellen doing… whatever he decided to do, singing both sides of a duet, yet they barely hide the parts of the song that are clearly meant to be sung ABOUT him. The weird thing is that the character that sings the other half of the duet is in the movie.
The CGI isn’t very good and it actually takes away from what would have been very impressive choreography. I have to start my Worst Movies Of The Decade after writing this, and though that’s not a structured list, you can bet this will be on it.