Recommendation: Those who are fans of the source material will likely love it, but Cats doesn’t lean enough in either direction to be effective. Either be a serious musical drama or lean into the outlandishness of the premise. 3/10.
IMDB Synopsis: 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.
“Cats are not dogs,” is one of the final lines in Cats, the film adaptation of the wildly successful musical. A line so broad, simple, and non-insightful, it sums up the entire Cats movie experience. For a film that’s uninformative and has absolutely nothing to say, it’s also uninspired and mostly boring, neither relying on the talent of its star-studded cast nor leaning into the wild premise of humans-as-street-cats in “digital fur technology,” singing Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Cats peeks into the supposed secret lives of our feline friends, focusing on a group of “Jellicle” street cats on the eve of matriarch Jellicle Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judy Dench) picking a cat to ascend to the Heaviside Layer. The chosen cat will be reborn into a new life, and a number of cats are vying for the honor including the diabolical Macavity (Idris Elba), the lethargic Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson), and homeless Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson). The audience and film follow the newly arrived Victoria (ballet star Francesca Hayward) as she is taken through a number of musical set pieces that introduces us to the various characters in the Jellicle-universe while moving the incredibly thin plot forward. That’s it. The 119-minute runtime is mostly devoted to introduction songs for characters like the aforementioned cats, as well as Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), Bustofer Jones (James Corden), and Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), amongst others.
Looking for deeper meaning in Cats is a useless affair. The film is mostly a joyless and boring recreation of the musical, serving as a showcase for some decent choreography and its digital fur technology. Outside of the final singing of Memories from Jennifer Hudson, the film lacks emotional heft. The comedic relief via James Corden and Rebel Wilson feels lackluster. There’s little tension between the Jellicles and the big bad Macavity. And rather than lean into the absurdity of humans-as-cats in a larger-than-life green screen set, the film mostly is stuck in the mud, with one foot in the dramatic and one foot in the nonsensical, never really diving into either.
MVP: Jennifer Hudson as the downtrodden Grizabella has the most emotional arc and proves why she’s an Oscar winner.
Highlights: Sir Ian McKellan saying “meow, meow, meeeoowww,” was very unexpected. The dance/ballet choreography was good. Taylor Swift as a sultry Bombularina mostly worked.
Director: Tom Hooper
Studio: Universal // Original release date: December 20, 2019