Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cats’ opened back in 1981 and enjoyed a run lasting 21 years in London’s West End, where there has been a number of successful revivals since. It also played for 18 years on Broadway. It was one of those shows that no one thought would do well, after all it’s a show about strange human like cats based on a collection of poems, but some how it worked. And now, this highly popular musical has been adapted for the big screen in a movie directed by Tom Hooper. In 2012, Hooper’s adaptation of ‘Les Miserables’ was highly successful and won over the audiences with it’s beautiful music, captivating story and pleasing looks. But even with this successful musical adaptation behind him, I just don’t think that ‘Cats’ is going to prove anywhere near as popular.
After all, it has a paper-thin plot, a lack of memorable characters and some rather dodgy CGI effects.
It has been these effects that have the most talked about. In the stage show, the characters are played by performers in cat suits, with face paint and gloves, but here we see a number of big names with animated fur and computerised faces and at first look, it’s rather creepy. For anyone who has never seen the show before, these human-like cats could be nightmare inducing, but for me, I somehow got used to it pretty quickly. Some of the CGI was better than others. I didn’t bother me that some of the cats still had human feet or hands, as it made it more like the stage musical, for me it was actually weirder when they were wearing shoes. The tap shoes, boots, and high heels added nothing and only made it all the odder. I much preferred the less animated faces of Mr Mistoffelees and Munkustrap to the over the top CGI of Ian Mckellen as Gus the theatre cat or Idris Elba as Macavity with his scary overly green eyes.
And why are the cats so small??
In terms of the story, let’s be honest. Cats has always been odd, it’s always had this paper thin plot that has never really bad any sense and the movie is no different. There has been some attempt to add to the story line with dialogue being added to a musical that has always been sung through and white cat Victoria being made a much more central character. Instead of seeing the musical numbers performed one after the other in some strange variety performance style, we see Victoria taken from place to place and introduced to the cats who are competing to be the Heaviside choice. They have also taken Mistoffelees the magical cat and added to his character by making him painfully shy and constantly pushed aside until he comes to the rescue towards the end of the film. In perhaps some sort of miracle, even with the odd animation choices, they have somehow managed to make Mistoffelees actually rather sweet, but that could be done to the lovely performance by Laurie Davidson.
This is a movie packed full of big names, and that could be the reason as to why so many people are choosing to it. The power of celebrity sells can never be underestimated after all. With the likes of Judi Dench, Ian Mckellen, Taylor Swift, James Corden and Rebel Wilson, there is no shortage of star power and whilst some do a good job with what they are given, some seemed to be odd choices. It’s more than half way through the movie when we meet Taylor Swift as Bombalurina and it’s only a short moment until she is gone again, very odd for a performer given top billing. Jennifer Hudson plays Grizabella well, vocally impressing with big number ‘Memory’ but James Corden and Rebel Wilson once again fall victim to type casting as they appear to be playing themselves in cat suits with a number of jokey one liner’s falling flat.
The best performances come from professional ballerina Francesca Hayward as Victoria, showing off her dancing skills and revealing a lovely singing voice, and stage performer Robbie Fairchild as Munkustrap, the cat who leads a lot of the musical numbers and a performer who certainly deserved a higher billing. As I said before, Laurie Davidson also impresses as Mistoffelees as does Zizi Strallen (who is currently playing Mary Poppins in the West End) as Tantomile.
Out of all of the many musicals that could have been chosen for a screen adaptation, Cats was a rather odd choice and a choice that led to an even weirder movie. For a show where dancing is the main star, I felt that we didn’t see enough of it here with the desperate attempt to add more to the story overshadowing the dance numbers. The effects have taken over everything and provide more than enough distractions from the action and the movie. Do I think that it’s as bad as the critics made it out to be? No, certainly not. I’ve seen the show, I knew it was weird, I was prepared for it. Can I understand why people who haven’t seen the show are shocked and startled by the story and the effects? Absolutely. I can see what they were trying to do with this movie, and whilst I think it would have been better if they had stuck with the shows costumes instead of animation, I can appreciate the effort.
But maybe next time they want to adapt a stage musical for the big screen, they should choose one that isn’t so odd to start with.