Tom Hooper’s Cats is finally upon us – the nightmare at Christmas that will surely terrify, more than delight. From the moment the film begins to when it ends, it is as though you have fallen into a drug-induced coma. I felt as though I was unable to wake up, slowly sinking deeper and deeper into madness. Once it’s over, like a dream (or nightmare) you will struggle to recall a detail, but that sinking feeling will leave you nauseous.
Cats follows Victoria, an abandoned cat taken in by the Jellicle cats. The Jellicle cats are about to attend a ball where the Jellicle choice will be made, this choice will have one cat be reborn into a new life on the Heaviside Layer. So, yes, the cats are competing to die and be reborn. The premise is baffling, but something about this musical has made it the fourth longest-running Broadway show, and a massive financial and critical success. But as Hooper and Universal will learn the hard way is that not everything on the stage can translate to the big screen.
While the movie is a baffling concoction of absurdity and insanity, the film does have one thing going for it. Hooper is a director that has always sought out ways to inject as much technical ambition into his work, no matter how small or big the project, that is one thing that is a constant. In Cats, there are some truly spectacular set pieces and technical achievements. To be ambitious is one thing, but to be able to follow through is truly something to be admired. However, just like another feline musical released this year, just because we have the means to create such images doesn’t mean we throw reason out the window.
In terms of the musical numbers (which there are many), the film is a mixed bag. Some musical numbers are fun, but others are difficult to understand. Andrew Lloyd Webber is famous for some of his challenging lyrics and music, and I can’t speak for the broadway show, but many of the words are intelligible and confusing. This becomes a noticeable problem when you realize not everyone in this ensemble is as gifted vocally as Jennifer Hudson. I can’t say I am a fan of Taylor Swift, but surely she can sing better than that? Hudson and Jason Derulo are the standouts, with Derulo revelling in having the chance to show off his vocal range. Hudson (excellent as always) is certainly being directed by Hooper to crank up the level of tears and snot needed for her rendition of “Memory”.
Finally, our newcomer Francesca Hayward is a gifted performer, who commits fully – which is perhaps why this entire thing doesn’t crumble. The ballerina turned actress and Hudson carry the enormity of it all on their shoulders. She has a bright future ahead of her, I just wish her debut film was not Cats.
Should you see Cats? If you are curious, maybe. If you are a die-hard Cats fan, definitely. If you enjoy surreal and trippy movie experiences, buy several tickets. Cats is a whole different ride, not since The Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, has there been a film that so fully committed to absurdity, whether it is intentional or not. Cats is an experience that many may look back on and regret, but hopefully, with time all will be forgotten. Or, you may very well enjoy it for being unlike anything you have ever seen before.
Cats is in theaters now.