Cats Image

Cats

By Alan Ng | December 22, 2019

Cats stands out as one of the better musical adaptations to make it to the big screen. That’s a bold statement, but it’s true. The averages are not good. Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, Mamma Mia!, Les Misérables (also directed by Tom Hooper), all should have been ten times better than they were but ultimately could not capture the magic of the dark stage and minimal props of Broadway. It’s not to say they were bad (which they were), but they just could not bring to the screen the reason why we flocked to see them on stage. Musicals that did work are Chicago, West Side Story, and the television versions of Gypsy and Annie.

Cats join that illustrative group of successful musical adaptations of the original. This is important because it never has to be made again. It’s been done for posterity and done right. Director Hooper appears to have learned from his Les Mes mistakes. First, he cast actual actors who can actually sing (sorry, Russell Crowe, but you butchered a great song). There’s not a clunker in the group. The only ones to come close are Ian McKellen and Jennifer Hudson. In fact, Hudson may have overplayed the dramatics in the film’s signature song, making the song a little difficult to understand.

Regarding the songs themselves, sure they’re problematic individually, but pretentious enough to live on the Broadway stage. Each one is translated beautifully for the screen. On the stage, these songs are performed for a large theater and sung to the very last row, which requires power and strength. Cats successfully brings the singer up close and presented as equally powerful songs by playing to the emotions of the lyrics instead.

“…Hooper appears to have learned from his Les Mes mistakes.”

Aside from the music is the dancing, which is top-notch. The real star here is Francesca Hayward. Her simple movements, like walking or turning her head, are graceful, and in spite of its heavy CG appearance, she is charismatic on-screen. You’re immediately drawn to and love her as Victoria.

Let’s get to the real controversy. Cats is overly CG…heavily. Every actor wore motion-capture suits, and their fur and make-up were added in post. Their ears were removed, and cat ears placed on top of their heads. Yes, it looks weird. It’s also not enough that the actors had to move around like cats, but their movements were also enhanced to insanely inhuman levels. But thankfully, the balance is found so as to distinguish the enhanced CG and the brilliant performances of the dancers.

If you hate musical theater in general, Cats simply wasn’t made for you. Cats has one audience and one audience only—fans of Cats. It’s as if Hooper didn’t even try to appeal to the masses but instead decided to capture the magic of the original in a cinematic way, and he succeeds.

Cats (2019)

Directed: Tom Hooper

Written: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lee Hall, Tom Hooper

Starring: Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson, James Cordon, Ray Winstone, Laurie Davidson, Jennifer Hudson, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

Cats Image

"…the definitive film adaptation of one of Broadway’s most successful musicals."

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  1. Richard Ross says:

    This was a fantastic musical that was beautiful to watch. I also do not believe they were in the uncanny valley, though, I guess this valley is perception so may differ to some. I would and will watch it again.

  2. Antonio Chavez says:

    The poor, unjust reviews of these movie ruin things for those (like me) who want to see it 20 times or more. I just cant have enough of it, the dancing, staging, acting are done marvelously. The reviewer Alan Ng is right that Francesca Hayward is the main attraction. In one of the screenings I just concentrated in her every move, body and face, and I can assure its a godsend. Other people have commented on watching it again; me too. I am going again and again. Again, like Mr. Ng points out, the dancers are very talented. I just cannot imagine how they invent so many moves to express themselves as a chorus and as individuals with so much grace. My ear is not that sophisticated to find fault with the singing, fortunately for me. If you miss this movie you are missing a true masterpiece of cinema. I am sorry for those who did not like a veritable dish for the eyes, the ears and the spirit.

  3. Suzanne B Conaway says:

    I’ve seen several iterations of “Cats” on stage and a DVD.

    This one was not as bad as I had been led to believe. However, I was turned off of “Les Miz” by Hopper’s overuse of nostril shots. He took it one gross step further with Grizabella’s snot shots. REALLY?? I’ve had 18 cats and none of them ever had snot running out of their nose.

    Francesca Hayward was delightful. Rebel Wilson trying to lick her crotch and eating her cockroaches was disgusting. I’ve see Mr. Mistoffelees as a delightful, magical feline. Laurie Davidson’s sad sack Mistoffelees was a disappointment.

    All in all, I’m glad I saw the movie as a means to compare it to the stage plays. It rated considerably lower.

  4. Michael R. says:

    I agree with this review. I enjoyed the film. Yes it was executed far from perfectly, but what film is, especially musicals. The songs and performances were excellent, very well imagined and creative. When it comes to the musical numbers, cut out out the overused CGI and I would have absolutely no complaints. Yes the plot is bare bones and silly, but I knew that going in since I was familiar with the stage show. Go see it, its worth your time. Dont let the haters win.

  5. Professional Troll says:

    The ill will directed toward this film is difficult to understand. People keep saying the characters look scary or horrifying. I suppose they mean the “uncanny valley” where human beings begin to look like creepy CG zombies. But I just don’t see it. I think they look good. The trailer is very good. I say that as no fan of musicals or dancing. It’s almost like people want to enjoy killing the movie more than taking a risk to enjoy the movie. There’s this bubble of public perception that everyone has to exist in. Thanks for a different take.

  6. Sonia says:

    I liked it! I want to see it again!

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