Some people in this world are Cats devotees and others have no clue what all the fuss is about. Full disclosure: I’d never seen Cats, knew nothing of its story aside from a couple songs, and was open to embracing the fuss if warranted.
That Cats has been turned into a CGI-infused mega motion picture suggests there’s a crowd who will lap up the spectacle, but everyone else may be a little confused.
When Cats debuted on stage in 1981, it was ground-breaking. Andrew Lloyd-Webber had turned the quirky poetry of T.S. Elliott into a visual feast, with striking musical numbers that established Broadway as a global icon. Its story was unusual – a group of street cats form a posse and battle-it-out to be reborn into their true callings – and required its stars to embody a physicality that was wholly curious.
Big Name Drawcards
The drawcard to 2019’s Cats is that it adds modern animation and big names (Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Rebel Wilson and that’s not even all of them), and makes the musical accessible to mass movie-loving audiences.
Practically, Cats opening is hard to follow. The lyrics in the first two songs don’t quite cut through, and if you’ve never heard the word ‘Jellical’ before, you’ll have no clue what’s going on. The set up for each character is brief, but eventually newcomers will gather that an abandoned cat (Victoria) is looking for a place to belong, and stumbles into a group of felines who are wrestling with various pasts and hoping for a better future.
“The expensive celebs pale in comparison to lesser-known actors like Laurie Davidson (Mr. Mistoffelees) and Robbie Fairchild (Munkustrap)…”
The gateway to that future is to ascend to the Heaviside Layer, a realm that allows you to be reborn, which you only get the chance to pass through if wise Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) deems you to be worthy.
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With a premise like that, there’s deep themes (cat-) littered throughout the movie – but with no clear main character, and not enough attention on the complex ones, your connection to them is less significant than it could’ve been.
Taylor’s Song is Amazing – But Jennifer Hudson’s the Real Star
Names like Taylor Swift are ‘one-song wonders’ (it probably cost too much for two), and Idris Elba’s evil Macavity never gets the chance to explain why he’s so desperate to get to have new life. Thankfully, TayTay’s one song is amazing and doesn’t sound like it was cut and pasted from one of her mega concerts (she has range detractors!), but the expensive celebs pale in comparison to lesser-known actors like Laurie Davidson (Mr. Mistoffelees) and Robbie Fairchild (Munkustrap) who carry most of the load.
British ballerina Francesca Hayward (Victoria) offers a captivating big-screen debut, and it’s her exchanges with Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson) that you really want to follow.
Hiding in the shadows, Grizabella is a once-famous performer who’s haunted by memories of past success. Now an outcast, she lingers on the outskirts of the action until taking centre stage with the hit Memory, and at that point, everyone else better get out of the way, ‘coz Mumma’s talking’. It’s exactly why Memory is the most well-known song of the musical, but sadly highlights how no other moment comes close to the power of Jennifer’s performance.
If you love Cats it’s likely you’ll enjoy this movie, but new viewers might not be converted.
Cats is in cinemas Boxing Day.