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CATS gets 3.5/10 A bit of a dog’s breakfast


Directed by Tom Hooper

Starring Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Taylor Swift

3.5/10

Based on T.S Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by way of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running stage musical, Cats enters the scene with a certain amount of recognition, and more than a little trepidation. The story is basically an anthology of cat’s tales as they gather at a ritual event, set to song and dance. Given the popularity of the musical, the film should have some appeal, but when the initial trailer was released, it set the internet on fire… in the exact opposite way any studio wishes for its product.

Abandoned by her humans, Veronica (Francesca Hayward) witnesses the Jellicle cats as they gather for a ceremony, to tell tales of themselves, and compete to earn the chance of a new life. Yet one amongst the tribe is playing his own game, as Macavity (Idris Elba) seeks to eliminate the competition and become the one chosen by Deuteronomy (Judi Dench).

Cats leaves you asking the most quintessential of questions that any viewer can ask – what the fuck did I just see?!

No matter what Cats does as a film, no matter how strong the theatrical aspect is, it cannot overcome an initial design decision. In making the actors look like human-cat hybrids, and using CGI to emphasise that look (coating their skin with fur, the head crested with moving cat ears), they’ve plunged the film straight through the uncanny valley and into a land of horrors. Audiences are forced to confront a realistic looking landscape populated by humanoid animals of varied sizes – humans, cats, mice, and cockroaches, everything that populates that world is bipedal with a human face. This is not a world of theatrical whimsy that it wished to be, as stripped of the minimal set design of the stage show, and set within a more real-world context, it instead becomes one of Kafka-esque body horror.

Yet at times you can glimpse what it could be, what director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) imagined Cats would be. There’s a hope here to capture a dark and mystical world, a magical world of song and dance when the lights go out, and the humans are asleep. The dance routines are immaculately coordinated, the music rousing, with the film cherry-picking the best numbers for its run. Jennifer Hudson tears it up as she belts out Memory, with all the regret and emotional devastation that the popular show stopper has in it. Ian McKellen is perfectly cast as Gus the Theatre Cat, bringing nostalgia and faded gravitas to the old board walker. Francesca Hayward brings a lithe grace to the movements of Victoria as she shows us the world around her. Yet, for all this, it’s hard to get lost in those moments when you are staring at something from the wet dreams of Doctor Moreau.

At the end of the day, despite the star power of Taylor Swift, or Jason Derulo, Cats comes across as a bewildering vision. A competent attempt at spectacular entertainment, but one that seems equally capable of providing innate nightmare fuel. It’s almost worth the price of admission, just to see where it lands for you.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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