From the Studio
Oscar®-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl) transforms Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-shattering stage musical into a breakthrough cinematic event. Featuring Lloyd Webber’s iconic music and a world-class cast of dancers under the guidance of Tony-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights), the film reimagines the musical for a new generation with spectacular production design, state-of-the-art technology, and dance styles ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, hip-hop to jazz, street dance to tap.
First and Last Impressions
Cats tells the story of a clowder of cats called the Jellicles who come together over the course of one night to decide which cat is most worthy of ascending to the Heaviside layer and attain a new life.
Director Tom Hooper finished the final cut of Cats just one day before the premiere, which left me wondering – what exactly did he improve in those last few moments?
The jolting camera work left me feeling dizzy, as it shakes the viewer’s perspective while jumping around as a cat would in the midst of a street fight. All of this takes place in a bizarre dreamlike world with feline entertainments such as bars featuring milk flowing from taps and dancing mice and cockroaches.
Following the collective recoiling from viewers of the original trailer released in summer 2019, it appears a fair amount of digital face-lifting took place. Fur was removed from actor’s faces, leaving a creature that resembles a human in a cat suit, and less like a genetic experiment gone awry.
Filmmakers have left audiences with a conundrum – either accept these human/cat hybrids or pretend these are humans wearing full costumes. By the end of the evening, my brain had grown tired of the back-and-forth. As soon as I had settled into accepting them as “real” cats, they would do something decidedly human-like and once again my gray matter was in limbo.
The cast includes Dame Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, James Corden, and Sir Ian McKellen. So, why have these A-list stars donned digital cat suits of fake fur? It could be because of the Cats musical’s iconic global reputation. When it premiered on Broadway in 1982, it quickly became the golden destination for New York tourists – a must-see experience. And whether you enjoy the show or not, it will retain the triumph of being one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway (currently fourth).
Each actor brought their A-game to their respective roles and dialogue. Sir Ian McKellen as Gus was endearing, and newcomer Francesca Hayward brought a naïve sweetness to her character Victoria. However, James Corden’s and Rebel Wilson’s attempt at comedic relief fell flat, as scenes that were not written to be humorous left me struggling to control fits of giggles.
A stand-out of the star-studded cast is Jennifer Hudson, whose rendition of “Memory” brought a round of applause and a tear in my eye. The tenderness and power with which she delivered the classic rivals that of her Tony-award winning predecessors but doesn’t quite top Betty Buckley.
Having had no prior knowledge of the story background, the blazing question I had upon leaving the theater was “What is Cats really about? Is it meant to be biting social commentary? Perhaps political satire? Surely there is a narrative of greater depth here.” However, a quick Google search revealed that Cats is about just that – cats. It is based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum Book of Practical Cats (which helps to explain the fantastical names like Rum Tum Tugger and Rumpleteazer).
Bottom line – go and see it for the individual performances and stunning choreography. Unless you’re already a fan of Cats, I’d suggest skipping the movie and volunteering at your local animal shelter. It will be an evening better spent.
One thing Christian viewers should note – following along the lines of the mythology of cats having nine lives, there is emphasis on reincarnation and the responsibility to be the savior of one’s own life and future.