Twenty five years too late, “Cats” is that kind of Broadway hit that may have worked wonders on the stage but fails spectacularly when it’s given a very literal adaptation on screen (e.g. “Jersey Boys”). I say that as someone that’s never liked “Cats” or really ever seen the big deal behind it. I barely stayed awake during a production airing on PBS back in the mid-nineties, and I only fondly remember it thanks to a classic TV ad that played around the clock in the eighties and nineties. “Cats” has always been that production I hope studios would stop trying to put on to the big screen.
And sadly, here we are. Oh the horror.
After kitten Victoria is dumped in to an alley, she’s introduced to a tribe of cats with human faces, and learns that they’re all competing to get in to The Heavyside Layer. The Heavyside Layer is a form of Cat heaven where they can find eternal bliss—or something. The only way to get there is to convince Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) that they’re worthy and perform to argue why they should earn their place. Tom Cat Rum Tum Tugger wants to get there by any means, though, and plans to force her to allow him in to the other side with the help of his sexy (I’m so confused!) assistant Bombalurina.
And that’s about it. The movie goes on and on and on with every single obnoxious character (about fifteen I estimated) all introducing themselves with five minute song and dance numbers. They’re all enemies and rivals that hate each other and never quite present a reason why we the audience should root for them. It doesn’t help one of them is played by James Corden, either. They back stab, they scheme against one another; it’s basically a reality show singing competition but with anthropomorphic cats with uncanny valley, bad cat puns, and so many crotch shots–oh so many crotch shots. The CGI is also often inconsistent.
Some cats walk on all fours, then walk on two legs, some cats ears seem real, others are blatantly animated. Some cats have the feline noses and some just regular human noses, others have human hands, and others have paws, et al. You could argue that the cats motif is just an allegory for humans competing to get in to heaven, but there’s just nothing of substance to indicate that. There is no story or narrative, it’s just a paper thin concept with series of events that unfolds and leads to a climax that indicates these cats will spend the rest of their nine lives competing to get in to the Heavyside Layer.
“Cats” is a nonsensical, painfully dull fantasy musical that never quite musters up enough energy to keep us engaged at all. It depends solely on the fan base to know what they’re getting in to. So while fans may know who Magical Mr. Mistoffelees is, I was left barely knowing the character or why I should have empathized with him. Considering the disaster Tom Hooper’s film has been for the studio, the best we can expect is for “Cats” to become a bizarre musical oddity that’s looked back on with laughs and eye rolls in a decade. Right now, it’s just a god awful, inappropriate for most ages, waste of time, talent, and money.
Furries might end up loving it, though.