I did it. I watched it. I just about survived it. And though I’m scarred, I can at least now brag I survived the worst movie of 2019.
Christ where to begin. The key problem with Cats is that there’s no plot. The ‘story’ is that some cats want to live again, and one cat will grant them their wish. The film then spends two hours introducing cat after cat as they sing their name and what they do. And then it ends. It’s literally just a bunch of introductions and some credits.
The musical of Cats, created in 1981 by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on T. S. Eliot’s poems, is a worldwide phenomenon. Quite frankly, I’ve no idea why because if it’s anything like the film then it’s utter rubbish. The songs are horribly orchestrated and, with no backstory to any of the characters, lack any emotion. Not only that, but the film has used some of the most horrible sounding synthesisers on the soundtrack, and I really can’t see why. It might make the score more ‘of era’ with the original musical, but within the realms of the film it makes everything sound dated and cheap.
The key song, ‘Memory’, is sung by an utterly distraught and teary-eyed Jennifer Hudson, but I’ve no idea why she was so sad. All the cats hate her at the start of the number, but after she finishes singing it, the cats love her again. The narrative of the whole film is so baffling in it’s lack of plot and character backstory, especially considering the entire thing is just characters singing about themselves.
All of this also doesn’t then prepare you for the fact that it’s not even a film set in the real world. It’s a bizarre blend of fantasy where the cats can do magic, disappear at the drop of a hat and make their entire surroundings change. It’s all just too weird for me.
The huge ensemble cast includes Judi Dench, James Corden, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Jason Derulo, Rebel Wilson and Jennifer Hudson, with Francesca Hayward, principal dancer at the Royal Ballet making her major film debut. I won’t mention who the cast play because quite frankly the names are just too stupid. Names like Old Deuteronomy, Bustopher Jones, Rum Tum Tugger and Bombalurina are but a few of the ridiculous names written so that ‘hilarious’ rhymes could be sung in their songs.
All the cast are admittedly pretty decent, all giving grand emotional performances despite singing about god knows what. Notably, the cast can all sing, so unlike Emma Watson in Beauty and The Beast, auto-tune wasn’t required. I must also admit that James Corden doing his usual slapstick thing didn’t work for me, and two jokes about things hitting his groin couldn’t change that.
And then there’s the aesthetics. A lot of press has appeared about the CGI, and it’s entirely fair. Although a lot of the CGI is impressive (the hair technology is immaculate) the issues come when blending that with real human faces. The monstrosities that are created when this technique glitches is horrific, and makes it look like the human faces are just floating above cat bodies. Of course, dodgy CGI is apparent in many films, such as The Irishman where some of the de-ageing could have done with work. However, unlike Cats, that CGI was used to help tell a grand story spanning decades, whereas this technology is being used so that a load of famous people can sing about themselves for two hours while sporting fur and cat ears. The story isn’t enough to distract from the visuals and the end result is poor.
The other issues come from the scaling of the cats within their environment. In some shots, they are tiny with cutlery outsizing them, but in others they could take up the third of a bed. These weird distortions are made even more dizzying by the handheld camera work at play for a lot of the film. Nauseating shakes mean the CGI is even more ropey, and the whole effect is utterly disorientating.
Despite being a U rated film, it feels like this is a strange decision. Firstly, the film is oddly sexual in its movement and direction. The cats all lap up milk like there’s no tomorrow, and are often seen weirdly nuzzling their face onto one another. If they were actually cats it would be fine. But they’re not and the effect is weird. Secondly, the film is utterly nightmarish to look at in some places. The blend of visuals and discordant music create a terrifying atmosphere, with the cats all crawling around and hissing like monsters from the depths.
Overall, what more can be said other than Cats is exactly as nightmarish and weird as could be expected. At first I was enjoying how bad it was, but eventually it stops being funny and just gets irritating. Terrible songs, no plot and visuals that are ropey at best, this is one musical adaptation to be kicked out the cat flap.