Starring: Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Francesca Hayward
Director: Tom Hooper
Running Time: 110 mins
Cats is an American film about a tribe of cats who, on one magical evening, congregate at a ritual ball to decide which one of their number will earn the chance to a new life.
I’ve got nothing against movie musicals, director Tom Hooper, or even anybody who’s a part of making this film. But goodness me, Cats is an absolute monstrosity. Garish, non-sensical, boring and everything in between, it’s a pompous and pointless musical that plays out with barely a redeeming feature, proving one of the most unbearable cinema experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
While I haven’t been a big fan of Hooper’s work in the past, particularly Les Misérables, Cats pales in comparison to anything the director has made before, failing on all levels in its pathetic attempts to provide even a semblance of fun, magical theatre, and instead staggering along through its repetitive and frankly tedious story on its way to a terrible ending that can’t come soon enough.
There’s nothing positive I have to say about this movie. Les Misérables, for all its faults, at least had a degree of spectacle, emotion and drama, whereas Cats is little more than an experiment gone wrong: a horrifying Frankenstein’s monster that attempts to blend modern cinematic techniques with classic West End storytelling.
First, the visual effects are extremely offputting. Whether it’s the uncanny CGI human/cat-like figures, the inconsistent and distracting scaling and sizing issues, or even the plasticky, garish look of the whole film, Cats is a really unpleasant spectacle. And for all of the technical expertise that clearly went into pulling it off, it all feels squandered on a misguided and painfully showy movie.
Next, Hooper’s directing is jagged and meandering throughout. While the screenplay is hardly a work of art, Cats lacks even the slightest bit of show-stopping stage energy, symptomatic of direction that leaves the film wandering aimlessly right the way through.
Hooper’s visual style is uninspiring and unimaginative, the musical and dance numbers are repetitive and dull, and even the biggest, best dramatic set-pieces are completely missing any sort of real presence, instead just fading into the movie’s jarringly inconsistent structure.
The pacing is a massive problem throughout, as the film shirks the need for even a basic three-act structure in exchange for a horribly repetitive yet still inconsistent layout. Basically, for two hours, it goes like this: Dialogue, mini song, big musical number. Dialogue, mini song, big musical number. And repeat. Again and again and again.
In that, Cats proves so boring, so predictable, and clearly so without life that it’s happy to just sit and move you from one musical number to the next. A great movie musical should organically blend song and dialogue, with each complementing the other with the goal of developing the story wherever possible.
Cats is so aimless and repetitive, that the pathetic excuse for a story barely seems to move at any point. Instead, it’s just a vehicle for big West End musical numbers on the big screen, all built up to in jarring fashion that makes each song more awkward than the last.
That story, too, is almost unbearable throughout. I won’t pass judgment on the original stage show, but in the case of this film, the plot is non-sensical, the characters uninteresting, the screenplay unfocused, and the emotion painfully superficial.
A little bit of fantasy is fine by me, but when a film is constantly repeating its fantasy mumbo-jumbo about cats being sent to heaven or something or other, it gives no incentive to keep watching, worsened by a total lack of character focus or even a consistent main lead.
Francesca Hayward plays the young, new cat to join the tribe, so you’d think that she would be the main focus for the story. However, the movie is so distracted by trying to cram in as many A-listers and side characters as possible that the whole thing feels like an endless meet-and-greet, still introducing new characters deep into the latter stages, and not even giving a second to let Hayward’s cat take centre stage.
There’s no story because it barely gets going. For what feels like an hour and a half, the film jumps between random characters’ introductory musical numbers, and then, remembering it has to wrap things up in a two-hour window, abruptly shifts to tying up loose ends that were never really established in the first place.
As a result, despite the immense acting talent on display, none of the characters are memorable, and none play even a leading role for you to connect with at any point. Alongside Hayward, there’s Robbie Fairchild and Laurie Davidson, both of whom seem to be on screen enough to warrant a leading role, but neither even gets the slightest bit of attention from the screenplay.
So, whenever their characters take any sort of role in the main plot, it comes across as sudden and out of left-field, a problem only caused because the movie spends so much time trying to entertain you with A-listers dressed as CGI cats. But even for all the Taylor Swift cameos in the world, it’s surely not worth steamrolling simple character and narrative development.
In short, Cats is an absolute atrocity. From a director with an already wobbly track record in the musical genre, this film is an utter disaster, failing to capture any sense of spectacle or fun, and instead meandering and wandering through a non-sensical, boring and predictable story that’s seemingly used mostly as a platform for some big West End musical numbers and A-list cameos.
There’s nothing good to say about Cats, and unless you really want two hours of pain at the cinema, I suggest you stay as clear as possible. And that is why I’m giving Cats a 2.2 overall.