So up in the mountains there’s this supposed secret research project. It’s a hidden facility, privately funded, that has (according to the rumors) been attempting to punch a hole in the fabric of reality in order to explore another universe. Using the evil magicks of an Eldritch tome combined with modern technology, it seems they have succeeded and brought through a horror beyond understanding that human minds can’t comprehend. At least I assume so, because that’s the only way this damned Cats adaptation can exist. James Hooper has directed something that would put Nyarlathotep to shame in its mind-bending, indiscernible being. The colour is definitely out of shape.
The entirety of the musical has been a point of contention amongst theatre fans/performers for a long time. The stage production was built by Andrew Lloyd Weber, working from a collection of cat poems by T.S. Elliot, and your mileage on it is definitely going to vary. A plotless monstrosity, songs that are beautiful but repetitive, and costuming that probably spawned some search history most would prefer to wipe from existence, the play became one of the longest-running productions in American history. That’s part of the issue with this film – it has already been determined whether or not most will enjoy it because…well…if you enjoyed the stage production, you’re likely going to have some respect for this.
However, I never understood the point of the entire thing and have been annoyed with it to this day. I rented the VHS when I was younger, I listened to the music, and I even read the damn script. It’s pointless and seems to be a meaningless series of character introductions while the cats (checks notes: the cats of the JELLICLE tribe, apparently) bicker and fight over who the oldest cat (checks notes again: *ahem* Old Deuteronomy) will choose to commit ritualistic suicide and ascend to cat heaven (checks notes again: apparently they calle it the “Heavyside Layer”). Oh, and there’s a cat that’s basically the devil. He’s also got magic powers. No, not the Magical Mister Mistoffelees cat (Laurie Davidson), the other one. Macavity (Idris Elba).
Those cast names should be surprising, seeing that this film is an otherworldly trainwreck of nightmare fuel, but then again you should see the rest of the cast list. Allow me to assist…
- Francesca Hayward as “Victoria”
- Rebel Wilson as “Jennyanydots”
- Jennifer Hudson as “Grizabella”
- Judi Dench as “Old Deuteronomy”
- Ian McKellen as “Gus the Theatre Cat”
- Jason Derulo as “Rum Tum Tugger”
- Taylor Swift as “Bombalurina”
- Ray Winstone as “Captain Growltiger”
- Steven McRae as “Skimbleshanks”
- James Corden as “Bustopher Jones”
Your familiarity with the rest of the cast will depend on your familiarity with Broadway names. It seems like everyone wanted to be involved in this thing, the cast-list being impressively round and a mixture of multiple generations. Some of them are attempting to just perform, but some of them go above and beyond with the premise and material in an attempt to elevate it. The big, bold, standout performances for me were Jason Derulo (who wantonly cries “miiiiiiiiiiilk” at one gloriously stupid point) and Ian McKellan (Magneto meows and laps milk from a saucer). Taylor Swift is bringing the heat as well, committing entirely to this wild bullshit, but she just doesn’t have enough to do. Really…none of the cast has much to do. It’s hard to say any of these performances are particularly “good” when the film is about, essentially, nothing.
You know who did put in a lot of work? Whoever animated this thing. It’s disturbing, inhuman, and sort of impressive while still being an utter failure. There are moments where the background and performers seem on different screens; the dancing monstrosities feet seem to be levitating about three inches off the ground while they twirl. The imagery of fur on some of these faces doesn’t work (read: all of the faces), instead serving only to make viewers uncomfortable at what they’re being subjected to. Actually…that might not be true for everybody. This is definitely going to inspire some disturbing pornography searches in young people that are just discovering their kinks. Idris Elba’s cat doesn’t appear to have fur – he just looks like a textured, nude Idris Elba with GI Joe smoothness on his crotch. Likewise, Taylor Swift has all of her curves intact and the image is…disturbing.
And let’s take a bit to address crotches because there’s a lot of them. Rebel Wilson, Elba, hell even Judi Dench flaunts hers at one point. This is a very horny movie, everyone seemingly ready to bone at any second but no one acting on that impulse. Rum Tum Tuggers entire character is that he’s inconsistent and horny, that’s it. There’s a scene where Judi Dench delivers spoken-word-rhymes at the audience while three person-cats stare at her, licking their lips. Just…what the hell is going on in this thing? Aside from these bananas visuals (a couple of which made me burst into laughter), the movie is just…it’s boring. Since there’s no story we’re merely left with two hours of cats introducing themselves, their schtick, and their kinks to us in a series of vignettes that never feel cohesive in any way. The last half hour or so attempts to solidify a plot (there’s a goal, they just try to make a story out of it) and the whole thing doesn’t work. At this point I’d even grown bored with the absolutely insane visuals, merely disturbed by them instead of cracking up. That’s depressing, right? When something so completely wild can grow boring due to being subjected to it for that long?
I will say that there are some marvelous vocal performances (of repetitive, uninteresting songs), but Jennifer Hudson’s turn at the Grizabella song “Memories” is absolutely beautiful. That’s about all I have to say about the music. It’s fine, but it’s pointless outside of that song.
Look, some of you are going to need to see this. It’s too bizarre and wrong to look away from, instead leaving a baffled sensation in your head and heart while you try to figure out just how this happened in the first place. Why did people like the stage production? Why did Hooper decide he needed to make a film of this? Why did they decide on miniature human/cat hybrids instead of some sort of costuming? Just what does the name “Jellicle” mean? None of this matters. Does anything matter anymore? This movie is so painful and it’s going to make so much money…