I like to consider myself a bit of a theatre nerd. I enjoy musicals and plays, though I’m hardly a superfan. Back in my younger days I even used to perform in amateur productions. Theatre productions are usually these huge, broad, intense affairs that are designed to work when performed live. However, those same productions often don’t really translate from stage to screen.
Before I saw the CATS movie, I’d never actually seen the stage production. My only knowledge of CATS was from pop-culture — The Simpsons — so I didn’t really know what to expect.
That being said, with no prior knowledge or affinity for the source material, I REALLY struggled to get into what CATS was putting down.
CATS Movie Review
Based on the long-running Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which is in turn based on poems by T.S. Eliot, CATS, directed by Tom Hooper, is a bizarre piece of fantasy. Set on the night the ‘Jellicle Cats’ make the ‘Jellicle Choice,’ we follow Victoria, recently abandoned, as she joins the Jellicles.
As a sung-through musical, CATS features very little in the way of spoken dialogue, so the plot is told through the lyrics and largely through context. What makes it difficult to follow in this film adaptation is that unlike a stage production, where the audience’s perspective is fixed, the film is free to use a range of shots, angles and close-ups. In doing so, the only straight-forward thing about this musical is lost.
So too was I.
Essentially, CATS boils down to several Jellicle Cats vying to be the Jellicle Choice and ascend to the Heaviside Layer. In order to be chosen, they need to impress Old Deuteronomy, which they attempt to do by performing in the Jellicle Ball; a talent show.
Throughout the film, we meet those who will perform at the Jellicle Ball and watch as they’re kidnapped, one by one, by Macavity, played by Idris Elba. The only real antagonist in the film, Macavity is a presence that looms large, but never truly materialises as a real threat.
It’s just one of the many issues faced by moving CATS from stage to screen. On stage, plotting, characterisation, singing and dancing work in such a different way than in film that the same scene can be interpreted in totally different ways. Tonally, I can imagine that CATS works on stage, but as a film, it’s a real mess.
This all-singing, all-dancing musical just doesn’t work as a movie. The weird human/cat hybrids are incredibly offputting, especially with so many close-ups, something you’d avoid at the theatre. The singing and dancing are impressive but, given that it’s not live, it loses most of its wow factor. It doesn’t matter that the singing is flawless and the choreography spot on; they had as many takes as they needed to get it that way.
Live theatre is exciting because it’s live. Watching a show unfold before your eyes as it’s being performed is a real joy and trying to recreate that on a movie screen, especially with something as obtuse as CATS is difficult.
I don’t think it succeeded.
That being said, the production values are through the roof. The visuals are wonderful and the strange CG world of London is a real sight to behold. It’s a big, loud and strange film and for fans of the musical, it might be a real treat.
However, for someone like me, without a connection to the source material, CATS is a weird, off-putting, lacklustre couple of hours that could have been better spent.
The one is for CATS diehards only.
Leo Stevenson attended a screening of CATS as a guest of Universal.
Movie title: CATS