I first saw cats when I was… 7? 8? Young enough for it to leave an impression on me. I couldn’t have told you what was going on, but I was utterly mesmerised. Humans! Pretending to be cats! My parents used it to instil in me a love of West End musicals which persists to this day.
A decade-or-so later, I saw one of the last performances on Broadway. By that time, the set was crumbling, the C90 cassette used to play the music was wearing thin, and the cast still gave it their all! I was old enough to appreciate the oversexulaised nature of women in skin-tight leotards crawling over the audience in the interval, and mature enough to realise just how ridiculous the show was.
The movie of Cats has been unfairly maligned. It is identical to my childhood memories. A surreal tail of nonsense, writhing in absurdity, flicking a knowing glance at the audience.
Is it any good? No, not really. The songs are mostly so-so – with only a couple of stand-out numbers. Most of them are impossible to hum along to. The dancing is incredible – but because it is shot as a movie, rather than a filmed stage experience, the rapid cuts means you can’t appreciate the talent and dedication of the dancers. The intense amounts of CGI mean that you might as well be watching an animatronic rather than a seasoned professional.
As for the singing… Much like Tom Hooper’s previous film, Les Mis, the mistake is casting actors rather than singers. Don’t get me wrong, they can hit all the notes – but they trying to wring every drop of emotion from every bloody syllable. It’s just too intense. These songs are designed to be sung in such a way as they reach the cheap seats of a large theatre. Being close up to an actor, half-whispering their line is unnerving. There’s a reason sensible people don’t sit in the front row.
The “uncanny valley” effect – seeing not-quite-humans as not-quite-cats – fades after the first few scenes. Again, that’s the same as the stage show; you quickly become accustomed to the performers.
But, for all that, it isn’t a dreadful movie. It is simply a faithful movie adaptation of a ridiculous – and ridiculously successful – musical.
Personally, I’m looking forward to a movie adaptation of Starlight Express done in stop-motion animation.