Cats (2019)

“You Will Believe”

Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)
Starring James Corden (Ocean’s 8), Laurie Davidson (The Good Liar), Judi Dench (Murder on the Orient Express), Jason Derulo, Idris Elba (Hobbs & Shaw), Robbie Fairchild, Jennifer Hudson (Sing), Stephen McCrae, Ian McKellen (The Da Vinci Code), Taylor Swift (Valentine’s Day), Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect 2) and Francesca Hayward

Abandoned on the streets of London, white cat Victoria (Hayward) is found by the Jellicle cats, including Munkustrap (Fairchild) and wannabe conjurer Mister Mistoffeles (Davidson), and invited to the Jellicle Ball, where various Jellice Cats compete to be the Jellicle Choice and be allowed to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and begin a new Jellicle Life. Jennyanydots the Gumby Cat (Wilson), the Rum Tum Tugger (Derulo) and gourmand Bustopher Jones (Corden) sing ‘the song of themselves’ , only for Jennyanydots and Jones to be snatched by mystic criminal MacCavity (Elba).

Victoria briefly falls in with troublemakers Mungojerrie (Danny Collins, not the footballer) and Rumpleteazer (Naoimh Morgan) before making her way to the Egyptian Theatre, where Jellicle leader Old Deuteronomy (Dench) appears and begins the official ball. Victoria bonds with outcast Grizabella (Hudson), before Gus the Theatre Cat (McKellan) and Railway Cat Skimbleshanks (McCrae) perform and are in turn captured by MacCavity.

Femme fatale Bombalurina (Swift) leads MacCavity’s song, while dosing the Jellicles with catnip, before MacCavity tries – unsuccessfully – to coerce Old Deuteronomy into making him the Jellicle Choice. He kidnaps her when she refuses, but Victoria prompts Mistoffeles to use his own powers to retrieve her, and then invites Grizabella to perform her own song.

Grizabella becomes the Jellicle Choice, the other captive Jellicles escape and MacCavity is trapped atop Nelson’s Column as Grizabella ascends to the Heaviside Layer in a balloon and Victoria is welcomed into the Jellicle Tribe.

What’s wrong with it?

Having worn this for most of the film, without the coat MacCavity looks somehow *more* naked than the other cats.

The word Jellicle has lost all meaning for me. I mean, it didn’t have much to begin with, but what there was is gone it gets used so much.

I’m sure the sound balance is off with Hudson’s rendition of ‘Memory’, although others have told me I’m wrong on this, so it might just be a matter of taste.

What’s right with it?

It’s a weird gig, but it’s Cats. What did you expect?

The choreography and the music are just delightful.

The cat acting is odd to watch at first, but it’s very cattish, and not as sexual as many people have made out. In particular, the quick switches from aggression to curiosity to affection are all very characteristically cat. Less so the hats.

How bad is it really?

Judi Dench. Here to play the gig.

Cats has taken an absolute shower in reviews, and probably as a result has done quite badly at the box office. I suspect that, following the fierce response to its first trailer, a lot of redesign work was done, which was in turn incomplete on release, requiring a day one ‘patch’ to the visual effects. As a result, the actual qualities of the film feel as if they have been rather obscured beneath this peculiar chronicle of the modern movie industry.

For myself, I enjoyed it. Yes, it’s weird. It’s Cats. It’s built around the music and the dance and performers in very literal catsuits – substantially CGI in this case – assuming the mannerisms of cats. If you’re not expecting it to be something that it isn’t, Cats is exactly what it means to be. Now, maybe I’m the core target audience – I saw the show as a child, I love the verse and the music – but I found it delightful.

Best bit (if such there is)?

As the viewpoint cat, Victoria, Hayward is suitably wide-eyed and adorable.

For whatever reason, this film’s rendition of ‘Memory’ didn’t work for me as it should, but Hayward’s performance of ‘Beautiful Ghosts’ – the new song so they can pitch for an original song Oscar nod – utterly destroyed me.

What’s up with…?

“…and then we’ll have Taylor Swift come in for one scene, playing an evil version of a character that fans of the show know well…”
  • Bombalurina? In addition to giving the stunt casting a single scene, the film revises one of the two key cats as an evil bit part. This feels almost provocative.
  • I’d ask why they miss ‘Growltiger’s Last Stand’, but it’s the longest song in the show by some stretch – even without the accompanying ‘Ballad of Billy McCaw’ – and really quite racist.


Production values – A troubled production led to a lot of production problems, and some of the visuals are a little jarring – why does MacCavity look so unusually naked? – but the v1.2 release is pretty slick. 6
Dialogue and performances – There isn’t really a lot of dialogue, and I won’t deny that far too much of the script consists of the word ‘Jellicle’. 11
Plot and execution – Cats has slightly more plot than the stage show, but that still isn’t much. It does well with what it has, but that isn’t much. 12
Randomness – Even for Cats, the dancing cockroaches are a bit… extra. 5
Waste of potential – I mean… it’s Cats. It’s Cats. 6

Overall 40%

4 thoughts on “Cats (2019)”

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