Last night I sat and watched Tom Hooper‘s Cats (Universal, 12.20), but I paid as little attention as possible. I figured that was the wisest policy. Just sit there and tough it out and take what comes, and then tap out whatever comes to mind.
I knew Hooper’s film would have no story (as the musical play never had one) and I still haven’t the first clue what “Jellicle” means. It refers to a kind of cat fraternity or community of some kind, I realize, but it’s so bizarre listening to the cast sing “Jellicle” over and over and over.
Cutting to the chase, I just wanted to watch this calamity without feeling bored. Alas, that’s exactly what I was grappling with for 110 minutes. In-and-out, off-and-on feelings of boredom. But there were portions or more precisely slivers in which I wasn’t bored but half-diverted, mildly amused, placated, vaguely touched, etc.
Set in the Trafalgar Square region of London, Cats is never more than a fanciful and story-less medley of tunes and dance moves, performed by some CG-augmented feline impersonators, but — I’m slightly diverting from the scornful mob here — it’s not altogether awful. Some of it is okay. It’s mostly lame, yes, and probably not worth the price of admission, okay, but I didn’t completely hate it. It didn’t make me furious, and that means something.
I’m sensing that fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s show (and remember that it opened in London nearly 40 years ago) may drag their kids or attend as families or whatever.
It really boils down to “how do you like this cat or that one?” Or “to what degree do you find the CG cat makeup alluring or fetching, and to what extent were you charmed and pleased by the various tunes and performances and whatnot?” That’s all you can talk about.
Example #1: “Oh, I found James Corden‘s obese cat more amusing than Rebel Wilson‘s.” Example #2: “Did they have to make their performances entirely about their beach-ball bods?”
My favorite cats were Francesca Hayward‘s Victoria (the pretty lead character) and Ian McKellen‘s Gus the Theatre Cat. True, Hayward doesn’t get you emotionally (she wears the exact same faintly amazed, obliquely smiling expression throughout the film) but she’s lithe and quick and pleasant to hang with. McKellen does get you emotionally, and I was feeling momentarily grateful that he was cast, at least. (If not given the greatest role.)
I was also down with Judi Dench‘s Old Deuteronomy as far as it went.
I didn’t even recognize Ray Winstone as Captain Growltiger…not a hint or a clue. I cared not for Taylor Swift‘s Bombalurina, who comes on like some kind or Vegas rockstar cat. And I felt only sympathy for Idris Elba‘s Macavity, a green-eyed baddie-waddie. Jennifer Hudson‘s Grizabella has the big number (“Memory”) but she’s mainly a morose and downhearted figure.
I would have preferred to see CG cats that actually look like cats. Forget putting actors in cat suits and then smoothing the edges with software — make the cats actually look like the ones we all live with.
I understand the genesis of Cats, how it’s based upon a light-hearted collection of T.S. Eliot poems called “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” and so on. I was nonetheless asking “why don’t these odd creatures look or behave like actual cats?” Because they don’t.
The cats I know are always sleeping and bugging me about being fed and occasionally stinking the place up (which I don’t blame them for, of course) and then eating and sleeping some more and giving themselves scratchy-tongue baths, but mostly sleeping. The Hooper cats are…I don’t know what they are, but I didn’t feel the kinship.