On July 18th, this trailer came out and the internet united in agreeing how surreal it was. Audiences were stunned by the uncanny animation and many of the weird choices in casting. And when watching it, I didn’t catch the hype. It wasn’t until a video Patrick Willems made that got me intrigued to check it out. And when I sat in the theater as a young critic among an older audience, I was both giddy and intrigued to see what the final result would be.
Victoria (Francesca Hayward), an anthropomorphic cat person is abandoned in the street of London, where she ends up in the world of Jellicle cats. Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson) and other cats inform her of the Jellicle Ball, a gathering where Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) chooses a cat who will go to the Heavenside Layer and be granted a new life. Contenders include the domesticated Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson), the wild Rum Tum Tugger (Jason DeRulo), the upper-class Bustopher Jones (James Corden), Gus the Theater Cat (Ian McKellen), Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat (Steven McRae), and Macavity (Idris Elba), a notorious cat who is willing to play dirty to win. As this is going on, Victoria tries to reach out to Grizabella (Jenifer Hudson) a “glamour cat” shunned by the other cats for her past loyalty to Macavity. The story is paper thin. While there is a narrative there, it’s irrelevant when compared to the choreography and musical numbers.
For what they have to work with, the cast does well to perform, and it is interesting to see who they got for this movie. There’s a surreal feeling of seeing artists like Taylor Swift and Jason DeRulo performing alongside acting legends like Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, and Dame Judi Dench. The characters themselves aren’t too developed, except for Jenifer Hudson’s Grizabella and Dench’s Old Deuteronomy. This also makes it hard to describe Francesca Hayward’s on-screen debut because of how passive she is. Her character’s just a vessel to take a ride into this weird world. But Idris Elba is having the time of his life, hamming up the mysterious Macavity; every time he popped up on the screen, I was excited to see him chew the scene and savor it.
Time to address the elephant in the room: the CGI. After the first trailer dropped, the internet was abuzz with how uncanny the CGI for the Cats was. Now at first glance, if your eyes brush past it, it might not seem bad. But the closer you look at it, you notice that the cats have human fingers and the actors’ faces stick out like a sore thumb. The bodies’ animation looks like uncanny dolls moving in a neon-lit dollhouse.
In the video The Glorious Horror of CATS (And Why I’m Obsessed With It), Patrick Willems has film critic Andrew Todd talk about how Tom Hooper prioritizes choreography in the film. Todd acknowledges that, “we all love good stunt work, and what is stunt work but just violent dance?” And what the movie lacks in story, it makes up for the choreography. Each of the musical numbers moves uniquely in both the music and the dancing. Whether it’s loud and bombastic or soft and rising, there’s a lot of flavor and flare in the music. The dance also varies, with elements of tap, ballet, and jazz applied to the choreography. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, but Tom Hooper, as the dance scenes are shot with the same attention one would give an action scene.
Overall, this movie is a mess, from the story to the weird effects to the thin storyline that at times feels non-existent.
But that aside, it’s worth watching to see acting legends and pop stars perform together and perform well-choreographed musical numbers that have been staples of theater for a while. If you were oddly curious about this movie, let me tell that it’s well-deserved of its reputation as an oddity.