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New to Digital/VOD/DVD/Blu-Ray - CATS

cats review
After being dumped by her owner, a cat is taken in by a secret feline society.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Tom Hooper

Starring: Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, James Corden, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson, Francesca Hayward

cats dvd


Cocaine's a hell of a drug. I don't know the origin story of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, but I like to think it began in the late 1970s with Webber in a toilet cubicle in Studio 54 being challenged to write a musical based on TS Eliot's 1939 poetry collection 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats'. A week later Webber sobered up and realised he had written a bonkers musical filled with bad feline based puns. As the entire western world was off their collective tits during this period, Cats went on to become one of the biggest hits to ever grace the West End and Broadway.

Cats premiered in 1981, which meant it arrived a couple of years too late to join the wave of coked out screen musicals of the late '70s/early '80s (Xanadu; The Wiz; The Apple). But thanks to Oscar winning director Tom Hooper, that's been belatedly corrected, with a screen adaptation of Cats that's as weird and unsettling as any of the movies of that aforementioned...err, creative period. Using state of the art CG, Hooper's cast have been transformed into creepy human/feline hybrids of the sort usually found running through the jungles of Dr. Moreau's island.


cats review

As with most of Webber's musicals, the plot is a paperthin, nonsensical excuse for a bunch of rambling, directionless tunes that refuse to be tied down to a singular style or theme. In old London town lives a secret society of cats known as the Jellicles. Into this world arrives Victoria (Francesca Hayward), a young cat dumped in the centre of town by her owner. Victoria is taken in by the Jellicles, who introduce her to various feline figures, each of which gets their own song and dance number, while evading the villain of the piece, Idris Elba's Macavity, who kidnaps cats for a purpose I never quite could figure out.

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The plot is indeed nonsense, and the dialogue is a cringeworthy collection of moggy-related metaphors, so Cats lives or dies on the strength of its musical numbers. The advantage Cats has over recent acclaimed screen musicals like La La Land and Hooper's own turgid Les Miserables is that its cast features performers who possess the ability to sing and dance. As Grizabella, a once glamorous feline now reduced to cat-bag-lady status, Jennifer Hudson gets to belt out the showcase number 'Memory' with the sort of emotional gusto that saw Anne Hathaway rewarded with an Oscar for Les Mis, the difference being that Hudson can carry a tune. Plucked from the London stage, newcomer Hayward is given the not so easy task of carrying us through this world largely with wide-eyed reactions, and despite her lack of dialogue she manages to convey enough to prevent the story collapsing around her. Elsewhere, pop stars Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift liven things up with the funky 'The rum tum Tugger' and the sultry 'Macavity the mysterie cat' respectively.


cats review

It's when the singers and dancers take a backseat to the actors that Cats loses several of its nine lives. The numbers that centre Rebel Wilson and James Corden are the film's lowlights, while Ian McKellen stumbles through a number in a manner that suggests he was woken at 3am and forced to perform at gunpoint.

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Hooper has wisely, if surprisingly, opted to maintain the musical's original orchestration, a Moog heavy concoction that often sounds like 'Secret Life of Plants' era Stevie Wonder jamming with electronica pioneer Wendy Carlos. It sounds awfully dated in 2019 but adds to the oddly eerie nature of this most bizarre production.


cats review

With its neon backdrops and constantly dancing and prancing cast, Cats often resembles a child-friendly companion to Gaspar Noe's Climax. Both movies are light on story and heavy on garish disco era inspired spectacle and funky footwork, and they're arguably the best screen musicals the modern era has produced.

The release of Cats comes in the wake of months of online snark regarding its uncanny valley visuals and its general oddness. But in an age where we spend so much time moaning about Hollywood playing it safe and refusing to take risks, we should be grateful that cinema can still deliver a big budget movie as bananas as this one.

Cats is on UK Digital now, and VOD/DVD/blu-ray June 1st.




2019 movie reviews