‘Cats’ review: weird and occasionally wonderful, this feline flick is no cat-astrophe

Despite a last-minute redesign, Tom Hooper's big-screen musical stops short of disaster

The claws were out for Cats long before it dared to arrive in cinemas. When the first trailer debuted back in July, it kickstarted the Internet’s strangest day of the year. Tom Hooper’s fur-tastic adventure fell so far into the uncanny valley – and prompted such ridicule – that his new adaptation of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s iconic musical seemed destined for the litter tray. Hooper didn’t do much to inspire confidence either, admitting recently that the unexpected backlash had prompted a considerable redesign. Luckily, they made the right decision – and we’re pleased to report that Cats is far from the cinematic car crash everyone predicted.

Set in a fictional version of London, it tells the story of the Jellicles – a gang of moggies vying to be given the chance of a new life by Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), an almost godlike figure who lurks in the shadows. It’s the thinnest of premises, but it’s bolstered by a series of performances that make a lot more sense than their initial casting would suggest. Bizarrely, late-’00s hit machine Jason Derulo provides the film’s first real showstopper of a performance as Rum Tum Tugger – even if he’s not too happy with the CGI treatment of his much-discussed manhood. Also among the starry lineup are Taylor Swift, whose well-publicised appearance is nothing more than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, and newcomer Francesca Hayward in a stellar debut.

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As for the divisive CGI, it turns out that transplanting human faces onto furry felines doesn’t look so horrific the second time around. Cats‘ opening five minutes might revive some of those initial nightmares, but you’ll largely recover by the time Jennifer Hudson’s Grizabella belts out her first lung-busting rendition of ‘Memory’. It’s the same for the streets they roam, with Hooper’s vision of a pint-sized city lovingly rendered in fine detail.

Cats
Jennifer Hudson in ‘Cats’. Credit: Universal

Still, there’s plenty to scoff at. One recurring moment sees the cats brushing their faces together in a show of affection, but it’s delivered with all the warmth of a hook-up at a furry convention. Elsewhere, the plot is often nonsensical and occasionally unbelievable – seasoned haters of musical theatre will find little to change their mind.

All things considered though, Cats does well to avoid a second mauling at the hands of the Internet meme mob. It might not be for everyone, but leave your cynicism at the door and you’ll find that there’s unexpected fun to be had here – despite the weirdness.

3/5

Details

  • Director: Tom Hooper
  • Starring: Taylor Swift, Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba
  • Release date: 20 December 2019
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