Cats movie review: Tom Hooper's CGI purr-version turns Broadway musical into kinky feline fantasy

Prahlad Srihari

Jan 03, 2020 15:00:35 IST

0.5/5

Language: English

Every ounce of goodwill built by the feline community in this economy of viral cat videos and memes has been squandered by a single movie. Universal's Cats was supposed to keep the cash registers ringing at the box office this holiday season, but simply put, it is a cat-astrophe.

 Cats movie review: Tom Hoopers CGI purr-version turns Broadway musical into kinky feline fantasy

Taylor Swift in a still from Cats

Having watched the trailer, I went in with the lowest of expectations and a more forgiving mood than usual, armed with just my curiosity. Though it did not kill this particular cat, it did feel like some of, if not all, nine lives were lost through its run-time. The only paw-sitive is I came out of the cinema, challenging myself to get in more cat puns in this review than the movie managed — and right now, I am feline pretty good. Honestly, the lowest moment of cinema in recent history can only be described with "the lowest form of wit."

Tom Hooper turns Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage musical — a decades-old catnip that has itself lost its bite — into a CGI delirium of garish cat-human hybrids. In the neon-lit deserted cityscape of 1930s London, a tribe of cats, known as Jellicles, come together to participate in an annual competition of song and dance. The winner of this competition gets to escape this purr-gatory and ascend to a kitty heaven of sorts, where they will be reborn into a new life. Among the various cats competing is our protagonist, a timid white kitten named Victoria (the Royal Ballet dancer Francesca Hayward in her debut role), whose story takes us from a London junkyard to Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. Sets with CG backdrops, however, turn even these into the most unsightly sights.

Judi Dench and Ian McKellen in stills from Cats

Judi Dench and Ian McKellen in stills from Cats

On her meow-sical journey, Victoria comes across a star-studded clouder of cats. If watching a singing-and-dancing Rebel Wilson's cat-human hybrid eat a singing-and-dancing cockroach-human hybrid is horrifying, Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench’s hissing and meowing will sure leave you grinning like a Cheshire. James Corden's Bustopher Jones, dressed for some reason like the Batman villain Penguin, also attempts to bring some humour to the proceedings. But even these attempts often seem tame, if not neutered. Taylor Swift's Bombalurina shakes it off in a cameo, and Jennifer Hudson tries to recapture the soul of her Oscar-winning performance. But this is Cats, not Dreamgirls. Idris Elba plays the bad kitty Macavity, wreaking havoc among the Jellicles, and will make you forget he played Stringer Bell some nine lifetimes ago. But it is Jason Derulo's horny Rum Tum Tugger who perfectly embodies the weird sexual energy of the film.

The Jellicles' sexualised bodies leave you feeling uneasy and confused about their anatomy and sense of fashion. We are not sure why some cats wear fur coats, pants and shoes, while others are bare-naked. Perhaps, the Jellicles are a body-positive nudist community. But that does not explain why these cats have human noses, eyes and, in some cases, even breasts — or why the female cats have breasts when the male cats do not have any visible genitalia. Perhaps, this is what the late Maureen Ponderosa hoped to become in the final stage of her human-to-cat transition, or it is just another case of the female body being objectified to its sensual potential.

Francesa Hayward and Robbie Fairchild in a still from Cats

Francesa Hayward and Robbie Fairchild in a still from Cats

I am not sure if it was CGI or Snapchat's new Lovecraft filter that produced this in-fur-nal nightmare. I did not stick around for the end credits to see if the film got American Humane’s “No Animals Were Harmed” stamp of approval, but I doubt even People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) would object if these demonic Jellicles were all killed for the greater good of humanity and cinema. Between their human eyes and wiggling cat ears, their human breasts and waving cat tails, their singing and meowing, it becomes near-impossible to separate the actors' performances from the CGI work. Of course, the actors wore motion capture suits and VFX dots during shooting, unaware of how they would look on screen. But it would have been more effective to take the Broadway route by relying on costumes and makeup.

The CGI, however, only underscores how misconceived the movie is on every other level and why not every novel, play or musical requires a film adaptation. It even distracts you from all the substandard musical sequences that blend everything from ballet to hip-hop to tap, as the film trips over its own feet every time someone breaks into song or dance. You almost forget the film is made by an Oscar-winning director, and features a cast with a couple of Oscars, plenty of Grammys, a knighthood, and a damehood between them.

Sadly, Cats does not even belong to the genre of so-bad-it-is-good films that defy criticism. It is just plain bad. The film has been given a parental guidance certification, and is currently playing at many of the PVR Play Houses, but it is possibly more traumatising than The Grudge (which also released this week). For those of you with cats at home, stay home. You will likely be more entertained watching them play with a ball of yarn or chase that elusive red dot from a laser pointer.

Rating: 0.5 stars

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Updated Date: Jan 03, 2020 15:07:28 IST