Film reviews: is Cats really the catastrophe everyone thinks it is?

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In Cats, a star-studded tribe of felines (including Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden and more) must decide which among them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. 

It was the trailer that broke the internet. Horrifying, appalling, disturbing. Just a few words to describe the first-look reaction to the big-screen reimagining of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats. There were cats with human faces (it’s Dame Judi Dench, but as a cat), cats with breasts, cats in heels. 

In a word: creepy. 

Controversy wasn’t limited to human parts on cats, but the apparent whitewashing of new star Francesca Hayward, principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, who is a woman of colour, but on-screen plays a white cat. A bit weird considering how everyone else looks pretty much like their actual self.

Francesca Hayward as Victoria in cats movie
Ballerina Francesca Hayward stars as Victoria

Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper is not new to the musical genre – he directed 2012 mega hit Les Misérables. But how did he fare with this feature film adaption? To sum up the film succinctly, I had to google the plot afterwards to make sure I got the many strange names correct. So, here goes! A cat called Victoria (played by Hayward) is cruelly abandoned but taken under the wing, or paw, of a tribe of cats called Jellicles. 

We are introduced to members of the tribe during musical numbers such as: Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), resident baddie Macavity (Idris Elba in fur was a sight!) and Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy. That very night there is to be a Jellicle Ball held and Old Deuteronomy will make the Jellicle choice as to which cat deserves to be reborn into a new life.

Taylor swift as Bombalurina in cats movie
Taylor Swift serving up Catnip as flirtatious Bombalurina

It’s stiff competition as to who gets the golden ticket, this is one hell of a starry cast that includes Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Sir Ian McKellen and James Corden. But a cast of big names, with a jaw-dropping scale of production, didn’t translate to screen gold. There were too few ‘moments’ on-screen between them, no great connection or memorable interaction other than Victoria and Mr Mistoffelees and Victoria and Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson).

Talking of memories, the song Memory, sung by the shunned and broken Grizabella the Glamour Cat was truly breathtaking, for all the right reasons. Hudson went all in, snot streaming down her nose, tears flowing freely, camera closing in and able to put all that pain of being rejected into her performance. And what a performance it was. But vulnerable and honest moments are diminished by cardboard one-liners that went a lot like, “Look what the cat dragged in.” Another annoyance, Jason Derulo as a cat is something I don’t need to sit through again. His Cockney accent was as painful as Robert Pattinson’s French one in Netflix’s The King.

I really don’t know how to sum up Cats other than is was very, very… odd. As the credits rolled to the tune of Taylor Swift’s original song Beautiful Ghosts, I sat in my seat trying to wrap my brain around what I’d just seen. One of the thoughts that ran through my head was: ‘Is this the Cats that everyone raved about back in the day?’ A musical with a weird plot and hardly any catchy tunes.

This one-of-a kind film will surely find an audience – if only those who want to admire the gorgeous movement of ballerina Francesca Hayward, who want to see the oddness unfold for themselves after all that hype and, last but not least to admire Dench’s phenomenal pimp-like coat.

Images: Universal

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Mayran Yusuf

Mayran Yusuf is a film critic who loves nothing better than a good scroll of @TheShaderoom on Instagram and a sucker for any drama that BBC flings out. Series link at the ready!

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