“Cats:” successful reboot or total nightmare?

photo via vitalthrills.com

I love cats — both the animal and the musical created by Andrew Lloyd Webber in the 1980s based on T.S. Eliot’s poem collection “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” My family and I have always loved its out-of-the-box uniqueness, from the poems to the music and the story. While countless Twitter users flamed the previews for Tom Hooper’s movie rendition of the 4th longest-running Broadway show, I was excited but skeptical to see what he would do to adapt my favorite musical to fit the big screen. Though I’m still hesitant about the CGI, I think Hooper did a brilliant job of respecting the originality of “Cats” while also adapting it to make it an even better story. 

“Cats” immerses its viewers into the world of the Jellicle cats — a tribe that prides itself on individuality and special skills — and their annual tradition of choosing one cat to be reborn into a new life at the “Jellicle Ball.” Most of the musical consists of songs about all the different cats with that storyline being the only real plot and the movie maintained this structure for the most part. A stronger plotline was incorporated by having one new cat, Victoria, be introduced to the Jellicle way of life along with the audience. The central focus on Victoria was an excellent decision because it featured Francesca Hayward and her amazing skills as a ballerina for the Royal Ballet. The addition of her song “Beautiful Ghosts” was also a tear-jerker, partly because of Hayward’s exquisite performance as an artist who hasn’t had a musical career. I also thoroughly enjoyed the new, deeper characterization of Macavity as the villain, as well as the little bit of romance added between Victoria and Mr. Mistoffelees. 

via fodors.com
Original costume looks of “Cats” the musical.

“Cats” the musical has always been unique in that it primarily casts dancers and showcases their abilities throughout the show. I loved that the movie maintained this by hiring many professional dancers other than Hayward, and the choreography even stayed true to the “Cats” style while also featuring hip hop, ballet and even tap dancing. 

Now, to address the CGI: I agree it was weird. What a lot of people don’t understand is that the goal of the technology was to make the actors look like the Broadway actors in their costumes. I appreciated the effort to maintain continuity, but it was pretty jarring at first. I got used to it a few minutes into the movie, but the digitization did detract from the dancing skills of the cast. However, I don’t have any better ideas on how to turn people into cats, so I respect their creative decisions.

 

The CGI was definitely a barrier to enjoying the movie, but the star-studded cast still managed to sell it. Jennifer Hudson and Taylor Swift nailed their vocal performances, Rebel Wilson brought her usual unabashed hilarity and Dame Judi Dench perfectly embodied the eldest lead

graphic by Kate Haas

er of the Jellicles, Old Deuteronomy. The “cat school” training the cast went through paid off in their feline movements that were accentuated by the special effects tail and ears. It was easy to tell they had a great time filming, and that really helped envelop the viewer into the story. There were some weird moments for sure, including some strange synchronized breathing in a big dance scene and some rather interesting reactions to catnip in another, but the cast did a great job of embodying Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original cats despite the challenges of their roles and the CGI fur coats. 

“Cats” is a wonderfully weird, unique and out-of-the-box movie that stayed true to its origins. It’s definitely worth seeing whether you’re a die-hard “Cats” fan like me already or someone who’s never even heard of “Memory.” Broaden your horizons and go in with an open mind, and you’ll get thoroughly immersed in the strange world of the Jellicle cats. It’ll make you cry and also leave the theater feeling strangely inspired and a little creeped out.