My major issues with the Cats movie

As a musical theatre nerd, I’m always up for a new way to bring musical theatre to the mainstream and to give the average person an accessible entry point into the art form. That said, I don’t think Cats is the way to do it. Cats as a musical is divisive enough with the people who actually love musical theatre. For me, Cats is nostalgic because I watched the hell out of the VCR recording as a kid. It’s full of dancing, it’s super weird but I love it anyway.

This, however, is not a review commenting on the relevance of the subject matter, because I know what I signed up for when it comes to Cats. Is it perfect? Does it make sense? Is it even anywhere near logicical? Don’t be silly.
This review is not me looking for logic in the content, it is not about the quality of the casts’ performances (I actually think the cast were great), it is questioning the producers and directorial choices.

Before I even saw the film I thought it was a poor choice for a stage-movie adaptation. As I said it’s a divisive show as is, but I also think that it doesn’t translate to the world of film. In the theatre we are expected and prepared to come in and use our imagination, so looking at humans who are cats feels okay because we are there to buy into the fantasy.
The benefit of bringing a stage production to the movies is the ability to expand the world and bring a sense of reality. In film we expect to be shown things in a more literal sense, it’s not really about imagination. Why, then stop at the half creature CGI and not just fully animate it into real cats? My thoughts on this was reinforced and amplified after seeing the film.

Everything is so artificial that it makes the wee realistic elements extremely jarring. I truly believe it should either have been fully animated or they should have just done a really good pro shot of the stage musical. It has been discussed at length how poor and rushed the CGI has been for this film and even my mum commented that it was far too fake and she didn’t think it looked like their feet touched the ground.
I had a real problem with the scale of everything. Why is it that one minute the cats are tiny versus the background and the next minute they’re huge?

The creepy half cat/half human hybrid CGI creatures have been discussed at length and on that all I can say is: who made those choices? They use CGI to remove the guys’ crotches but not all the girls’ chests and they still allowed the entire film to proceed with cats having human hands and toes?? Then there’s the furry human faces – proportionately very offputting because you have a human forehead, with oddly placed ears and also a big human nose and mouth. One of my friends actually mentioned how the stage production managed to make the performers look more like cats than the bloody CGI could.
It’s almost like they wanted to retain those human features so they could prove their CGI achievement more than it making sense, because without those creepy human details it would have entirely been CGI/animation.
Human hands, toes, teeth, foreheads – a big no from me.

I love Cats almost exclusively because of the dancing so it upset me how artificial that looked too. It made it look like the dancing was also animation rather than showing the incredible skill of the real life dancers in the cast doing those actual moves. It makes it hard to be impressed because your brain has been trained to see it as computer skill rather than reality. Even when there was a big dance scene you could hardly see what they were doing because of the quick changing, sweeping camera shots.
I think I could have enjoyed the choreography if I could actually see it behind all the artifice and distrations.

On that note, where was all the dancing? It felt like the film was more preoccupied with adding in weak character development than it was supplying us with sweet, sweet dance sequences. I was particularly disappointed that we didn’t get an epic ensemble number in the dance break of Jellicle Ball. For some reason they made it a series of solos so it never really felt like it kicked off.

Most numbers actually never felt like they kicked off. The music seemed really quiet versus the the vocals which meant that pretty much every number felt flat. Where was the energy? It was all so subdued, there was hardly anything to get excited about.
It freaks me out when during an ensemble number, the main voice you can hear changes depending on which cat is on screen at that moment.
Why did they keep interrupting the songs to add in some boring comedic line? It felt like they were just trying to feature some of the star cast a bit more, but instead it just ruined the momentum.

Some bits on specific characters:
Did not rate Mr Mistoffelees at all. Why did they make him a lil insecure bean who didn’t dance? It seems like they tried to shoehorn in that character progression for no reason. He’s supposed to be spectacular, confident and jumping around, doing fouettés!
Gumby Cat was bizarre; why did Rebel Wilson sing like Miranda Sings? why was she able to unzip her fur? why did those mice look like that app where you stick your selfie onto a dancing elf?
Using the original version of Mungojerry and Rumpleteaser was a bad choice. 

It wasn’t all bad I guess. I think a lot of the edits they made for the film were helpful in explaining things like the Jellicle Choice, the Heavyside Layer and the beef with Grizabella, to an audience who are trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
My highlights were Francesca Hayward dancing a gorgeous Victoria, Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat and the lovely Ian McKellen was the perfect Gus the Theatre Cat and he warmed my heart.

All in all, I was disappointed and disturbed. I really, truly wanted to like it. I like Cats the musical, I am nostalgically protective of it. But this was a big no. The level of artifice and the bizarre directorial choices meant that I could never get into it. Let’s lock that one in the vault and never revisit it…

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