Cats – Movie Review

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Words | Gabrielle Edwards

Yes, we’re absolutely still talking about this amazing train-wreck of a movie even though it’s 2020. 

If you’ve somehow missed the infamous hype and meme-filled critiques of this film, Cats is a movie adaptation of the popular stage musical based on T.S Eliot’s poems, with music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. 

The story’s plot is simple in that there really isn’t one. The audience follows the action through the eyes of Victoria the White Cat, a new cat in the neighbourhood who is quickly thrown into the world of Jellicle cats. Each year they must choose one cat to ascend to their ‘new life,’ often interpreted as a version of cat heaven. As the film continues, we are introduced to each character as they sing a pitch about who they are, what they’re about and why they should win. With a plot this crazy, should we really have expected much? 

While the stage musical features the actors wearing heavy make-up, prosthetics and costumes; the movie chose a different route, opting instead to use extensive computer generated VFX to make the characters have humanoid bodies and faces, though covered with fur. 

Upon first reveal when the movie’s trailer dropped, it was instantly met with backlash and constant meme responses as audiences were left shocked and disturbed. When the movie was finally released at the end of last year, reactions were similarly dismayed. With an onslaught of negative reviews and a rating of 20% on movie reviewing site Rotten Tomatoes, I knew this was a movie I couldn’t miss. And hey, turns out it was not that bad. But at the same time, it was also worse than I could have ever anticipated.

Things start off with a bang as the opening number introduces you to what a Jellicle cat is (which I frankly still don’t understand) while the cats dance enthusiastically with their shoulders. Watching the film though, there were at least a few positives to note. The large dance numbers were, more often than not, entertaining to watch and while not all the songs were memorable, the more catchy ones were accompanied by exciting performances from the all-star cast. Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift’s performances were particularly fun to watch and Francesca Hayward’s talent shone bright. We can only hope she’ll get another chance to shine on the big screen in the future.

On the other hand, a major critique the film has received is the incomplete visual effects and glitches in the CGI. Many viewers pointed out, for instance, that Judi Dench’s hand in one scene is left completely untouched by the effects, with her own wedding ring actually visible. When this was realised, the studio rushed to edit and send out updated versions of the film that fixed these errors. 

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea if I saw the original or corrected version. I attempted to over analyse the character’s hands to determine if their strang and furry but predominantly human hands were a special effects error or a bizarre character design choice. Did Jennifer Hudson just have perfectly manicured nails on set that day or did the design team purposely supplement fake nails as claws?

While many jumped to blame the VFX artists, a wider discussion was brought up regarding the pressure from executives and studios these artists are under, indicating they may not be the sole cause for this movie’s complete failure. This was brought up particularly after the movie’s stars Rebel Wilson and James Corden brutally called out the film’s VFX team at the 2020 Academy Awards.

To be fair, beyond just the success of the special effects, many of the character designs completely fail me, particularly the choice to have some female characters edited to be flat chested (as cats are) such as main character Victoria, played by Francesca Hayward, while other female characters, such as Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina, did not. Not to mention the bizarre way human faces were pasted onto the bodies of other animals in the movie, including mice and cockroaches. Truly the stuff of nightmares

At the end of the day, despite this movie being objectively bad, it was still a surprisingly entertaining watch. I suppose if you go in with the lowest expectations, there really isn’t anywhere to go but up. If you ever intend on seeing this movie, watching it with friends with the sole intent of making fun of it is definitely the way to go.