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‘Cats’ (review)

Produced by Debra Hayward, Tim Bevan,
Eric Fellner, Tom Hooper
Screenplay by Lee Hall, Tom Hooper
Based on Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber
and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
by T. S. Eliot
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring James Corden, Judi Dench,
Jason Derulo, Jennifer Hudson,
Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift,
Rebel Wilson, Francesca Hayward

 

I love film musicals. I grew up watching all the old greats like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire with my mom. It’s a genre of film that I fully support coming back to the mainstream whether they be originals like La La Land or stage-to-screen adaptations like Into the Woods.

When I saw the trailer for Cats, I immediately wanted to go.

Full disclosure: Cats’ creator Andrew Lloyd Weber is one of my least favorite musical composers and Cats is one of my least favorite of his productions.

However, I needed to know how they were going to adapt a show with dramatically make-upped dancers anthropomorphizing cats to the silver screen.

The film is a faithful adaptation of the stage production. The story was inspired by a series of poems about cats written by T.S.Eliot.

The story follows Victoria, a young cat that is abandoned by her owner in the down and out of London. Victoria is absorbed into a gathering of cats and learns that it is a magical night on when special Jellicle Cat will be chosen to ascend to a new plane and be reborn as the to have the desired cat-life of its choosing. This is a story that could truly only be created in the 70’s.

If you are a fan of the musical, you will love the movie. The stage production of Cats also came at a time where interpretive dance was more common. Having dancers move like actual cats wouldn’t seem out of place. If you have never seen or heard the musical before, you will probably wonder what drugs the creators were on at the time of creation.

First and foremost, the performances are stellar. No matter how you feel about the subject matter of the musical, you cannot ignore the enormous talent of the cast. When I talk about the talent, I am not referring to the star-studded cameos like Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, and Idris Elba that were dropped in to pull in ticket sales of a younger generation that has no connection to the Cats musical. I am talking about the cast of dancers and singers that are mostly unknown in Hollywood that make up the majority of the movie.

The choreography is fantastic. Props to choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler for having a good mix of traditional ballet and street dance to represent a full spectrum of dance. Francesca Hayward, the lead ballerina playing Victoria, is mesmerizing and a wonderful introduction to modern audiences to classically trained dance while having the Bourgeois Twins (you may remember them as the most interesting part of MIB International as the smooth moving aliens) bring the production up to date with there internationally acclaimed street moves.

Robbie Fairchild and Laurie Davidson both show that you don’t have to have big name star power to lead a cast.

Jason Derulo is fun as the Elvis derived Rum Tum Tugger, and made it through the entire musical without singing his name.

Of all the big names, it is not surprising that Jennifer Hudson breaks away from the pack as a stand out performance. Her rendition of “Memories” is heartbreaking.

However, director Tom Hooper using the same technique he used in Les Miserables of holding on the soloist in extreme close-up the experience goes from being intimate to invasive, and pulled me right out of the moment. Regardless, Hudson’s performance shines, making Taylor Swift barely worth mentioning to anyone but her fans.

It is unfortunate that all of this talent is lessened by the glaring distraction of the digital effects. The dancers look as if they were plopped down in the middle of a video game world. By not actually building full sets for all the scenes, the cast seems to hover over all the surfaces. It changes the impact of gravity, and dance is all about defying gravity. It’s a huge distraction and does a disservice to the dancers’ performance. In addition the digital enhancement of the characters costumes is spotty. In some scenes it works, in others the effects look like they were unfinished.

I am not a fan of the original stage musical, and the technical glitches notwithstanding, I found myself immensely entertained by the film rendition of Cats. It is definitely worth the price of a matinee to see it on the big screen.

 

 

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