Review: ‘Cats’ is one of the oddest films you’ll see this year

Cats | Dir: Tom Hooper | ★ ★ ½ 

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mega-selling 80s musical finally makes it to the big screen and it’s one of the weirdest, oddest things to view.

Packed with superstar appearances from Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, James Corden and Jennifer Hudson, each taking on a feline persona which sees them digitally transformed into hairy creatures.

The challenge with this work is that the original spectacle of the stage show does not translate to the screen, a giant set with people pretending to be cats filled us with excitement in the mid 80s, but even seeing the stage production thirty years later is a drab affair.

Based on T.S Elliot’s book of poems, the stage show has only the barest of plots. The cats meet for the Jellicle Ball, and each cat introduces themselves via a song. At the end one lucky cat gets to ascend to the ‘Hayside Layer’ – which we can only presume is cat heaven.

Here director Tom Hooper, and screenwriter Lee Hall, have attempted to insert a basic plot into the tale, following the rules of screenwriting 101 they try to add more conflict, and clearer heroes and villains – they should have just left it at being a film about some singing cats. A new story about one cat kidnapping others to stop them being at the ball is… naff.

The visual effects deposit the audience right at the depths of the uncanny valley. These actors whose human ears are replaced by cat ears – just look odd. Each time their ears moved I flinched. There is so much CGI, that you wondered if dancers were really doing those moves, or if they’d been added in post.

There are some positives, Dame Judi Dench as a cat is wonderful, I could just watch a whole film of her. Sir Ian McKellen is clearly having a ball, Jennifer Hudson slams down the show’s big number Memory and newcomer Francesca Hayward is delightful.

This is going to be a box office disaster but I suspect it will become, like Xanadu, a cult classic that we’ll watch for years on end. Cats opens in Australia on Boxing Day.

Graeme Watson 

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