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Cats (PG)
Film Reviews by Amy

01/09/20



Is it good or bad that this is my introduction to Cats, the hugely popular Andrew Lloyd Webber sung-through musical that has been turned into a baffling movie?
By “baffling” I mean not the story itself — sure, describing the story feels a bit like describing a dream where “it was a city but some things were giant and everybody was dressed like a cat,” but I am fine rolling with it — but the many strange choices made in putting this movie together. The structure of Cats, to me, feels like the second act of The Nutcracker when Clara watches a variety of characters dance to different kinds of music. Here, Victoria (Francesca Hayward), a cat discarded by her owner on London streets, is the audience surrogate into the ways of a cat society called the Jellicle cats and watches a variety of cat characters sing and dance through their introductions. It feels, in theory at least, like a perfect production to take dance- and performance-loving kids to — lots of acrobatic ballet, tap and other forms of dance along with various song stylings. I suspect on stage, with human dancers and singers in cat make-up, the effect is a nice blend of stage magic and visual cleverness. 
In this movie, the actors are “cat-ified” through special effects (with all the much-reported strangeness that comes with “cats” having boobs and fingers), and some of it is very not-great, creating that “face floating on body” effect. Yes, these cats have ears that can twitch and tails that can move in cat-like ways, but we frequently lose the wow factor of human dance. Add that to some wonky sound — the In the Heights trailer before this movie sounded great; Cats sounded somewhat muddy and muted — and the overall effect was of a production where singing and dancing took a backseat to visuals, which is exactly the opposite of how I suspect it’s supposed to work with Cats (and definitely the opposite of how this Cats with its yeesh visuals should work). And, for all that visuals seem like such a focus, the movie seldom broke free of the “performance happening in a stage-like area” feel in terms of where the camera was in relation to the action.
That said, a few things punched through that suggest what a much better (if charmingly weird) movie this could have been. Jennifer Hudson plays Grizabella and gets to belt out the song “Memory,” which is probably the element of this musical that was previously most familiar to me. As someone who always thought of it as just kind of a soppy song, I really liked her performance of it here; she brought oomph and real emotional weight. Judi Dench (as Old Deuteronomy) and Ian McKellen (as Gus the Theatre Cat) also brought something to their parts, a sense of their characters that managed to make it through the haze of bad choices. D+
Rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor, according to the MPA. Directed by Tom Hooper with a screenplay by Lee Hall and Tom Hooper (from the T.S. Eliot poems Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats and from the musical by Andrew Loyd Webber), Cats is an hour and 50 minutes long and distributed by Universal Studios. 





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