Furries rejoice! Tom Hooper and Universal have spent around ninety-five million dollars on your dream movie, Cats, an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s weird T.S. Eliot-inspired musical. For nearly two hours, you can watch humans wearing digital cat suits snuggle up to each other; they’re particularly fond, especially towards the film’s climax, of stroking furry necks. This is what Furries do, this is what Furries love, and I must imagine this plays, for them, like the world’s most expensive porn. For the rest of us, the film is a clear misfire, misconceived and badly executed.
The film is conceived as a special visual effects extravaganza, and the special visual effects are bad. The actor’s feet simply don’t appear to make contact with the virtual surfaces they virtually ‘dance’ on; the scale of the cats – their size relative to the environments around them – shifts nonsensically; the tails and ears of the cats are distracting cartoons. The charitable reading is that Hooper attempted something that technology is not yet capable of delivering; the reality, I think, is that the various effects houses, under Hooper’s direction, did a bad job. It really is quite sloppy.
Cats was conceived for the stage as a song and dance spectacular (rather than as a particularly compelling story); as an adaptation of the musical, the film brutally discards the stage show’s choreography and replaces it with computer-generated lesser choreography. Right there, that’s a serious breach. We’re not watching any dancing here, but animated renderings of a simulacrum of real movement.
The film is often miscast. Rebel Wilson particularly ruptures our immersion in the world; she only brings herself, demanding the film meet her rather than dare attempt, herself, to meet the material. Ballerina Francesca Hayward, as the lead cat learning about other cats, has one expression – “wide-eyed wonder” – and her guide to the cats, Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild) only has one – “oooh, it’s all so mysterious!” – which is worse. The big stars – Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson – are used little, and under too much bad digitisation to make analyses of their performances meaningful. Where do they end and the pixels begin? (In Elba’s case, when he gets naked, at least there’s a clear answer to that, unless the man himself is a smooth-humped eunuch.) Jennifer Hudson’s performance as Grizabella seems to directly contradict the character’s raison d’etre.
And the Jellicle Ball is lame.
For a while – maybe fifty minutes – there is enough colour and movement and genuine weirdness to keep you entertained, but once your mind drifts, there’s no coming back. Unless you’re a Furry (and I mean no disrespect to Furries; I’m happy they’re finally getting something they can claim as their own). Without a story worth a fig to engage your brain, the film can only offer eye-candy, and, like all candy, a little is enough, and too much will just make you sick.