Cats movie review: Far from purrfect... but not a complete cat-astrophe!
My claws were already out...
You know those nights out that you are dreading – the ones when you're tired and broke, have nothing to wear, couldn't be bothered washing your hair and it's rainy out – but then you go and they turn out to be much better than expected? They're actually even a bit of craic? Well that's what seeing Cats was like for me.
I'm a musical theatre fan who has seen the original stage show and is partial to a bit of randomly sung dialogue and even randomer dance moves, but even I was, well, worried when I saw the trailer for Tom Hooper's new movie. Could the audience really be expected to take a host of famous faces, from Ray Winstone to Judi Dench, seriously when they were clad in CGI fur?
The answer is yes – in part. The CGI fur is distractingly, embarrassing awful and does not get any less so (I never thought that the sight of Idris Elba stripping off would make me shudder) but the overall movie is much lighter in tone than its weighty trailer would suggest.
In some ways, Cats works better as a movie than it does as a stage show. Set against Hooper's varying London backdrops, the central narrative is clearer. (Clearer, but just as mad.) It follows the Jellicle street cats on the night before their annual ball. One among them will be selected by Old Deuteronomy to be reborn into a new life of comfort and happiness, so as the night progresses, the varying characters audition to be the chosen one.
In the central role of Victoria, Francesca Hayward is a shining star. As well as being a prima ballerina – who gives a dance display that's both soft and powerful, with a feline sleekness thrown in – the expressions on her oh-so-pretty face are enough to keep you engaged.
Ian McKellen also puts in a superb performance as Gus, the old luvvy of a theatre cat, while Laurie Davidson and Robbie Fairchild are solid in support. Judi Dench just about styles her lack of singing voice out by virtue of being, well, Judi Dench.
Less good are Rebel Wilson and James Corden, whose 'comic' turns centre around provocation and fat jokes respectively. Not only is that something we've seen too many times from both actors, but almost all of their jokes have been included in the trailer. Yawn.
Downright awful is Taylor Swift. It's not a secret that she's not the best of dancers, but despite only having one song and no speaking lines, still manages to give us an awful English accent. Think Britney when she goes all Eliza Doolittle every now and again.
Tay Tay is comprehensively out diva-ed by Jennifer Hudson, who dutifully belts out a tearful version of Memories. A moving rendition of a beautiful song for sure – but, again, the whole thing was in the trailer.
The biggest problem with Cats is that it's not The Greatest Showman, or even Hooper's previous hit Les Mis. Memories aside, the songs and the storyline are quirky but not catchy or meaningful enough to captivate a new, young audience. There's no This is Me moments here.
I don't know how much of a recommendation it really is to say that Cats was not as bad as I expected it to be, but like that dreaded night out I enjoyed it despite myself. You could do worse than giving it a look on a cabin-feverish day over the Christmas break. Just don't watch the trailer first.