Cats (2019)

Cats 2019 poster.jpgDirector: Tom Hooper
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Rating: U
Starring: James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Francesca Hayward

Having directed 2012's successful Les Misérables, it makes sense that director Tom Hooper would return to adapt another musical for the big screen. This time, he moves away from 19th century France to the streets of London, adapting Andrew Lloyd Webber's cat-centred stage show. There's a unique ambition within this feature, which manifests itself in the most unusual ways, for better or worse.

How to describe the plot? A white cat named Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is abandoned by her owners, and found by a tribe of cats. By luck, she's been found on the day of their annual tradition, when one of the cats is chosen as worthy of ascending to the Heaviside Layer, and come back to a new life. The promise of a brand new start, where all past mistakes are replaced with potential avenues for the future, is an enticing one which can resonate with audiences, but that's not the impression we're left with. The journey seems to be about a character being deemed worthy enough to be granted a better life, through an act which can be considered ritualistic sacrifice, complete with loud vocal noises. It doesn't feel like an uplifting story, but the feline version of Midsommar.

Assembled to bring this tale to life are a starry cast, all proficient in singing and dancing, with this working as a platform to showcase their wonderful talents. Each cast-member seems so committed to the film's preposterous nature, acting out every feline movement with a commendable devotion, to the point Jason Derulo coughing up a hairball would be par for the course. What's most peculiar is how sexually charged the performances seem, where every character seems on the verge of partaking in an orgy.

Screenwriters Tom Hooper and Lee Hall have the right idea in mind, wanting each of the characters to be well-defined, and their characterisation made known. Each character gets their moment to be introduced, one after the other, repeated ad nauseam for a large chunk of the runtime, before the film remembers about the plot, and then ends. It's repetitive to cross paths with another brand new cat, defined by a sole characteristic, before moving onto the next one.

From the very first trailer, a large talking point has been the combination of live action actors with visual effects. This is far from the first film to forgo practical effects or make-up, to partake in the latest technological advances provided for cinema, but I'd struggle to recall such work turning out so nightmarish. If somebody wanted to make a horror film, centred around the off-spring of humans who mated with felines, this visual realisation would be what you'd imagine. There's no moments like in The Irishman, where you get used to the effects over time, it remains an unsettling assault on the eyes, especially when similar treatment is given to the mice and cockroaches.

When you go back to this stories sources, they reach a collection of T.S. Elliot poems strung together, so it makes sense the story hangs so loosely. In spite of this, Tom Hooper has admirably dived straight into this material headfirst, leaving this decade with a champion for how bonkers a mainstream film can truly be. From opening on a cat trapped in a pillowcase, being thrown out of a car, to ending on Judi Dench breaking the fourth wall, singing about the proper etiquette for addressing a cat, you'll be forever changed by this unusual experience.