Movie Guru: ‘Cats’ and its poor CGI is laughingly bad
If you don’t know anything about “Cats,” reading this movie review isn’t the best place to start.
“Cats” is something of an anomaly in the musical theater world, more of a cross between opera and ballet than classic musical theater. The storyline is almost nonexistent, the songs are inspired by children’s poems, and the costumes are complicated. It’s not the kind of show that inspires indifference — odds are that you’ll either love it or hate it.
Even if you do love it, there’s a chance you’ll hate the big-screen version of the musical opening this weekend. Directed by Tom Hooper, the movie is such a visual disaster that it had people screaming from the moment the trailers first dropped. Nothing has been improved from the final film, though your brain does eventually try to smooth over some of the more jarring aspects in a desperate attempt to ease your suffering. Still, it provides an overwhelming distraction, overshadowing the cast’s singing capabilities, the changes made to the script, and even the new Andrew Lloyd Webber music.
For those who don’t know, “Cats” is based on a book of children’s poetry by T.S. Eliot. The overall idea is that a group of “jellical” cats come together to sing about their lives and see who will get chosen to ascend into Heaven. The movie conjures up a rudimentary plot out of the musical’s montage of individual numbers, turning McCavity into a villain with a plot to get the other competitors out of the way.
The digital “costumes” the actors wear are so bad that they might be enough to tank the movie on its own. The weird spandex-and-fur costumes from the stage version somehow managed to look more cat-like, with the movie version offering us unfortunate human-cat hybrids in their place. The faces feel like they’ve been digitally glued onto the actors’ heads, and the “digital fur technology” the movie is so proud of only serves to make the characters all look like weirdly naked humans with an unfortunate cat fetish. Watching them is a deeply uncomfortable experience. That doesn’t even touch on the fact that they’re smaller than cats should be.
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It’s sad, because the music and dancing are actually pretty good. Jennifer Hudson is great as Grizabella, bringing both her singing and acting talent to the role, and Royal Ballet dancer Francesca Hayward has a clear, lovely voice as Victoria. Her ballet skills also clearly come in handy, and it’s clear many of the supporting cats come from the professional dance world as well. Judi Dench and Ian McKellen clearly aren’t professional singers, but they bring so much character to their songs that they come off well anyway.
The newly expanded plot is more of a mixed bag. The new music is good, and the new plot adds a bit of narrative drama and makes as much sense as anything else in the story. On the other side of the equation, the fact that the movie shoehorns in a healthy dose of the cheapest slapstick comedy helps absolutely no one.
Of course, you might be so distracted by the bad CGI that you won’t even notice.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.