How do you review a movie that was awful in every way? I went into “Cats” a hopeful Taylor Swift fan, excited to see her performance in the movie that she has been strongly promoting via Instagram stories to her fans. Leaving the theater, I had to wonder who ever decided that this was a good idea. The film was disappointing in every way.
Somehow, director Tom Hooper was able to get a fantastic cast for “Cats.” Almost every name on the poster belongs to a heavily awarded and widely respected star: Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Judi Dench. The plot of the movie is almost non-existent, staying true to the musical. Each cat sings a song about their life in the hopes that they will be chosen to be reborn into a new life. Dench’s character “Old Deuteronomy” picks which cat she deems worthiest to be reincarnated. That’s it.
Dench made three facial expressions throughout the entire film. Most of the film she wears a blank stare, half the time with her mouth open, the other half with her mouth closed. When she wasn’t staring blankly, she was gazing lustfully at Sir Ian McKellen (“Gus the Theatre Cat”) or the audience. Dench was in the original London production of “Cats,” but whatever talent and love for the musical she had then has long since faded. The closing scene of the film was perhaps the most horrifying moment of all. Dench gazes straight into the camera with a sly smile and, through song, lectures the audience on the proper way to treat a cat.
Dench is also one of two cats that do not dance. Andy Blankenbuehler choreographed this adaptation, and wow did he do a terrible job! All anybody ever does is spin. I understand that spins and twirls are an essential part of ballet, but it should not be the only move. There were a few exceptions, spots where Blankenbuehler tried to do something new. With Jason Derulo (“Rum Tum Tugger”), Blankenbuehler went for a hip-hop vibe. I say “vibe” because I would not call it hip-hop dancing. The choreography was like what happens before someone busts out into an incredible dance sequence, they’re just hopping back and forth, crossing and uncrossing arms and legs. It’s like if a song had a huge build up, but then the beat never actually dropped.
The one highlight of the choreography was in Steven McRae’s (“Skimbleshanks”) tap sequence during “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat.” In this song, Skimbleshanks does a delightful tap dance and then leads the rest of the Jellicle Cats, the name these cats choose to call themselves, in a dance. This is unsurprising, as McRae is the Principal Dancer of The Royal Ballet. He puts on the best overall performance in the entire film; even his singing is fairly nice.
As for the rest of the sound, almost every cast member put on a subpar performance. Jennifer Hudson (“Grizabella”) choked through three different reprises of “Memory” throughout the film. Her only strong moment is during the iconic lines: “Touch me! It’s so easy to leave me, all alone with the memory of my days in the sun.” This is exceptionally disappointing because before the movie started, my theater showed a teaser trailer of Hudson playing Aretha Franklin—and perfectly belting out every single note. Why couldn’t we have just gotten that movie?
This lack of quality singing is common for most of the cast. As a viewer, it was incredibly frustrating to hear the weak vocals from actors that were cast to be good singers. Juxtaposed with an absolutely stunning backing orchestra, the faults are highlighted even more.
Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift (“Bombalurina”) were the only actors to put on a truly good vocal performance. Both Derulo and Swift are singers who have toured before, so this is expected. I will say that Swift put on a better vocal performance, not even sounding the slightest bit winded as she dove through complicated choreography. Derulo did not have nearly as much movement during his singing time. I came to the theater specifically for Swift, but she had about five minutes of screen time, despite being plastered all over the trailers and other promos.
Swift is also the only cast member to retain almost all of her human elements in costume. Bombalurina is the only cat to have boobs. Her makeup also does not cover her entire face; she looks more human than feline. Maybe this is for the best as some of the CGI fur and other makeup choices are truly horrifying. Each of the cats are covered in fur, with the exception of their hands and feet which remain bare. Outside of the cats, the other creatures in the movie also have human elements. Both the mice and the cockroaches are human faces photoshopped onto the body of the actual animal. This is somehow worse than the weird furry-like editing of the cats.
The best part of the film was when the credits rolled, Swift’s cover of “Beautiful Ghosts” played, and the two teenage girls in front of me—the only other people in the theater—went “Ah! There’s the song!” “Beautiful Ghosts” is nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globe awards, likely the only nomination “Cats” will receive. “Cats” is a strange musical at best, but this adaptation of it truly could not be worse. From the singing to dancing to design choices, not a single good decision was made with this film.