Review Roundup: CATS Hits The Big Screen - See What The Critics Are Saying!

By: Dec. 18, 2019
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Review Roundup: CATS Hits The Big Screen - See What The Critics Are Saying!

Andrew Lloyd Webber's timeless classic, CATS, hits the big screen this week! Reviews are rolling in for the highly-anticipated adaptation - let's see what the critics are saying!

Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl) transforms Andrew Lloyd Webber's record-shattering stage musical into a breakthrough cinematic event.

Cats stars James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson and introduces Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward in her feature film debut.

Featuring Lloyd Webber's iconic music and a world-class cast of dancers under the guidance of Tony- winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights), the film reimagines the musical for a new generation with spectacular production design, state-of-the-art technology, and dance styles ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, hip-hop to jazz, street dance to tap.

Manohla Dargas, The New York Times: Transposing "Cats" to the screen was always going to be difficult, particularly once the decision was made to create a live-action version rather than an animated one. Traditional theater depends on the viewer's going along with a very delicate balance of reality and unreality that comes when viewers breathe the same air and share the same space as live actors; movies create a different reality effect or, if you insist, magic. Part of the pleasure of theater (if you're a partisan) is this human factor; but without the presence of hard-working troupers in fun fur in this "Cats," all that's left are canned images of fit-looking people meowing and raising their rumps high in the air.

Brian Lowry, CNN: "Cats" isn't quite the unmitigated disaster that some feared -- or perversely hoped -- but it's not good, delivering a mostly incoherent adaptation of the long-running musical. An eclectic roster of stars claw out a few meager moments, but as screen experiences go, this is a memory best forgotten.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire: Tom Hooper's 2019 adaptation of "Cats" unfolds as an absurd and frequently nonsensical array of light and color, with actors bathed in ill-conceived CGI fur against a similarly invented London backdrop. Fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway blockbuster, and anyone familiar with the movie's viral trailer that stoked excitement and horror in equal measures, will know that sounds about right.

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: The aim is clearly dramatical-fanatical, allegorical, metaphorical, statistical, and mystical. But Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, The Danish Girl) doesn't so much direct the action as duly place Andrew Lloyd's Weber musical on camera. Even after 110 tumbling, tail-swishing, deeply psychedelic minutes, it's hard to know if you ever really knew anything - except that C is for Cats, C is for Crazy, and C is probably the grade this cinematic lunacy deserves, in the sense of making any sense at all. And yet that somewhere under the Jellicle moonlight, it is somehow, too, an A++. Grade: C+

Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times: To return to Old Deuteronomy's words: Are these cats really very much like us? "Cats" insists that they are, and therein lies its problem - well, one of them. These felines are disturbingly humanoid creations, their celebrity faces adorned with cat ears and grafted onto matted, long-tailed bodies. They sing, dance, walk upright and sometimes wear jewelry and coats made of fur that is probably not their own. Curiously enough, for all this talk of digital fur technology, there appears to be no fur on the cats' actual digits, their unnervingly human fingers and toes. And just to round out this nightmarish anatomy lesson, Hooper often directs his actors to splay their legs and bare their flat, undifferentiated crotches for the camera, none more frequently than Dench's Old Neuteronomy herself.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Director Tom Hooper has said in interviews that the extreme social-media response to the first images from his all-star big-screen treatment of the 1981 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical was helpful in modifying the look of the feline characters, particularly since the CG work was still incomplete at that time. But if you recoiled back then at the sight of British acting royalty with their faces stuck onto little furry bodies, or even just the jarring image of cats with human breasts, chances are you'll still be covering your eyes and peering in a profoundly disturbed state through the gaps between your fingers at the finished film. At least until boredom sets in.

Rafer Guzman, Newsday: "Cats," Tom Hooper's film version of the celebrated stage musical, creeps into theaters on little human feet this weekend. Featuring live dancers covered in digital fur from ankle to neck, "Cats" lies at the very bottom of the uncanny valley - a term borrowed from robotics that denotes the revulsion we feel when a creature is recognizably but not fully human. It's as good a description as any of this extravagant but unsettling musical.

Brian Truitt, USA Today: A bunch of well-known celebrities get turned into singing, scenery-chewing digital kitties in the utterly absurd yet oddly charming movie musical version of the Broadway hit. Director Tom Hooper brought a very earnest Oscar-nominated take on "Les Miserables" to the big screen, and with "Cats" (a??a??½ out of four; rated PG; in theaters nationwide Friday) he embraces the nonsensical, out-there nature of the original show while raising the spotlight of a supporting character who's now the eyes, ears and paws of the audience through one strange journey.

Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair: After seeing Hooper's film, I'm certainly left with more questions than answers. It's an existential quandary, this 110-minute journey into a computer graphic phantasmagoria, revolting and briefly alluring, a true grotesque that sings, in fits and starts, a faint siren song. It's by no means a good movie, and I left the premiere ready to toss an easy critical bomb at it and be done with rotten old 2019. But the more I sat with Cats, or with the, uh, memory of Cats, the more I realized how much I don't want to outright hate it. It's an ugly stray who smells bad and should not be invited into your home, certainly. And yet it is its own kind of living creature, worthy of at least some basic compassion.

Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle: Interestingly, there was a movie with cats that did big box-office numbers this summer, and the ones in "The Lion King" looked real. Will families buy a movie about cats starring people in catsuits? The screening I attended was filled with families, and the younger kids seemed to dig it. I found "Cats" pretty bland, but it has its moments of catnip, and as a holiday movie option that anyone could see, it might be just the ticket.

Robert Abele, TheWrap: Tom Hooper's jarring fever dream of a spectacle is like something that escaped from Dr. Moreau's creature laboratory instead of a poet's and a composer's feline (uni)verse, an un-catty valley hybrid of physical and digital that unsettles and crashes way more often than it enchants.

Peter Debruge, Variety: I mention this because it's just one of dozens of things the folks at Universal seem not to have taken into consideration before making a movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running musical "Cats" - another being the need to define, for generations uninitiated, the meaning of "Jellicle," a nonsense word repeated nearly six dozen times in the opening number alone. Fans of the original show may embrace it; so too will furries, I'd wager. But it's not enough to take a blockbuster Broadway phenomenon with one iconic earworm - Lloyd Webber's unforgettable "Memory" - and a loose plot about a community of street cats competing for a chance to be reborn, and trust it to work on the big screen.

Alex Cranz, Gizmodo: I have been processing this movie for the last 24 hours trying to understand anything as terrifying and visceral a trainwreck as Cats. You have to see Cats. You must witness the hubris of director Tom Hooper. You must witness the hubris of Hollywood. The hubris of these performers. You have to sit in that theater and view this fur-festooned thing so that years from now you might heroically say that you were there. You saw it in its infancy before it became a cult oddity like another bizarre and inept, but thoroughly watchable, feline-centric film: Nobuhiko Obayashi's House. Cats defies belief because it exists and yet at every turn, it is very obvious that Cats should not exist.

Matt Goldberg, Collider: If you saw the first trailer for Cats, you've probably been bracing yourself for a cinematic disaster of epic proportions. That preparation will serve you well if you choose to see the finished film, a boondoggle of terrible source material mixed with direction so poor the Academy should repossess Tom Hooper's Best Director Oscar. Watching Cats makes you feel like you're slowly going insane. Some may think would be a fun and joyous experience, and perhaps with enough alcohol and a raucous crowd, that would be the case. But if you try to view Cats straight (as I did) it's a mind-warping experience where nothing works. You've got a Tony-winning choreographer in Andy Blankenbeuhler and no idea how to shoot or edit his choreography. You've got every single actor fully committing to the bit, and yet they're somehow rendered even more lifeless and creepy due to the awful VFX. And beneath it all, you've got a deeply terrible musical that has persevered for 38 years.

Alissa Wilkinson, Vox: Truly, the most spectacular movie of the holiday season is Cats, and I write this half-expecting the movie's marketers to use that as a pull quote on the poster. There's simply no better word to describe this fantasia. The trailer, featuring very famous people with cat fur and unnervingly placed tails singing songs from the 1981 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, broke the internet and people's brains. Rarely have I been at a party in the last few months without the conversation turning to Cats. Now I've seen it, and my own brain feels turned to glitter, much like the sequined blue cat ears on a headband I was handed at the press screening. It is ludicrous and kind of divine, furry and flabbergasting, absurd and, in some moments, weirdly touching. It is a film that resists ordinary treatment and, especially, ordinary reviews.

Will Gompertz, BBC News: The harsh truth is the film feels plastic, it has no heart or soul. That might well be a problem with the source material and its suitability for a transfer from stage to screen. Notwithstanding notable successes, the fact is not everything that is a hit in one medium works in another.

Tim Robey, The Telegraph: Pre-judging Cats based on the widely ridiculed trailers wouldn't be fair, especially once you realise they did it a lot of favours. They hid the big numbers. They silenced the singing. Minimised were James Corden's wobbly pratfalls into piles of dead fish, Idris Elba's leering expressions, and the entire role of Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat. Once seen, the only realistic way to fix Cats would be to spay it, or simply pretend it never happened. Because it's an all-time disaster - a rare and star-spangled calamity which will leave jaws littered across floors and agents unemployed. For the first time since the head-spinningly dire dadcom Old Dogs in 2010, I'm giving a film no stars.

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: Is it the worst film of 2019, or simply the most recent misfire of 2019? Reader, I swear on a stack of pancakes: "Cats" cannot be beat for sheer folly and misjudgment and audience-reaction-to-"Springtime for Hitler"-in-"The Producers" stupefaction.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, A.V. Club: Millions of dollars and thousands of hours have been sunk into making the cats in Cats look like hypertrichotic mutants from the Uncanny Valley Of Dr. Moreau, with tails and furry faces and hairless human fingers and toes. Their proportions in relation to the sets seem all wrong. (The stage show got around this problem by filling the set with slanted pieces of junk, instead of, say, having the cast dance around tables and doorways, as the film does.) What's worse is that many of these effects appear unfinished, with noticeable differences in resolution and animation between principals and background characters and at least one instance in which a rendering error appears to have made it into the release version of the film.

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

The filming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games,
Each actor involved here looks mad as a hatter,
When the trailer came out, we were CALLING THEM NAMES.
It began with Cat poems from old TS Eliot,
In the 80s, Lloyd Webber just put them on stage
That was frankly a bit of a gamble for Andrew, but
Coach-loads of punters made Cats all the rage.
Now Cats is on film, with many a lonely puss
Played by performers of A-lister class.
But the number of mammaries looks frankly erroneous
And tails that appear to emerge from each arse.
There are lots of big names here, names we see daily,
Names that supposedly give us a lift.
Nothing like Jonathan Pie or Bill Bailey,
But names like James Corden, and - yes - Taylor Swift.
The setting is London, it does look post-nuclear
There aren't any people, so maybe there were
Bomb blasts - or maybe a bio disaster
Causing cat-human mutants with digital fur.
The twitching of ears on their heads is distracting

As they gaze at the greenscreen and sashay and crawl,
It's weird to behold them all gurning and acting,
And why do so many resemble Darth Maul?
Did director Tom Hooper intend this appearance?
Did it make him feel happy - or cause him some stress?
We have to assume that he gave it his clearance

Kyle Smith, National Review: Those few who are still around at the end will note that in belting out the song [Memory], Hudson looks constipated instead of tragic. After 37 years of waiting for this number to make it to the screen, it's a bit of a letdown.

Looking straight into the camera at the end, Dench delivers a strange homily that looks like a P.S.A. "Kids, don't do as many drugs as we all did in the Seventies" would have been a helpful message, but instead she serves up more crazed cat drivel. "A cat is not a dog," Dench lectures us. I beg to differ.

David Crow, Den of Geek: There is passion here, and love poured into the material, but it has produced a musical in which major screen and music talent, ranging from Dame Judi Dench to Taylor Swift, have been animated in ghastly computer-generated fuzz that for the most part looks photorealistic, yet also resembles the damned souls on The Island of Doctor Moreau. Further, there are new additions not in the original stage show, such as when we are introduced to anthropomorphic mice, acting as Rebel Wilson's own personal Dixie band, and Rockette-styled cockroaches who serve as her backup dancers. It is like a nesting doll of bad decisions buried within catastrophic ones.

Michael Phillips, Hartford Courant: Audiences unfamiliar with the material may be stunned to learn how little there is to "Cats," not just in terms of narrative but in terms of everything besides narrative. It's a kitty music hall revue, and a pushy, needy, antiquated one at that. (When the synthesizers come pounding in, it's 1981 all over again, in the worst way.) Two final thoughts: One, props to Robbie Fairchild as Munkustrap, whose nonverbal Coarse Acting reactions to Old Deuteronomy's epilogue really are a wonder. And two: As Longfellow wrote, into each life some rain must fall. This week it's not raining cats and dogs. It's raining "Cats."

Tara Brady, The Irish Times: But the real issue is the distracting and disturbing "digital fur technology". Every time Cats settles into an admittedly avant-garde shape, an ear twitches or a tail flicks and you're back thinking about how ghastly the actual cats look. Why do they have breasts but no nipples? Why do some have furry feet and others wear shoes? What kind of monstrous, purring, licking chimera are these?

What we have here is future technology that, to borrow an old Irish phrase, needs to be put beyond use. Shoo.

Stephanie Zacharek, Time: But it's all innocent enough, especially once you enter the enchanted forest of Hayward's dancing. There's precision in her every movement, though nothing ever feels calculated-Hayward expresses Victoria's sense of wonder, as a newcomer into this particular feline society, with an exuberant leap here, a gracefully curved arm there. Her face is part of the dance: The open-hearted eagerness of her expression suits her character perfectly-all that digital-fur-technology folderol melts away in the context of her realness. Hayward is the very best thing about Cats, a movie that, like cats themselves, is otherwise filled with contradictions. Cats is terrible, but it's also kind of great. And, to cat-burgle a phrase from Eliot himself, there's nothing at all to be done about that.

Jamie East, The Scottish Sun: Building a set that makes no sense and spending approx 45 minutes on choreography for 97 numbers, they offered brief respite by occasionally throwing in someone you recognise. Idris Elba being angry, or Taylor Swift singing then disappearing to fire her agent. The rest of the film is full of people you have never seen before, but will swear on your life one is Daniel Bedingfield. None can stand still for a single second.

Watch with copious amounts of meow-meow. Ludicrous, pointless and simply not good enough. Bad.

Joe Dziemianowicz, Theatre News Online: The fate of the movie Cats remains a question. Could it become a hit, as the show did on Broadway, where it ran for 18-plus years? Time will tell. After the movie, I immediately listened to Betty Buckley, who won a Tony for playing Grizabella, sing the show's big number. I'll let that "Memory" live again.

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