BWW Review: CATS Isn't A Nightmare, But Surely Not A Dream
CATS is a bizarre musical, to begin with, and it's understandably complex to adapt it into a film.
Manila, Philippines - Here comes the latest attempt to adapt a big Broadway musical to the big screen. This 8 January 2020, the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats finally opens in Philippine cinemas. Tom Hooper, the director of Les Misérables (2012), takes another shot at adapting a stage musical to a feature film. It's a bold move considering Cats, the musical, is generally recognized as plotless.
The idea of making a musical work on the big screen is undoubtedly a challenge, more so for Cats. The original musical is more of an ensemble piece where most actors, who play cats, get their chance to introduce themselves to the audience. It makes sense that Hooper felt the need to have a central figure in the form of Victoria, played by Francesca Hayward, in the movie.
Despite the poor reviews, the film is not entirely bad. However, the film seems more concerned with casting big names to pull audiences in, such as Taylor Swift and Judi Dench, rather than create a movie adaptation that's worth watching.
It's a letdown to see Rebel Wilson cast as Jennyanydots to serve as comedic relief, the same with James Corden as Bustopher Jones. Jason Derulo doesn't have the charisma and appeal of Rum Tum Tugger, which is disappointing. There is something off in seeing Ian McKellen (Gus the Theatre Cat) drinking from a dish. Still, it can be attributed to how he pulls off his role disturbingly well. Idris Elba fits the part of Macavity, who is the main antagonist in the story. Swift, on the other hand, is not heinous nor sensual enough to pull off Bombalurina.
Regardless of the misses with some of the cast, there are still commendable aspects of the film. One of the positive changes from the stage to the screen is that the musical now takes place all over London, which is very entertaining. Although it's questionable why there aren't any people around in such a busy city just because it's nighttime, the setting still benefitted the film.
Skimbleshanks' number may be one of the most enjoyable parts of the movie with its appealing music and great visuals. The songwriting collaboration of Lloyd Webber and Swift for "Beautiful Ghosts" turns out very well, too. It fits the musical and it's another thing that the film did right.
Audiences can hardly expect that the film adaptation to retain everything. So a lot of changes are made in different elements of the musical. Some are necessary, but others make Cats even more confusing.
[Ed's Note: Spoilers Ahead]
Many of the changes may be irritating to some fans, like Macavity's formidable magical powers, the kidnapping of several Jellicle cats, Mr. Mistoffelees' entirely different personality, and the completely unnecessary romantic subplot. Perhaps the most upsetting variation would be that Cats is not dance-focused anymore, which is what made it great in the first place. This isn't to say that Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography isn't stellar, because it is. But by trying to add so much to the plot, the dance elements doesn't tell the story anymore. The characters' movements add to the narrative and move it forward. Still, that aspect of storytelling is lost in the film. Perhaps Hooper doesn't believe that the audiences would enjoy watching the dances, which would be a false assumption.
Grizabella's (Jennifer Hudson) rendition of "Memory" is incredible. The song isn't as momentous as one would hope, but her talent is undeniable. The scene itself is reminiscent of a singing competition finale episode. Also, although Old Deuteronomy (Dench) says that she judges a cat by its soul, the Jellicle choice appears to have been based on talent backed up by a miserable backstory.
Cats is a bizarre musical, to begin with, and it's understandably complex to adapt it into a film. The movie is an example that casting A-list celebrities wouldn't automatically guarantee success. The uncomfortable CGI also shows that the magic of theater is irreplaceable; that the costumes and makeup are still much preferable as opposed to a closer resemblance to real cats.
The thing is, Cats is already a musical that some people love to hate. If anything, the film keeps up that image. In the end, it seems that the story-lacking spectacle on stage is still much better than the glorified talent show for cats that the film presents.
Photos: United International Pictures