Cats– A great film that doesn’t deserve its negative reviews
I am a massive fan of the musical Cats. Even though I never read the poems by T S Eliot, my childhood was spent listening to the soundtrack on cassette tape. I finally got to see the production on the West End stage when I was at university and loved every minute of it.
So when I found out Tom Hooper (award winning director of the King’s Speech and general director extraordinaire) was directing a film version, I was super excited. Musicals are big business. Remember the Producers, Chicago and more recently, the very popular La La Land and the Greatest Showman?
However, like so many others, when I saw the trailer of the CGI cats, I was taken aback and bordering on being a little traumatised. There was also furore in the ballet world as to why Francesca Hayward, a Principal with the Royal Ballet, who is of mixed race, was cast as the white cat Victoria. Over time, I watched the full trailer and couldn’t help but be excited by the all-star cast designed to appeal to a wide range of audiences: Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Ray Winstone and Idris Elba- drama; Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo- music, James Corden and Rebel Wilson- comedy; Francesca Hayward, Steven McRae, Robbie Fairchild and Les Twins- ballet and dance.
Over the past two weeks, I‘ve been reading some terrible reviews and publicity surrounding Cats. Critics panning the film. A dismal opening weekend. People walking out of cinemas. The film receiving some further CGI adjustments. Articles questioning the appropriateness of the U rating and why Rebel Wilson was masturbating in one scene. Evan Rachel Wood tweeting catty comments (sorry!) about how this was the worst thing she has ever seen and how she felt like she was going to die. All this made me wonder whether I really wanted to ruin the Memory (sorry!) of the Cats that I loved so much.
I was never really swayed, however. Nothing could stop me from seeing this film. A young dancer at my 10 year old’s dance school, who clearly knows what she’s talking about, raved about how phenomenal the dancing was.
I had to see it.
I took 10yo with me and we were very excited. The cinema was almost full. A very good sign.
In the opening moments, I have to be honest and say that it took me a few seconds to adjust to what I was seeing. Very quickly, however, the familiar music swept me in and I was taken on a musical journey with excellent choreography and exquisite dancing.
The negatives: I wasn’t overawed by Rebel Wilson’s performance as Jennyanydots. Unlike the reviews, I didn’t see any issue with her giving her thigh a wee scratch and I wasn’t bothered by her removal of her outer skin but I did have an issue with her singing which was, at times, off and/or very off. The mice and the cockroaches were a surreal, out of body experience too. Second, I had also been expecting a classic version of Memory. I’m not sure how I feel about Jennifer Hudson’s emotional and overwrought take on it but was soon blown away when she belted out the words ‘touch me! it’s so easy to leave me…’. Finally, I was a little unsettled at seeing Idris Elba without his fur coat in his dance number Macavity with Taylor Swift. I guess I’d been so used to seeing him with his coat on throughout the film that when it came off, it took my eyes some time to adjust.
The positives, and I make it clear, these outweighed all the negatives. There were many stand out performances. I’ve never seen Robbie Fairchild in anything before but the guy (or cat), who is ex-New York City Ballet principal, is an all-singing, all-dancing talent. James Corden’s portrayal as Bustopher Jones was on point and his singing, which I had only heard in Carpool Karaoke, was good.
I thought Francesca Hayward was outstanding as Victoria- her face was expressive, her dancing enchanting and her singing debut impressive. Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench who are always reliable, put in solid performances and who knew they could sing? Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift too, put in enjoyable side shows.
However, the highlight of the film for both me and 10yo was Skimbleshanks, played by the incredible Steven McMae, a principal with the Royal Ballet who suffered an injury during a performance of Manon at the ROH in October 2019. The guy is a bloody genius- equally accomplished in ballet and tap, which is fairly unusual as the skills required for ballet are completely different for tap. I was really pleased that the film gave him long enough to showcase his dancing. For those wishing to see more of this talent, his portrayal of the Mad Hatter in the Royal Ballet’s production of Alice in Wonderland is outstanding.
I was very pleasantly surprised by Laurie Davidson who was Mr Mistoffelees. In the stage musical, he is portrayed as a confident magical cat and, spoiler alert, doesn’t take much effort to conjure Old Deut from thin air. This film really injected character into him which was welcome in a film with so little proper dialogue and very little plot.
So my verdict? Ignore the negative reviews. Go in with no expectations and be prepared to ignore some obvious questions like: ‘Why are some cats in fur coats and others not?, ‘What does Idris Elba look like without his fur coat on?’ and ‘Is that cat wearing shoes?!’ Just go with the flow and enjoy the music and dancing. I spent most of the film smiling and trying not to bop along with the music.
I spoke to two women afterwards; one had seen the stage musical before and the other hadn’t. Both enjoyed the film immensely and had come out smiling. That, to me, is the real test as to whether a film is enjoyable. Will I go and see it again? Happily. I am more than content to put my money where my mouth is and in fact, I promised a friend I’d go and see it with her in the New Year, which I totes will.
10yo says: ‘It’s a film for all ages and can be enjoyed by everyone. It is inspirational to dancers all over the world. I recommend it and would go and see it again.’