Cats (2019) Movie Review (In Detail)

Spoilers Alert:

A few hours before the premiere of the musical adaptation Cats (2019 film) the film was just finished. Director Tom Hooper is satisfied. But the trailers, which took some getting used to, were already casting their shadows. Does the end result now confirm the fears? We reveal this and more in our review.

Visually, the cat world lags behind the standards used; sometimes the cats are huge, sometimes tiny.

The plot summary

The young, pretty cat Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is abandoned on the streets of London one night by her masters. After initial skepticism, they take the Jellicle cats under their wing. A gang of strays that have grown together to form a close-knit community. The Jellicle Cats are also the ones who hold a big ball once a year, at which the wise, life-experienced Old Deuteronimus (Judi Dench) chooses a cat to start a new life. Each of them wants to be: From the lazy but musical Jenny Fleckenreich (Rebel Wilson) to the magical cat Mister Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson) to the greedy Bustopher Jones (James Corden). Meanwhile, Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), rejected by the Jellicle cats, stays out of all the hustle and bustle, even though she actually has the most to say…

Cats (2019) Movie Meaning

When the first trailer for Tom Hooper’s “Cats” hit the Internet almost six months ago, the amused and shocked users didn’t hold back their voices for long. And you can’t blame them: the idea of ​​filming Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world-famous stage musical, which centers on a gang of street cats, with real people in computer-animated (!) cat costumes is at least risky if not completely stupid. The hope that the first preview was just a kind of working version was dashed by the second trailer released a few months later with exactly the same look. But what’s much worse: the finished film, which was edited by its director Tom Hooper (“Les Misérables”) just a few hours before the world premiere in New York , also confirms all fears – at least on a visual level. Over the course of the 100-minute-long musical, which is closely based on the stage script (which in turn is based on a book of poems by TS Eliot), you as a viewer are far too busy observing the at least questionable optics in which you are constantly presented with artificial human-cat hybrids that catch the eye. But surprise: Visually, they are not the biggest problem with “Cats”. And surprise two: “Cats” didn’t turn out to be the 100 percent catastrophe that was expected. It’s more of a 60 percent disaster that could have become a really good film if it just looked three sizes better.

Francesca Hayward makes her acting debut as newcomer Victoria.

As a high-concept musical with singing cats in a peopleless London, “Cats” is actually built on a fairly solid foundation from the start. Of course, this is also due to the original, which you as a viewer either like or not; Anyone who shudders at the thought of the stage show (or musicals in general) will not be convinced by “Cats” to give the genre another chance; on the contrary. On the other hand, anyone who is already familiar with Webber’s play is most likely to also have something of the film interpretation. Although the two musically experienced screenwriters Tom Hooper and Lee Hall (“Rocketman”) deleted one song and several pure dance scenes from the original without replacing them (it is not for nothing that the stage show lasts almost two and a half, the film not even two hours) and a completely new song in the film – certainly in order to have a chance at the upcoming awards season – the “Cats” film noticeably breathes the air of the original musical. Although you have to get used to the tonal realignment of some of the instrumentals. Here and there they think it’s way too good when it comes to modernizing the pieces, when you suddenly feel more like you’re at the fair than in a musical. Luckily this is limited to just two songs; the rest are spared.

The elaborate dance choreographies are the most visually appealing. Whenever the show performances from a distance and the movements of the actors are perceived as interpretations of cats and not as direct embodiments of the animals, “Cats” also makes a difference on the screen. However, it always becomes problematic when the camera approaches the actors in close-up. Then the performers with CGi cat fur seem like a face swap accident, which even goes so far that sometimes it is no longer the actual animated cat fur that is considered artificial, but the human faces. But here too, gradations can be made: the fusion of house cat and human can be seen in Rebel Wilson (“Pitch Perfect”) , James Cordon (“Into the Woods”) , Jennifer Hudson (“Sandy Wrexler”) and especially the already disastrous actor While Jason Derulo has absolutely nothing positive to say, this effect even works surprisingly well at times for the two newcomers Naoimh Morgan and Danny Collins aka Rumpleteazer and Mungojerry. But despite all the glamor, they can’t address an even bigger design problem with “Cats”: the sets. The film was shot on real sets, but due to the far too strong and direct lighting as well as the constantly changing size scale – sometimes the cats are about the same size as humans, other times they are only a few centimeters high – it is not possible to get a cat’s perspective permanently think into it. The perfect example of this is the performance on a train and then on the tracks of a railway, which perfectly illustrates the inconsistency in world design in a perfidious way.

Meanwhile, the content of “Cats” in particular illustrates why the material – at least in the version presented here – belongs on the stage and not on the screen. Completely without a dramaturgical arc, it takes a fascination with elaborate costumes and dance and singing performances to overlook the fact that the story has next to nothing in terms of content. This starts with the main character chosen right from the start: Victoria, embodied by the professional ballet dancer Francesca Hayward, is the one who receives the greatest spotlight right from the start; As a newcomer among the Jellicle cats, the audience discovers their new home through their eyes, but the script is not at all interested in character development, let alone their fate. For Tom Hooper and Lee Hall, it’s enough to just have her there at all times – and to let her sing parts of the songs here and there – sometimes a whole verse, sometimes just a single word. The actually most exciting character, the outcast Grizabelle, who also contributes the film’s vocal climax with “Memory”, is, however, demoted to a supporting character. A problem that the makers took directly from the stage script, although they would have had the opportunity to dramaturgically steer the film in completely new, individual directions.

Conclusion: Tom Hooper and his crew stay close to the stage original in their film version of “Cats”. Fans should like that, even if it means that they have adopted the weaknesses in the content one-to-one. The big problem with the film is the optics. When recording from further away, this can be overlooked due to the high-quality dance and singing performances. But due to the many close-ups of human faces in CGI cat costumes in conjunction with the artificial world that happily jumps back and forth between perspectives, everything here seems very strange most of the time.

“Cats” can be seen in USA cinemas from December 26th.

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