Director Tom Hooper (who also directed the 2012 film Les Miserables) said at the 16 December world premiere of Cats the movie that he had finished it “at 8am the previous day after 36 hours in a row”. And it certainly shows.

Despite a revised version of the film being released to cinemas (which is unheard of) on 22 December with ‘improved CGI effects’ it seems I still saw the original version as I commented that Judi Dench (despite having human hands which was weird enough) was even wearing her wedding ring which was apparently one of the glitches that was not supposed to show.

For those who don’t know the story, Cats is based on a book of poems ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, put to music by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and brought to the West End stage in 1981 where it ran for twenty one years (and eighteen years on Broadway). It is a bizarre X Factor type story where once a year, each ‘Jellicle Cat’ has the opportunity to sing a song to their leader ‘Old Deuteronomy’ to explain why they are the most deserving cat to be taken up to heaven and given a new life.

James Corden and Rebel Wilson fail to impress as ‘Bustopher Jones’ and ‘Jennyanydots’ – their parts in the film seemingly pointless as after they perform their songs, are suddenly banished to a barge in the thames for the rest of the film. It is as if the director couldn’t work out where to fit them in the ensemble and so removed them from the majority of the film. And Cordon’s ‘joke’ saying “you can’t rhyme Aims with Thames” just after he has sung a song rhyming “Trousers and Mouses” gets more of an eye-roll than a laugh.

Jennifer Hudson is the worst ‘Grizabella’ I have ever seen and her version of ‘Memory’ came across as more of a cry for pity rather that conveying any real sadness and desperation. She would have got a ‘no’ from me if I were on the judging panel, which is a real shame as it is the pivotal moment in the musical (and if you can’t win over your audience you mess up the whole thing).

The whole scene of ‘Mungojerry’ and ‘Rumpleteazer’ didn’t really work. They are usually such a comedy double-act that adds a real moment of fun to the show but the way it was staged in the film didn’t make me feel anything like that.

There were a few redeeming performances in the film. Dame Judi Dench was originally set to star in the stage production in the dual roles of both ‘Grizabella’ and ‘Jennyanydots’ but snapped her Achilles tendon during rehearsals and had to withdraw from the show. Elaine Paige was then cast in the role of ‘Grizabella’ and the song ‘Memory’ was written for the character just before previews began for the show. Myra Sands was cast to play the other role of ‘Jennyanydots’. So it was a nice touch to have cast Judi Dench in the film production as ‘Old Deuteronomy’ and she gives nice performance.

Robert Fairchild and Laurie Davidson were the real highlights of the film as ‘Munkustrap’ and ‘Mr Mistoffelees’, being the glue that holds the story together and stopped me from walking out of the film. Also, Ian McKellen (Gus the Theatre Cat), Taylor Swift (Bombalurina)  and Francesca Hayward (Victoria) all gave nice performances and the new song ‘Beautiful Ghosts’ written by Taylor Swift for the film slotted perfectly in to the story and now rivals ‘Memory’ as the stand-out song in the musical.

The overarching let down in the whole film is the CGI. Nothing looks real. It is the closest you can get to an animated film without actually having it animated. The sizing and proportions of the cats looks weird and it all feels like a bad dream. Why do the cats have human hands and feet? Why (despite the cast apparently spending a long time attending ‘cat school’ to learn how to act like cats) do the actors spend most of the time standing on two legs? I could list a hundred ‘why’ questions but the truth is it feels like they couldn’t decide what the end goal was for this film to look like. It must have bee obvious early on that it wasn’t going to work well on screen the way they planned it and so why not change the plan and make a reimagined version of the show where they are just people (and not cats) dressed in different outfits to convey their characters. That could have worked much more nicely than superimposing weird faces onto weird bodies and making the whole thing look… well weird.

At least we will always have the the 1998 DVD release of the stage production to look back on. But in terms of the film it is something best forgotten.

Reviewed by West End Wilma

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