Cats: The BRWC Collaboration Review – Written by Megan and Kerry Williams.
A couple of days ago, I went to see Tom Hooper’s big screen adaptation of the musical Cats. As my background is not in musical theatre, I asked a guest with this knowledge, Kerry Williams, to supplement my review through her eyes. This is what she felt about Cats:
With award winning music, lyrics adapted by T.S.Elliot’s poems and the sensational ground-breaking original choreography by Gillian Lynne, the big screen adaptation of Cats should’ve been a sure fire success. So how have they got it so wrong?!
Megan had asked me to attend the screening to help review the musical theatre side of the film ……I wish she hadn’t! The screen choreography, by Andy Blankenbuehler, was dismal and uninspiring. With so many talented dancers from The Royal Ballet Company, New York City Ballet and experienced performers from the West End and Broadway, I cannot fathom why he didn’t make use of their prodigious talents?
In fact, the dancing was very limited with only the occasional glimpse of ballet from Francesca Hayward, and Steve McRae’s tap-dancing skills. The singing was passable, although Jennifer Hudson’s constantly running nose was a distraction. Her characterization of Grizabella had nowhere to develop as she started so distressed that there was little moving room to see how desperate the character gets towards the end of the film.
At the end of the stage show, Grizabella desperately sings the final lines ‘Touch me, it’s so easy to be me’ with such heart rendering sorrow that you are moved to tears. With the film version I just wanted to stand up and hand Jennifer Hudson a tissue and tell her to give her nose a good blow!
The only redeeming feature was Robbie Fairchild as Munkustrap, who literally carries the film. Robbie is an exceptional dancer but watching this film, if you blink, you will miss him dance. I was literally gripping hold of the cinema chair with embarrassment throughout the film and at one point, when the music builds to the heart stopping dance number ‘Jellicle Cats,’ I wanted to stand up and shout at the screen ‘For Gods sake do something – anything but don’t stand there in a position that looks as if you’ve wet yourself’!
It was 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back and I feel sorry for the talented performers who were in it, who deserved be in a film that this young generation could be inspired by, as I was as a young student watching the original production.
As for myself, I grew up watching the recorded Broadway production on VHS; it was one of my favourite musicals. It was unique and exciting and, while I think this would’ve been a challenging musical to bring to the big screen, I couldn’t help but think how did director Tom Hooper get it this wrong?
When the first trailer came out, it received backlash and criticism due to the CGI and face merging on the cat cast. While it does look like something out of Basement Jaxx music video for ‘Where’s Your Head At?’, the weird CGI is only a part of the problem of why Cats is the worst film I’ve seen this year.
The original show’s main focus is on the dance choreography and music, with the plot being a minor part of the action. And that’s fine if the dancing in this was any good…but there wasn’t any. Like my guest has mentioned, the ‘dancing’ consisted of side stepping to the music and their ability to not wet themselves in the process. The score was actually very good, while the songs were very hit and miss.
Jason Derulo’s performance as Rum Tum Tugger was lukewarm at best; he was clearly the wrong choice for the character, and it’s obvious that Derulo was chosen to play the character based on his name alone. In short: he was trying too hard. The rest of the cast were trying their best with what little direction they were given.
Francesca Hayward, who plays the lead character Victoria, was bland and was presumably told that her only job in the film was to make surprised faces at everything she saw. I actually feel sorry for her because this was her big screen debut. She does get an opportunity to show off her singing talent with the new song ‘Beautiful Ghosts’. However, the impact of the song is taken away by the terrible continuity editing of the scene. E.g.: in one shot, Francesca is looking down at the ground but, in the next shot, the camera is facing her and she’s looking up. Basic editing mistakes like this occurred throughout the film.
The song ‘Macavity’, which was sung by Taylor Swift, was completely wasted. Taylor Swift was the worst thing in the entire film and was also trying too hard to be sexy. Rebel Wilson was awful and playing the same character that she does in every film. Adding insult to injury, her song (‘The Old Gumbie Cat’) was terrible, and the visuals were equivalent to a drug trip; if Tom Hooper wanted to be the next Cronenberg, then he succeeded with this number.
Even Idris Elba, whom I usually love, was unconvincing as Macavity and couldn’t act as the villain to save his life. This is the man who voiced Shere Khan in 2016’s The Jungle Book! Out of the whole cast, Jennifer Hudson was one of the best voices in the film.
It’s no secret now that Cats was rushed, and an incomplete version of the film was sent to cinemas; this is the version that we got to see. An example is during the ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’ number. A small group of the cast are walking along a set of train tracks, which are unfinished and unrendered, making them look like something out of a Disney film from the 90’s. In another scene, a cameraman is seen running through the scenery. Instead of removing him from the scene, however, he was instead (lazily) turned into a cat character by only placing a tail on him. And, throughout the film, some of the cast have feline feet while others just have plain human feet. The complete lack of attention to detail is painfully obvious.
And lastly, the pacing was a mess; the first half happened too quickly and needed to slow down and take a breath, while the second half slowed to a snail’s pace. I’m also convinced the cameraman was drunk because some of the cinematography was wonky and constantly moving, making me feel dizzy. This was especially highlighted in the opening sequence where the camera spins round a circle of the cast. However, the camera’s moving so quickly that you can’t discern the faces.
Overall, Cats is an open letter to Hollywood and Tom Hooper on two aspects:
1. Just because you can adapt everything to the big screen, doesn’t mean that you should.
2. Don’t rush a film just because you want it out in time for Christmas.
While it was a challenging musical to adapt to screen, Cats was a mess and I regret not drinking a lot before seeing it. If Tom Hooper really wanted to bring this musical to the big screen, he should’ve just re-released the original recording of the Broadway production, because that is miles better than this film will ever be.
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