CATS: A crazy, catnip-fuelled romp with popstar power
If you’re in the market for a film about human-shaped cats, who like a good old sing-song and have a whimsical attitude to wearing clothes, you’re in luck.
Realism, accurate proportions and a sensible storylines be-damned, Cats the movie is one of those wondrous Christmas films that couldn’t get away with it at any other time of year.
With a shovel-load of singable songs, toe-tapping moves and charm aplenty, those who venture in to experience Tom Hooper’s film adaptation will not leave disappointed.
Brace yourself for some old-fashioned musical razzmatazz, here are nine things we learned on watching the film.
A bunch of moggies, called the Jellicle Cats, each take it in turns to perform a variety show style turn in order to compete for the chance to ascend to cat heaven and come back as a new cat.
Think X Factor, but minus Simon Cowell, and with cats instead of contestants with emotional backstories.
Quite why a cat must ascent to the “Heavyside Layer”, and how they will be reincarnated as a new kitten remains unanswered – but it’s a musical about singing cats, so we’ll let that one slide…
The celebrity factor
Others would say they are images you’ll struggle to erase for years to come.
Regardless, you can’t deny the A-list talent who got furry for this film.
Swift, Dench and Corden aside, Idris Elba rules the roost as Machiavellian cat Macavity (“a monster of depravity”), Sir Ian McKellen gives us a thespian Gus the Theatre cat that Shakespeare himself would be proud of and Rebel Wilson dishes out the LOLS as Jennyanydots the gumbie cat.
Not to mention Jennifer Hudson plucking at our heartstrings as glamour cat Grizabella, Jason Derulo as a spirited Rum Tum Tugger and a surprise turn from hard-man Ray Winstone as rufty-tufty pirate Growltiger.
Pretty much worth seeing for Winstone’s turn alone TBH.
The cat issue
Let’s put it out there from the get-go, human beings – be they ballerinas, pop stars or Idris Elba – are not able to convincingly pull-off being cats.
They don’t move like cats, sing like cats or convincingly hiss like them either.
That being said, Cats the musical does not call for David Attenborough levels of zoological accuracy.
When the first trailers for the film came out people were aghast at the furry-hoard of bi-ped beasties with human hands and feet, a Ken-doll absence of genitalia and scattershot approach to clothing.
Some cats inexplicably wear fur coats and hats, others shoes and boots, one even has diamante fur, but the majority wear nothing at all.
If we were to take a stab at a rule, it would seem to be that if it’s a cat played by a famous actor they get an item of clothing, but if not, the cat remains naked. There’s no logic, as we’ve said before it’s a film about singing cats.
Cat-flashing aside, tweaks have been made post-trailer, and while we’re not completely out of Canny Valley, the humanoid cats are no longer quite such a thing of nightmares.
We can all sleep easy, and suspend our disbelief for the couple of hour duration of the film.
OK, one more whinge. The scale of the cats in comparison to their London town surroundings is without any doubt, up the creek without a paddle.
At times a watch face is the size of a cat’s head. At others, a cat stands almost as high as a door handle.
When the cats congregate in Trafalgar Square, they seem to inexplicably be to human-scale.
This is weird, but quite possibly adds to the trippy nature of the film.
At least, I suspect this is the angle the person whose job it was to work out the proportions for the film is currently insisting to anyone who will listen…
The ‘fur technology’
There was much talk of the ground-breaking “digital fur technology” used to create the full-body fur of the entire cast.
The VFX merge the actors’ faces and anatomy with cat-like hair, more feline movements.
And it’s not just about fur, delicate whiskers, expressive ears and long swishy tails are all part of the cat-package too.
And it seems the hard-work of the 186 visual effects specialists has not gone un-noticed, with the film making the Oscars shortlist for visual effects.
Despite such star power, the movie’s lead role is played by film-unknown.
Despite being a star of the ballet world, this is 27-year-old British dancer Francesca Hayward’s first feature film.
A principal ballerina at The Royal Ballet, Hayward plays Victoria the white kitten, and in the stage version of the show she has no solo singing part.
Hayward however is a triple-threat – a great actress, singer and dancer – and in this film we get to see her do all three, cracking out a song written specially for the film by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Beautiful Ghosts.
Things we’ve learned
Cats wear their trousers very high (and in this world, the word ‘trousers’ rhymes with ‘mousers’).
Rebel Wilson can pull off funny in head-to-toe hirsute diamante, no easy feat by anyone’s standards.
Jennifer Hudson can totally pull off ugly crying, with snot to boot. Oscar academy – take note.
Sir Ian McKellen is so convincing as a cat, it may now be hard for him to land any further human roles.
Dame Judy Dench’s Old Deuteronomy bears such a striking resemblance to the lion from the Wizard Of Oz, you may start to wonder where Dorothy and the tin man have got to.
Cats don’t kiss, they just rub heads. We know that’s a real-life fact, and thankfully it’s a rule the film abides by too.
Plus, you will be Googling every member of the cast the moment you come out of the cinema to see what they look like without face-fur and ears. If you can wait until you’re out of the cinema that is.
We already know Cats has made the 92nd Academy Award shortlist for visual effects.
It has however missed out on a nomination for music (original song).
Taylor Swift is likely to be smarting from Beautiful Ghosts snub, but hey, she still has Glastonbury to look forward to.
With the coveted best actor, actress, film and director categories not announced until 13 January, time will tell whether the movie gets any further Oscar nods.
The film is of course based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 stage musical CATS, and the show itself is based on a 1939 T S Eliot collection of poems called Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats.
One of the most successful musicals ever, Cats ran in London for over 21 years, and on Broadway for over 18 years.
It helped make a billionaire of Sir Andrew, helping him become the most commercially successful composer in history.
It remains to be seen whether the movie will be quite so enduring, but it’s fair to say you don’t have to be a ‘cat person’ to fall for the film’s unique brand of feline magic.
CATS is in UK cinemas on Friday 20 December.