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  Cats Naked And Hairy
Year: 2019
Director: Tom Hooper
Stars: James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Francesca Hayward, Ray Winstone, Laurie Davidson, Naoimh Morgan, Danny Collins, Steven McRae, Mette Towley, Robbie Fairchild
Genre: Musical, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is a little white kitten which has been more than abandoned by its uncaring owners, it has been stuffed into a bag and thrown amongst the bins behind a London theatre. She must now fend for herself, but she could have help, as a bunch of grown cats arrive to allow curiosity to get the better of them and release Victoria from her prison, then to start giving her advice on how to get by as a stray. She will meet a collection of felines of all ages and personalities as her new friends relentlessly introduce her to what seems like every cat available across the otherwise eerily empty British capital...

You know Cats: countless theatregoers saw the musical play based on the T.S. Elliott jottings courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Webber's staging, and it went on to be one of the most successful plays of all time, racking up many thousands of performances. Webber had enjoyed the sight of his musicals being staged before, with hits like Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, but Cats was proving a trickier prospect, given it was all setpiece after setpiece without a real plot to carry through a movie. Then there was the fact all the characters were cats: do you animate it, have the cast in costumes, or some other alternative?

It took director Tom Hooper to concoct a solution: film it with live action actors, then add CGI over them to make them look like naked, hairy people with cat ears, something everyone was satisfied with and the results were the big Christmas favourite of 2019, a fond memory for the world before the pandemic hit shortly after. Or... maybe not that, as Cats was one of the biggest flops of its era, was roasted eagerly by critics who cracked their knuckles and went to town on how awful they found it, and audiences stayed away as word of mouth from the hardy few who had braved it scared them off even considering attending a notorious horror show.

But was it that bad? Some of the diehard theatre lovers were willing to support it, but what did they know about films? They had Ray Winstone singing here, think that over. There was a reason why some things - like Webber's flop, but not quite as disastrous Phantom of Opera, for example, are content to play to the gallery when a cinematic version of a theatrical hit appears, and Cats barely did that. The blame was laid at the feet of the schedule, it just had not been long enough to achieve what might have been more palatable had more time been available to complete the effects properly (famously Universal had to release an improved version days after it premiered, to no discernible benefit).

But nothing they could do could get over the one major obstacle: it was simply a terrible idea. Not for the stage, evidently plenty liked that, but for the movies, it was horrible. Even the improved variation had human faces woozily attached to the cat people bodies, leaving that dreaded uncanny valley effect many a CGI merchant must strive to avoid. And despite a star in all the main roles save Victoria, everyone looked miscast, from Idris Elba who we were supposed to believe was so evil and non-furry that his character came across as massively racist especially when Hayward was an actress of colour made up to look purest snowy white (and he was the only one with Village of the Damned eyes, oddly) to Judi Dench who could not carry a tune in a bucket.

Ian McKellen didn't even try, he showed up, mumbled his lines and was promptly teleported (?) by Elba who wanted to win some talent contest which resolves itself as an underwhelming trip in a hot air balloon. Then there was Rebel Wilson and James Corden, fat shamed at every turn (she eats dancing cockroaches, he eats meat out of bins), pop stars Taylor Swift and Jason Derulo (if you ever fantasised about them needing an extensive body waxing, here was where to start), and Jennifer Hudson getting signature song Memory to ruin - the second she appears, you just know she's going to yell the lyrics at some point, and you are not disappointed. Or rather you are, if you like the song. Resembling a theatre students' drama workshop cruelly deepfaked, it starts out queasily horny (lots of spread legs to make you notice the lack of genitals and arseholes, a la The Lion King remake) and ends up tediously sentimental, with not much in between aside from obscure mysticism. Not every success in another medium needs to be filmed. Still, if you like to see the lunacy that multi-million projects tying themselves in knots can create, it was a prime example.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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