By: Daniel Kundrat, Columnist
After first bringing the theatrical production, “Les Misérables,” to the film industry, director, Tom Hooper, has now challenged himself with the task of making the Broadway behemoth, “Cats,” just as successful in a movie theater. Inspired by a series of poems by T.S. Eliot, it was then crafted into a musical hit by Andrew Lloyd Weber. “Cats” is a story with one playful plot, but too many messages to count. Its music, costumes, and choreography were a sight to behold, and thus its beauty made up for its struggling storyline and became the one of the longest running productions in Broadway history.
Many have argued that the aesthetic of the story is meant to be captured through the naked eye of the audience, not the camera. Director Tom Hooper thought otherwise, and through the phenomenal casting choices, musical numbers, and arbitrarily imaginative costumes using today’s technology, the “Cats” story has arguably been given an even harsher grade but an even sharper performance.
The film entails a stray cat, named Victoria, who is found by the mysterious and energetic community called The Jellicle cats. While many of the cats have a unique niche and name in their community, only a few compete for their sacred leader’s blessing, (“The Jellicle Choice”) to venture for a new life in the “Heaviside layer,” and receive a new life.
Hooper built a playground for esteemed performers from all industries of entertainment. Starring national celebrities like Sir Ian McKellen (Gus) and Dame Judi Dench (Old Deuteronomy), to modern stars like pop artist, Jason Derulo (Rum Tum Tugger) and musician, Taylor Swift (Bombalurina). Marvel’s Guardian of Asgard and watcher of the universe has now become a watcher and threat towards the Jellicle Cats, as Idris Elba plays the wanted kidnapper, Macavity, the main antagonist in the film. Out of all the big casting choices that Hooper made, choosing the iconic role Grizabella, who sings the production’s hit song, “Memory,” was the most important. A star in Broadway’s “The Color Purple,” The Voice coach, and without question, The Princess of Soul, Jennifer Hudson blended into Grizabella with beauty and grace, not to mention with the literal work of CGI, but no technology can crack the hit-song open, like Jhud can.
At first, Eliot’s band of cats were composed of exotic bodysuits and stage makeup. Three decades later, the innovative work of CGI has now completely changed their appearance, and while some have found it to be a modern upgrade, many have found it quite disturbing. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler saw to it that the dance numbers would live up to its reputation. But the man-like figure of these felines combined with their creepy crawling and exotic dance moves, made audience members and sadly, critics too, highly uncomfortable. Washington Post writer Michael O’Sullivan exclaimed that they have “oddly unsettling human breasts and faces.” While the songs were wonderfully sung, and the choreography was beautiful, the film and its unique character design is now being used everywhere by critics and other media, as a prime example that technology does not need to change everything, and at the very least, classical stage productions.
From the moral messages conveyed by the cats, to the direct lecture from Old Deuteronomy at the end of the film, this story has many points, or – how critics have argued – no point at all. Grizabella’s growth, and the Jellicle Ball being a competition where one wins a second chance in life, seemed like the universal themes, but from what the media and other viewers are passing around, neither of these seem to exist. Aside from this dilemma, the Jellicle choice and the main character were both competing spots the entire movie. Victoria, of course, was the welcomed stray cat, but later in the story, it is debatable on who is more important than another. None of this necessarily means that “Cats” was a bad movie, rather it was just different from others. The way the plot decided to play and the uneasy decision on who is the main character, are just unique ways to tell the story of “Cats.”
If one were to search for a positive review for “Cats,” it would be very difficult to drag in. Critics all over the internet have used this movie as a punching bag to get out all their emotions of 2019 out, upon entering the new decade.