A cat-astrophe of epic proportions: Lloyd-Webber’s musical never should have left the stage


By Milo Clenshaw, 3rd Year Film & English

Tom Hooper's cinematic adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats (2019) is unforgivably confusing, cringeworthy and downright weird.

I made the mistake this Christmas break of going to see the new and infamously CGI'd version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit Broadway musical, Cats. A couple of friends and I had seen the film being trashed for its plot and questionably-executed animation on Twitter, so we thought we might be safe to see it as a laugh at a late night showing.

The signs were bad even before we stepped into the cinema, as we were the only people who had bought tickets ten minutes before the screening. As the adverts rolled and we started our popcorn in anticipation we were joined in the massive cinema by an elderly couple and four other twenty-somethings who seemed to have the same idea as us.

Cats made use of digital tech to fur-over the skin of actors to horrifying effect

What happened in the next two hours I am still trying to understand. I appreciate that as a musical, Cats wouldn't be particularly plot driven, but what I hadn't anticipated was just how randomly each scene would be shoehorned in, not to mention the completely nonsensical and unexplained universe in which it takes place.

For those who, like me, haven't seen the stage version, the basic premise is that there is a special group of cats living in purgatory called 'Jellicles' who get together once a year to have a singing contest, the winner of which is flown away in a hot air balloon in order to have a new chance at life. Lloyd-Webber adapted it from T.S. Elliot's 1939 poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

The especially nightmarish detail for me was their un-furry human hands and feet

I can see how such a loose premise would work to foreground the spectacle of performance on stage, but translated onto the cinema screen it is a mess of totally unrelated characters whose songs become ever more confusing, and frankly just boring. Those of the cast who do have singing and dancing abilities are constantly distracted from by the uncanny rendering of furry CGI bodies.

These cat-people hybrids, as I'm sure you've seen being ridiculed on social media, are a truly horrifying combination of a cat’s whiskers, fur and tail with a human physique and clothing, of which the especially nightmarish detail for me was their un-furry human hands and feet. I'm certain I will be seeing Dame Judy Dench's fluffy ginger head in my fever dreams for years to come.

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Some other reviews have suggested that Hooper made the best of a bad situation with Cats, and that it was doomed to failure much like screen adaptations of other Webber musicals like Phantom of the Opera (2005). However, with Hooper's directorial standing and the insane amount of money that was poured into the film's budget, Hooper could have taken the film in an entirely different direction.

It is easy for an observer to say, but it seems obvious to me that a direct transplant of musical stage performance to film is doomed to failure, even with the assistance of sophisticated animation and an all-star cast.

'I'm certain I will be seeing Dame Judy Dench's fluffy ginger head in my fever dreams for years to come' IMDb / Warner Bros

To bring the story successfully to the screen it needed a cinematic overhaul, much like Hooper's previous endeavour in Les Miserables (2012). A lot of what made that film work was in matching the theatricality of the performances with the drama of the film's setting and cinematography, something that was seriously lacking in Cats.

Another reason to dislike the artistic choices made in the production of this film is that it has been accused of whitewashing its main character. Victoria, the only all-white cat is a newcomer to the Jellicle world and is the audience's point of contact throughout the film. She is played by prima-ballerina Francesca Hayward, who is mixed race.

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Hayward has said in an interview that she has no problem with how her character appears, so maybe it is just chance that her cat should have white fur, but compare her to how Jennifer Hudson or Idris Elba are portrayed and it all starts to become a bit uncomfortable.

I don't like condemning films completely, as even things I might hate have the potential to appeal to someone else. However, In Cats' case I am confident in saying that this film has no redeeming qualities. Spend your Christmas money on seeing something worthwhile, like Little Women (2019), or even donate it to the Cat's Protection League, but whatever you do, do not see this film, even as a joke. You have been warned.

Featured - IMDb / Warner Bros

Did you react as strongly to the CGI Cats horrorshow? Let us know!