Paulie’s Perspective: Cats (2019) Review – Revisited

Dir: Tom Hooper. 

Cast: Robbie Fairchild, Judi Dench, Idris Elba, James Corden, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift. 

With CATS finally being available on digital platforms – I think it only right to discuss it at this time. I remember right before the pandemic, this movie was all people were talking about it and it was not good news. 

It’s not that director Tom Hooper is bad. He is quite good. I loved The King’s Speech with Collin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. It was a remarkable movie filled with heart and charm. Things made sense and it even had great instances of humor. 

I also loved Tom Hooper’s take on the classic Les Miserable with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried. The movie had stirring musical performances, and won over most audiences. The film garnished 7 Oscar nominations including Best Picture. 

So Tom Hooper is not entirely clueless as a Director by any means. His films are usually rock solid with a lot of personality – and sense – until this. 

I don’t know what happened, but somewhere along the way Tom Hooper thought he had a severe problem with CATS. I don’t know who convinced him of this – but it seems like he was up against the wall and was trying to come up with ways to fix it. 

Well fixed it he did not, but make it worse, he did. We all know CATS is grounded in a simple poem by TS Elliot. He just mentions the type of cats that are in this town in England, and Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber set music to it, and here we are. The show has won Tony Awards here in America and Laurence Olivier Awards over in England. So clearly it must have been doing something right. 

After 18 years, and over 7,000 performances, I guess Tom Hooper thought it needed a change. I mean, why leave a classic alone if you can re-write it and make it your own. 

So Tom Hooper casted celebrities for this production, probably mistake number one. CATS is not strong on story, it is strong in dance and in music. One can almost call it a modern ballet of sorts. Well guess what, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, James Corden, Rebel Wilson and Jennifer Hudson are not professional dancers. So that puts the film at a disadvantage right away. 

Turns out they all can sing, well, good enough anyway, for this production – but dancers and graceful movers, they are not. I think the big difference between this flop and the success of Les Miserable is that Le Mis is built like a movie with a story and strong characters and the backdrop of war and love won and lost. 

CATS is just about cats. That’s it. It’s a dance, even the main plot point is called The Jellicle Ball. CATS is about personal movement, dance, interpretation. Move like a cat, act like a cat, dance with grace like a cat and sing your song. That actually is the storyline – they all have to perform for Old Deuteronomy and get judged by him/her as to who gets to go to the Heavyside Layer – which is like Heaven and get reincarnated. 

Old Deuteronomy was an old man for 20 years of the production, but Hooper made him Judi Dench. No big deal – except you have Ian McKellen playing Gus The Theater Cat, right beside her and you’re thinking – I think those two should have switched roles.

Also when you see Rebel Wilson, you cringe. Her jokes do not work at all, and the same goes for James Corden who is just having too much fun to care about anything. Taylor Swift sings one of the good songs, but who cares – this is not The Voice or American Idol. We need dancers, not celebrity singers.

The big song from CATS is Memories – and it is sung by Grizabella. Now here’s another huge mistake. Grizabella is an old cat, a female cat, a cat well past her prime with a shabby coat that could not shine again no matter how much you brushed it. Director Tom Hooper chose Jennifer Hudson for this role. Jennifer not only is way too young to play a washed up cat, she has no pain in her eyes, no age, no regret, but she also can’t dance. So that’s two things she can’t bring to the role, but we all know she can sing very well. Again, for this, it’s not enough. 

Now let’s talk story – in CATS, there is none. Like I said it’s just a bunch of cats singing songs about themselves. That didn’t sit right with Hooper I guess. He wrote in some stuff that makes no sense, but no one has every accused him of being a writer. 

One of the cats, Macavity, played by Idris Elba, somehow attains magical powers. Now in the play – he is just your average mischievous cat who causes trouble and disappears. Well now he is a cat who can transport himself anywhere in the world and bring other cats along with him. Why? We don’t know. How? We don’t know. 

Macavity then decides to go ahead and kidnap every cat auditioning for the Heavyside Layer and chain them up at a dock on the Thames River. This way, he thinks, he’ll be the only cat left to choose!! 

So cats start to go missing – something brand new to this production, and are literally chained up at a dock on the Thames River. Now Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, who is really supposed to have magic – doesn’t. So when the other cats ask him to magically bring back the hostages, it is a surprise and a revelation the he is able to do it. 

Oh and the most ridiculous thing in the film, and there are quite a few, is Rebel Wilson simply unzipping her fur, to get out of the chains. Who knew?!? Cats have zippers!! 

The sets here are truly wonderful and poetic, the costumes look amazing on the cast. I bet those are two things the theatre production wish they had. 

The problems though, are with the wires in the dance acts, and the size of the cats. Sometimes the cats look the correct size – other times they look no bigger than a mouse. The stair case scene is the most ridiculous. The cast looks lost on this huge staircase as if cats never climbed stairs before. So the film has some practical issues, but even worse are the wire issues. 

CATS is known for it’s dancing and it’s gracefulness, but Director Hooper decided to use wires in his dance numbers and it makes every single dancer look clumsy and stupid. The jumping, the floating across the floor, the high jumps, the ridiculous jumps – all of it, you can tell they were wire stunts and it looked extremely unnatural and off-putting. 

The dance is the strongest suit for a project like CATS and the wire stunts ruins all of it. Every single bit. So you have no great dancers, no great dance numbers, wonderful celebrities who can sing and a weird story that makes no sense. 

This movie would have been magnificent if they let a choreographer direct it and stuck with the original story, but I’m afraid Tom Hooper wanted more, overreached, and as talented as he is, was just not the right guy.