Judd: The year is 1980. Its three o’clock in the morning, and Andrew Lloyd Webber is home alone in his London flat. There are several rails of the purest Columbian lined out on his glass coffee table. He gazes at his shelves stocked with books, there only to make him look smart and impress his guests, in search of inspiration for his next Smash Hit Musical. His heart is racing, and he’s in a self-induced panic. How will he ever top Evita? And why was Patti LuPone such a bitch to him? Was it something he did? All of a sudden his eyes fixate on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. In an “A-Ha” moment, he snatches the book from the shelves and starts flipping through the pages. “Yes,” he thinks, “Yes, yes! It’s all right here! I will write repetitive songs, with far too many stanzas, and use the prose as inane lyrics! The costumes will be based on contemporary New Wave Punk, which will be both creepy and immediately passé! I’ll use the finest synthesizers that 1980 has to offer! It will be CATS! Now and Forever!”

And thus, Andrew Lloyd Weber unleashed an undying hellscape that has cursed the stages of theater districts around the world. It’s evil fueled by pedestrian suburbanites, willing to spend a small fortune on an authentic “Broadway Experience”. Thirty years later, that evil has been brought to the Silver Screen.

I’ve seen Cats on stage twice, which is twice too many, and where the stage play fails and the movie succeeds is that I was finally able to follow the plot. Once a year the Jellicle Cats get together for the Jellicle Ball. Each cat sings a song about his or herself to their leader, Old Deuteronomy. At the end of the ball, Old D picks a cat that will be put to death. Yes, the show is so bad, all the cats WANT to die at the end. The reason I believe I’ve never understood the plot before is the same reason a person’s mind represses traumatic experiences.

Cats is directed by Tom Hooper who directed the film adaptation of Les Miserables, and stars Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, IanMcKellen, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Ray Winstone, Jason Derulo, and Jennifer Hudson, who luckily escapes with little screen time and the only song in the show that doesn’t make one wish for deafness. The script adds to the original “plot” of the movie by having the villain, Macavity (Elba), kidnap other cats in order to be the only one left to be euthanized. In the stage play, he only kidnaps Old D (now played by female, Judi Dench). The plot is further enhanced by the kidnapped kitties fighting their guard, Growltiger (Winstone), to escape and return to the mercy killing. Also, Macavity can teleport.

The CGI kitty costumes are extremely detailed and no more or less uncomfortable to see than the cat suits the stage actors wear. There are moments though, especially in the long shots and when dealing with miniatures like the mice and cockroaches, where lighting effects are poorly done and look cheap.

The real standout is Hudson, with a heart wrenching rendition of Memory that almost makes the first 90 minutes worth it. Almost. The audience was silent except for a few sniffles after she completed her number. Though maybe they were reacting to Hooper’s decision to give Grizabella a perpetually runny nose.

The film has an uneven tone, and it wants to appeal to children, but I can’t imagine they won’t get bored. Rebel Wilson (Jennyanydots) brings her brand of humor to the screen and it feels misplaced. At the end of the day, the movie itself is only as good as its source material. However you feel about the stage play, you’ll feel about the movie. The actors do what they can with the material, but they aren’t able to elevate it to something new (or watchable).

Judd: 1 star

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