By Troy Ribeiro
“Cats”; Cast: James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Francesca Hayward, Ray Winstone, Laurie Davidson, Robert Fairchild, Larry Bourgeois, Mette Towley; Direction: Tom Hooper; Rating: ** and 1/2 (two and a half stars)
This musical fantasy is an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Webber which in turn had originated from TS Elliot’s poetry collection, “Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats” that was released in 1939.
Elliot’s poetry was interesting and so was Webber’s stage musical, but Tom Hooper’s big screen adaptation, leaves a lot to be desired.
The narrative begins on a sarcastic note with a variety of felines singing in an alley, just off a darken London Square:
Are you blind when you’re born?
Can you see in the dark?
Can you look at a king?
Would you sit on his throne?
Can you say of your bite
That it’s worse than your bark?
Are you cock of the walk
When you’re walking alone?
This certainly makes you sit upright to get the messages right.
Just then, Victoria (Francesca Hayward), a beautiful white cat is tossed into the entrance of the alley. She is a young and frightened cat, who has no idea of what might befall her. She simply knows she’s no longer wanted. Stuffed in a bag and discarded, she’s no longer loved.
But soon she discovers that she is not… alone.
Then she is made to realise, that she has landed in her new trash-littered home on a very special night. It’s the night of the Jellicle Ball (The word Jellicle is an endearing term coined by T.S.Elliot that meant, “dear little cats), which is a once-a-year event when the whole tribe of Jellicle cats from far and wide gather for a most incredible happening.
They tell stories, sing songs, dance freely and name names—for a cat’s true third name is a mysterious and difficult thing. And then the Jellicle matriarch, Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), arrives to make a choice.
It’s all a complete mystery to young Victoria, but at the peak of the Jellicle Ball she’s told that a single cat will be chosen and sent aloft to the Heaviside Layer where that special cat will leave all their cares behind and find a rebirth in a new life. And there are several eager candidates this year.
It’s fascinating to watch humans enact cats, telling us their stories and telling us why names are important.
Yes, the film has an air about itself. It is all aesthetics, broadly fantastical and unapologetically theatrical. But the plot is patchy because there’s not much of a narrative line, its pace depends on the effectiveness of each number. That is because the director has concentrated on the performances rather than the voices.
Also the songs rarely soar. “Memory”, the films emblematic highlight, loses much of its impact because Jennifer Hudson’s Grizabella is so choked with tears she can hardly get the words out.
While the cat-dances are brilliantly choreographed, few moves of the actors are a bit clumsy and off beat, making the entire projection appear forced.
Among the Actors, Taylor Swift as Bombalurina and Francesca Hayward as Victoria look cute, Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy appears regal, and Rebel Wilson as the lazy Jennyanydots is clumsy as ever and Idris Elba as the antagonist Macavity is charismatic.
The music has strains of previously heard tunes, and the frames have hues of all earthy shades. While some of the visual transitions are smooth, the elaborate sets of the London Streets, back alleys and oversized furniture sets though brilliantly executed, after a while are eye sores.
The FX are competitive and nothing out of the ordinary. The digital rendition of the cats on humans with fur et al is excellent it will surely entice the younger audience.
And overall, somewhere near the end, we are told, “Judge a cat by its soul,” (this is not there in TS Elliot’s original version), and alas, while trying to do this, you realise that here the soul is missing.