Letter 6 – 07.01.20 CATS Review

A few weeks ago I had the… interesting experience of seeing Cats at the cinema and thought I would add my views to the mass of criticism that’s been made so far.

When I was younger my mum took me to see the stage musical several times and I remember really enjoying it. So naturally we were very excited when we found out it was being made into a film with a pretty A-list cast. So before Christmas we dragged my boyfriend, sister, brother and his girlfriend to see it with us; and it brought mixed reviews.

First I want to discuss the things I actually enjoyed, because even though I don’t think it was a great film it wasn’t actually the worst thing I’ve seen. So here are its redeeming features:

  • The Choreography – Andy Blankenbuehler (the legendary choreographer of Hamilton) pulled out all the stops when choreographing for this film. Francesca Hayward, star of the Royal Ballet, was outstanding, with her solos perfectly showcasing her effortless technique. The decision to cast other trained dancers in lead roles also helped allow Blankenbuehler to create spectacular group dances that incorporated cat-like movements alongside other more modern styles. The film therefore did succeed in mirroring the dance difficulty of the stage musical.
  • The new song – As a theatre fan, I’m always sceptical when new songs are made for movie musicals and had doubts about a collaboration between Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber. However, I really loved Beautiful Ghosts. Francesca Hayward’s incredibly clear and dainty voice suited the melancholic tone of the song extremely well, whilst the song itself also seemed to be embedded well within the narrative framework. And speaking of…
  • The attempt to form a narrative – A lot of the criticism the film has got is over its apparent lack of a narrative. Film theorist Bordwell Thompson wrote about the importance of narrative to audience expectations and, although it seemed plot-less, they actually did add more narrative to the film than existed in the original musical. I believe the enlargement of Victoria’s character was effective in trying to communicate the function of the ‘Jellicle cats’ to the audience, even if others don’t agree.

Now that I have listed a few positives, I thought I’d share some opinions from others who have seen the film, starting with my boyfriend James. With no prior knowledge of the stage musical, I dragged him with me to the cinema for, what would prove to be for him, a painful experience.

‘It was really bad. I don’t really have much more to say; the CGI was creepy and Memory, a song which I already knew, was good but not worth the wait.’

James (20)

The creepy aspect of the CGI didn’t go unnoticed by my best friend Eleanor, who also saw the film and is a fan of the stage musical, but perhaps not so much a fan of the film:

“Watching CATS the movie was a beautiful reminder of how wonderful the MUSICAL is. The high use of CGI, while impressive technically, meant it was often difficult to appreciate what was real and what was not. The music however was pure escapism, but as an overall film it was simply average and at times borderline disturbing.”

Eleanor (19)

The reason why the film was ‘disturbing’ for some was because of the uncannily realistic CGI effects which made the characters look half cat and half naked human.

If asked whether I would watch Cats again, I would probably say no, or at least not for about 10 years. However I would happily re-attend the stage musical, where catsuits and make-up aren’t as unsettling as CGI and where I can enjoy the interactive factor of the musical which the film medium is unable to capture.

So if you’re looking for something to see in the cinema and you don’t already know the stage musical, maybe give Cats a miss.

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