After the most unappealing of trailers, followed by a glut of negative, even atrocious reviews, I was bracing myself to hate this. (I know you'll have already glanced forward to my rating score, haven't you?)
I must put my cards on the table. The theatrical experience(s) of seeing this Andrew Lloyd Webber-composed musical (based on poems from T.S.Eliot's 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats) is one of the highlights of my theatre-going life. I saw it three times, first in a London pre-run, pre-press performance in 1981 with original cast of Paul Nicholas, Elaine Paige, Wayne Sleep and, as Old Deuteronomy, Brian Blessed. Elaine Paige had just been shipped in at very short notice to replace Judi Dench as Grizabella who, in rehearsals, had snapped her Achilles. Also in the cast was a then largely unknown name, one Sarah Brightman, whom Webber met for the first time in rehearsal, resulting in divorce to his then wife and marriage to her - and raising his 'new' wife, for a while, to such a stratospheric level of fame that I myself did not think her 'talents' justified, Brightman in addition being the inspiration for his 'Phantom'. which I also saw (with Michael Crawford) early in its lengthy run.
As for 'Cats' on stage, I was so overwhelmed the first time that I went to see it again - and then once more towards the end of that decade in a quite spectacular production in Amsterdam (also in English).
I know it's 'fashionable' to sneer at and belittle Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, but I've never been one of those who do. I still think that his very best were the three early musicals he wrote with Tim Rice ('Joseph', 'Superstar' and 'Evita') but his subsequent efforts have virtually all been worthily notable (I'd especially cite 'Sunset Boulevard') and 'Cats' is very nearly also in the top flight.
So it was going to be a tall order for the film to please me. However, against the odds it managed it. Several times the thrill of the music got my adrenalin pumping, and even got my eyes more than a little wet. Of course it helps in being familiar with the music, both those sung and the uniformly exhilarating and splendid dance numbers. If you're not familiar or simply dislike A.L.W. full stop, then this film isn't going to convert you.
I thought the cast almost uniformly good, Idris Elba (as Macavity) most of all. He and Judi Dench (as a sex-shifted Deuteronomy), together with Taylor Swift as Bombalurina share longest screen time. (Subsequent correction: It is, in fact, Royal Ballet member Francesca Hayward as 'Victoria' whom I should have named here as having extended screen presence and not Taylor Swift's Bombalurina, who's actually on-screen for only a few minutes quite well into the film when introducing Macavity). Other well-known names have little more than cameo appearances with one song each (James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellan) - and, of course, Jennifer Hudson with that song, one which was done to death through the 1980s, but I still think is a really wonderful number. Pity that Ray Winstone's gangster-cat appearance is so short when he's about the funniest thing in the film.
Prominent comments have been made about the fur-covered bodies of the cast - the stage version eschewed the obvious feline characteristics of fur and whiskers but went instead for smooth sleekness, and that worked. Some say that this film's cast just don't look like anything like real cats and, frankly, I agree that they don't very much, but then in the theatre the fur-less 'cats' looked even less so and no one complained about it. I got around this by taking on the conceit one adopts in the theatre - one of accepting make-believe. Film demands a more literal look than what is considered acceptable on the stage. I gather that in this film much of the fur is CGI-d. It could have been distracting but although it was a little, by doing what I did it wasn't such a enormous put-off. I've also seen mention that the mostly erect tails in the film (surely also CGI) seem to protrude from the cats' anuses. I looked carefully and it's simply not true. Were they looking for things to criticise?
Director Tom Hooper (who also did the even more successfully realised screen version of 'Les Mis') was stung by hostile reaction to the trailer and has made some adjustments to the visuals of the released version. One in particular was the alarmingly changing differences in the scale of the cats' sizes when seen against their domestic surroundings. This hasn't been entirely removed but being prepared for it helped me to dismiss it without dwelling on it. But other than that I think Hooper's done well for a difficult job despite not quite succeeding in imposing a cohesion to the film's story when the original stage show's weakish continuity presents us with little more than a succession of musical presentations.
If you wanted to see this but have been put off as I had been by the damning reviews (or if you're taking notice of one of the current average ratings I quote below) I would suggest that you still go with an open mind and, hopefully, you might, despite what's been said, enjoy it as much as I did, or perhaps nearly so.............7.5.
(IMDb.................3.2 - Rott.Toms..........3.8/5 )
4 hours ago