The movie adaption of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s successful stage musical Cats (itself based on a book of poems by TS Elliot) was always going to be a risky project.
Elliot’s poems are just amusing rhyming stories about individual cats with no plot to speak of, and Lloyd Webber and his contributors added little for the stage version aside from some excruciating music and a weak story that linked them. So let’s come out and say it – how could anyone have hoped the film version would be a masterpiece when the stage musical it is based on is pretty dreadful?
Of course, the movie has many more problems aside from a dated soundtrack and absence of plot. In the stage version, actors pretending to be cats wore stripy leotards but in the movie, thespians such as Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Ray Winstone and Idris Elba have digitalised fur that looks real – until you spot they still have human facial features (eg eyebrows, lips and teeth), human hands and feet (to make matters more confusing, some ‘cats’ wear shoes and sneakers while others are barefoot. Or bare-pawed).
Meanwhile they don’t seem to eat mice but chew on cockroaches instead (that are roughly the same size as the mice anyway). In fact, the scale throughout is all over the place. In some scenes, the cats play on oversized chairs that make them look cat sized, but in others, including an outdoor scene in Trafalgar Square, they look six feet tall.
The plot, and we use that term extremely loosely, is this – young cat Victoria (Hayward, who is a fantastic dancer and singer and deserves much better for her movie debut) is abandoned on a London street and meets a group of Jellicle cats (sort of a tribe) who are eagerly awaiting the Jellicle Ball, For it is there that wise cat Old Deuteronomy (Dench) will choose the one cat worthy enough to rise up and go to the Heaviside Layer, where they will live out the rest of their days in bliss (or, if you trawl the darker side of the internet, you will find Cats fans who believe they are actually volunteering to be put down).
It is essentially X-Factor for felines as each one tells their story in song for Old D to judge, from Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots to McKellen’s Gus The Theatre Cat. Most of these acts are pretty dull – though the dancing is nicely choreographed – and the film only comes alive with the appearance of criminal cat Macavity (Elba), Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina and during Mr Mistoffelees’s (Laurie Davidson) number towards the end.
While adults will question much throughout the movie – aside from the one that appears in the first scene, where are all the humans? If some of the characters are wearing fur coats, are they made from other cats? Why does Jennifer Hudson’s Grizabella have snot coming from her nose in every scene? – children will have even more.
Beginning with ‘why did you bring me to this horrible movie?’ they are also likely to be confused by the fact that some of the cats have boobs but none have genitals – although there is one scene featuring many of the cats in which their tails get erect in a rather disturbing fashion.
They may wonder why, if Macavity can use magic to make other cats disappear, he doesn’t just use it to get to the Heaviside Layer. Most likely, they will just puzzle over what on earth is going on, what all these weird human/cat hybrids are singing about, and why isn’t it over yet.
Is Cats suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
There is nothing really scary in the movie, though younger children may not like Macavity.
Parents should note that some of the cats look almost nude, despite their digital fur.
The humans playing cats (but walking upright) may unsettle young viewers, as may the facial features on the felines.
If you like this, why not try: