“Upon appearance, ‘Cats’ seemed to have style but after watching, it lacked flair and demonstration.”
Hello, moviegoers, and welcome to the twenty-fifth installment of Cinema Perception film review. In this review, we — that is, your normal author Nicholas Bartelmo, joined by Kyle Gombosi — will take a look back at the 2019 Universal Studios film “Cats.”
An average moviegoer would ask, “Why go back and review a film that was released in 2019?” Much has been made of this film version of “Cats,” specifically the seemingly-dominant perception that it was a completely irredeemable mess. We wanted to see for ourselves, as normal moviegoers, whether that perception was accurate, or if there’s a bit more nuance to be found.
“Cats” is a story about a group of “Jellicle” cats and their desire to go to the Heaviside Layer, most commonly understood to be the afterlife. Once a year, the patriarch — or, in the case of the film version, matriarch — of the Jellicle cats, Old Deuteronomy, makes “the Jellicle Choice,” choosing one cat to send to the Heaviside Layer. It may sound complicated, but “Cats” works so well as a musical because its plot is somewhat vague.
Our perception of 2019’s “Cats” was rather mixed — not the all-encompassing disappointment we had heard about, as some parts of the film were downright entertaining, but those moments were combined with some production decisions we simply couldn’t overlook.
Beginning with the positives, some individual performances were quite good. No one was stellar, but Jason Derulo and Jennifer Hudson stood out among the film’s cast in their roles as Rum Tum Tugger and Grizabella, respectively. Special mention must be made of Hudson’s rendition of “Memory,” the iconic solo number from the musical, which was much better than anticipated. Robbie Fairchild acted the part of Munkustrap well, and the same can be said of Francesca Hayward as Victoria.
The film’s visual effects were overall well done, but neither of us is entirely certain of our feelings about the production’s attempt at turning the actors into cats. In some cases, it’s passable; in others, it’s almost horrifying.
The additions of Ian McKellan and Judi Dench work to add a feeling of familiarity for the film’s audience. Neither actor — two of the greatest to ever have come to the screen — gave their best performance in this film, but seeing them here made us, Nick and Kyle, both smile with recognition.
However, if that were all there was to say about the film, it’s doubtful it would have been so universally panned, and unfortunately there’s quite a lot of reason to pan the film, too. While there were entertaining and well-executed musical numbers throughout the film, some of those numbers really were lackluster in their presentation. A scene revolving around Jennyanydots, portrayed by Rebel Wilson, springs to mind as simply being a mess. Wilson’s performance, unfortunately, doesn’t help: her acting is fine, but her singing and dancing leave quite a lot to be desired.
“Odd” is the only word we can think of to describe some of the film’s dialogue, which at points was unclear in whether it was scripted or improvised by the actors delivering it. James Corden as Bustopher Jones was entertaining, but at least one scene in which he was involved included lines of dialogue that seemed needless and unconstructive to either his character or the plot.
We would, inevitably, come to the decision to add a protagonist to the film as well in this review. “Cats” is a story about a collective, all of whom have the same motivation. The original stage production focuses on all of them mostly equally, and the show works because it has no real protagonist. Director Tom Hopper and Universal Studios decided to add Hayward’s Victoria, and while Hayward’s performance in the role was enjoyable, the role itself muddies the waters. In some ways, it works to bolster Grizabella’s character by having another who identifies with her; in others, it robs the audience of the opportunity to identify with Grizabella themselves. A frustrating contradiction, for certain (we recommend the YouTube video “Why the Music in Cats is Worse than you Thought” by the channel Sideways, which goes into much more detail about this and other criticisms of the film). Another unfortunate circumstance of adding a protagonist is that the character is simply not very well detailed and seems to simply exist as a plot device, rather than a flesh-and-blood character.
Overall, the 2019 film version of “Cats” is very messy and inconsistent, and it is strongly recommended to the viewer to actually watch a live performance of “Cats” before watching the film version. For that, we believe this film should receive two and a half out of five stars. Until the next issue, this is Nicholas Bartelmo and Kyle Gombosi signing off on Cinema Perception.
Nicholas Bartelmo is a fourth-year History major. NB790429@wcupa.edu
Kyle Gombosi is a senior Music: Elective Studies major with a minor in journalism. KG806059@wcupa.edu