Should you see this musical movie adaptation of the famous stage play? Yep. Why? Because Jennifer Hudson sings the key song in the musical, “Memories,” with such power and beauty that nothing either before or after that moment matters. A whole movie wrapped in a couple of minutes worth of bell ringing musical grandeur.
How about everything else? Well, lots of talent, lots of effort, lots of money, but nothing comes close to the wonderful moments with Jennifer Hudson.
The transition from stage to screen always presents difficulties. The style, techniques and sensibilities of a stage play are completely different from a cinema presentation. And even Andrew Lloyd Webber has in “Cats” written only one magnificent song. It just isn’t enough.
The story spins around an abandoned kitten, Victoria, played by ballerina Francesca Hayward. She speaks seldom, dances like a dream and has Taylor Swift to voice her songs. Swift herself plays a much smaller role as one of the “Cats.” Idris Elba plays a criminal cat, Judi Dench the boss cat, magnificent British actor Ian McKellen plays a stage cat and Rebel Wilson plays a funny cat. They and those actors who support them all do just fine.
Director Tom Hooper won his Oscar for “The King’s Speech.” He manages to make a musical that feels like a stage play. The flaws in storyline (kitty cat theology) and character development, cats don’t change much, cannot be ignored as easily by movie viewers. On stage, we care about the acting and music. In a movie, we are accustomed to a bond with the characters.
The costumes have a catishness to them, and the dancing entertains us. In particular, a tap dance number pleases us. But except for “Memories,” no other song really rises to greatness. Director Hooper cannot help that.
The PG-rated “Cats” runs for one hour and 50 minutes. Not even a Busby Berkeley style dance number with scores of cockroaches can save the doomed “Cats.” This ambitious musical rates only a sub-par two and a half saw blades.
Pity the producers who spent $95 million to make this faltering musical.
In “Cats” the annual chosen contestant ascends to the Heaviside Layer, a band of radiation around the Earth. The contestant experiences a subsequent re-birth, sort of reincarnation. This is not the only religious expression relating to the various planetary bands of radiation. LSD guru Augustus Owsley Stanley believed that the first A-bomb explosion caused the Van Allen radiation belt (a deity in his cosmology) to spur the first synthesis of LSD in self-protection. Neither religious notion has many followers today.