Sunday, April 21, 2024

“Cats” Review: Here It Is, a Fun Film Based on an Incoherent Broadway Musical, with a Star Performance


You want to hate “Cats,” the movie. I certainly hated the Broadway musical, which ran forever and hosted scads of Japanese tourists who didn’t care that there was no plot. There was a good score, a hit song, great costumes, and a plucky cast.

But the movie– how could they make a movie? And what is a jellicle cat? I have no idea. The movie has a lot of things going for it: director Tom Hooper is not stupid. He has that score, and a really great cast that includes Jennifer Holland, Judi Dench, and Ian McKellen. There are also two phenomenal ballet stars: Robbie Fairchild and Francesca Hayward.

Hooper also has Taylor Swift, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, and Idris Elba as sort of extended cameo players. They’re supposed to be value added, and to some extent that’s true. But the movie depends on those first names I mentioned, and thank goodness they more than hold up their end of the agreement.

Hudson, I really think, could get an Oscar nomination of out her Grizabella. She sings the main song, “Memory,” with such soaring grace and power that you want to stand up in the theater and start clapping. Hudson also imbues this crazy character with the sense of a haunted life, long gone, so that you care for her. This is some accomplishment because she is, after all, a cat.

Judi Dench’s grand dame, Old Deuteronomy, has the power to bestow everlasting life on one cat. She has a lot to choose from, and they all want it. Dame Judi laps up the opportunity to claw the scenery. She’s absolutely delightful even if you have no idea what she’s doing. Ditto Ian McKellen, who despite needing subtitles, is captivating.

As for Taylor Swift, she has a big number, it’s fine, she’s on for five minutes and then she’s gone. Her time reminded me of Louis Armstrong in “Hello, Dolly!” Take a bow. No harm, no foul. I’m sorry the original song she wrote with Andrew Lloyd Webber, sung by Hayward, wasn’t short listed for the Oscar. It’s very good, and necessary to the movie.

Mostly everyone will talk about the special effects, the CGI fur. Some of the female felines have breasts. Swift’s cat has the front porch missing from the current “West Side Story.” Tony and Maria could do an aria from it. Frankly the fur didn’t bother me. The whole thing is already so freaky that you get used to it fast. This was always a show about people wearing cat suits. If you didn’t like it in the first place, then why are you here?

Tom Hooper is a very good director. I give him credit for taking this on. He puts the spotlight on the individual performances and assumes the audience will figure out the rest. Look, it’s an original movie without capes. There’s a ton of talent. You could do worse this holiday season.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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