Words: Steve Brown
When the first trailers for Tom Hooper’s movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic stage musical, I – like most people – was sceptical.
Have they really CGI’d Judi Dench’s face onto the body of a cat? Why have the female cats got breasts?
There were so many questions that left me disappointed and nervous that they would ruin one of my most beloved musicals.
I went into the cinema expecting for the worse, expecting to come out hating every single thing about it.
But I was actually pleasantly surprised.
Webber’s stage musical has little or no plot except for a bunch of cats coming together to perform at the Jellicle Ball in a bid to be chosen to enter the Heaviside Layer and be reborn.
Hooper takes that narrative – loosely based on T S Elliot’s short story – and gives it the plot that the stage show needs.
We follow Victoria – aka the unnamed White Cat from the stage production – who, after being abandoned by her owners, meets the other cats just in time to attend the Jellicle Ball.
On her journey, she encounters Jennyanydots, Rum Tum Tugger, Mr Mistoffelees, Old Deuteronomy and of course, Grizabella the Glamour Cat.
Unlike the stage show, there is more of a back story to both Grizabella and Macavity, and we learn why the Mystery Cat is trying to prevent the Jellicle Ball – a nice touch but not necessarily needed.
Yes, the CGI cats with human faces – and frequent size issues – are a bit odd when the film first starts but you get used to it and as the film moves on you forget about it.
With an all-star cast including Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Jason Derulo, Rebel Wilson, James Corden and Taylor Swift, you’d think it would be one of them who stands out.
But it’s the ‘unknown’ stars and ensemble cast who steal the production.
The star of the production is ballerina-turned-actress Francesca Hayward as Victoria. Her naivety and powerful singing voice – she performs the new song ‘Beautiful Ghosts’ – is truly an unforgettable moment.
If the film is going to nab awards, I’d expect Hayward to be nominated at least.
Other notable mentions have to go to McKellen as Gus The Theatre Cat – a perfect role for the theatre legend himself – and Hudson as Grizabella.
Belting out ‘Memory’ is hard for any singer and everyone remembers Elaine Paige’s unforgettable performance, but Hudson does the song justice.
Taylor Swift also surprised me. I didn’t know what to make of her casting, but after watching her, she was perfectly cast, and her small role and song were pleasing to watch.
Would I see Cats again? Yes. Any fans of the stage show will – I believe – come out feeling ok with what Hopper has done.
But nothing can compete with the stage production.
Cats is in UK cinemas December 20