Allergic to ‘Cats’: Screen adaptation of acclaimed musical disappoints

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Alex Miranda

The CGI in "Cats," referred to as "digital fur technology," leaves many viewers feeling unsettled.

Early on in Universal Pictures’s “Cats,” a film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical of the same name, a mischievous kitty named “Jennyanydots,” played by comedian Rebel Wilson, purred, “look what the cat dragged in.” This line in particular stood out for two reasons: not only was it one of the few spoken lines throughout the exhausting, near two-hour feature, but it is also the perfect summary of this strange, wholly unnecessary movie.

What a drag it is.

From the moment the initial trailer dropped, “Cats” garnered a lot of attention online–most of it being negative. Twitter in particular was quick to point out the odd look of the cast in cat costuming, officially referred to as, no joke, “digital fur technology” by filmmakers.

But any press is good press, right?

Wrong, as “Cats” accumulated a “disastrous” 6.5 million dollars in the U.S. on its opening weekend against a ludicrous production budget of 100 million.

At an initial glance, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly went wrong.

The cast, for one, is excellent in name. Jennifer Hudson and Judi Dench lead an ensemble of film and music veterans including Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson and James Cordon. Respected ballet dancer and emerging actress Francesca Hayward shines in both her performance and vocal abilities, holding a principal role in the film as “Victoria the White Cat.”

Renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Weber orchestrated the music, which is mostly a rehashing of his soundtrack from the original Broadway musical. The exception is the alluringly haunting “Beautiful Ghosts,” an original number written by Weber and Taylor Swift, sung admirably by Hayward’s character.

The plot, or lack thereof, should not come as a surprise either, considering the film is a direct adaptation of the musical’s “abstract” storyline. “Old Deuteronomy,” the leader of a cat tribe known as the “Jellicle cats,” is tasked with choosing one lucky feline who will ascend through the “Heaviside Layer,” which is basically a glorified hot air balloon that lifts the chosen cat into the sky. The cats compete for this honor through song and dance, as winning will grant them the ability to leave their former, undesirable life behind and transform into the cat they’ve always longed to be.

Points for originality, for sure, but the musical and film serves more as a showcase of each individual cat’s character and performing talents. This was to be expected.

The musical has been well-received by both fans and critics for nearly four decades, so what exactly is the matter with the movie adaptation?

The movie adaptation is what’s wrong with the movie adaptation.

On a physical stage, “Cats,” while albeit strange to some, can be appreciated for it’s authenticity in stage performance, convincing musical numbers and costuming. It feels genuine and spins an inviting story of self-discovery and the true meaning of belonging.

Instead of recapturing this charm, the film is littered with confusing set and cinematic choices that fail to capture the raw performance talent of the cast.

The CGI costuming simply doesn’t work. It was hard to tell if the characters looked more like people or cats, and further investigation proved to be more unsettling than conclusive. Coupled with especially unrealistic tails and human hands, the visual effects missed the mark.

The direction of the movie also left major room for improvement. The movement of the cats in particular seemed inconsistent: at times the cats walked on two legs and in other scenes they were crawling on all fours. These inconsistencies, along with busy camerawork that was borderline amateurish at times, did not find cinematic success.

It is entirely paradoxical, as “Cats” dragged itself in… and into theaters, unfortunately. It is hard to recommend such a movie, but at the same time, its oddity makes it intriguing enough to watch through to the end. But then again, curiosity killed the cat.