Cats (2019) Movie Review: Artsy Theater Rejected Visual Effects


Hollywood’s big names don’t seem to be enough to bring the Cats movie to captivate the audience when they have to fight other films this holiday season. Evidenced by the many negative reviews when the first trailer was released. Some critics considered Cats the worst film of the year. But for some people, maybe not many, this film is not too pathetic.

The film Cats is a ride on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous Broadway theatrical play. Webber himself took inspiration from a collection of poetry Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by renowned author TS Eliot. Having been translated into multiple languages, this musical is finally brought to the big screen.

The film version tells of a cat named Victoria (Francesca Hayward) who is thrown into a small alley in urban London. He is greeted by a group of dancing cats (?) and is known as the Jellicles. Out of curiosity, Victoria finally joined the group.


On a moonlit night, a Jellicle chosen by Old Deuteronomy (Judy Dench) will fly into the sky (?) and get a new life. Eager to be voted in, a magic cat named Macavity (Idris Elba) sabotages the election by eliminating the other contestants as well as Old Deuteronomy. The film will follow the adventures of the outcast Victoria and how they save another cat from Macavity.

Music and dance in the movie Cats
Cats was met with negative reviews, from critics as well as casual viewers. Even if there are positive reviews – and there aren’t many – they highlight music and dance as important aspects that are still acceptable in this film. It makes sense, because Cats’ musicality has kept it a success despite being shown for years.

Just like Aladdin (2019) , the original music and songs are still carried on the film version. such as ‘Memory’ which in this film is sung by Jennifer Hudson or Sir Ian McKellen who brought ‘Gus: The Theater Car’. Taylor Swift, who co-starred as Macavity’s accomplice, also wrote a new song, ‘Beautiful Ghost’.

The ranks of the top class cast can still be enjoyed. Although hindered by costumes and visual effects – you could say – strange and unique. But the first appearance of Francesca Hayward is quite interesting to watch. Matched with the beat of the musical Cats , the ballet dancer’s agility blends in with Victoria’s curiosity to explore her new world.

Musical drama turned into a movie
The story is the most important part in a film. Although assisted by charming actors or technology, a weak narrative can undermine the comfort of enjoying a film. And this is the big problem with the Cats movie .

The premise given is not strong enough. Although indeed some musical dramas have an ordinary plot. But everything can be covered with music, costumes and unique stage sets from a theatrical performance. And when brought to the big screen, this power can disappear.

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Unlike other Tom Hooper musicals, Les Misérables (2012) , the plot in this film is not very prominent. Whether because of the focus on musicality or the set that is shown, there is an ambiguous story development in more than half of the film, although the duration is not much different from the theatrical version.

Like it or not, the film version is practically incomplete. Because there are not many narrative lines that are the core of most films. Although other films can outsmart the lack of plot, but not for the film Cats. The plot seems to jump up and down, presenting dances and music with different sets.

Adding a plot that is not too clear, the appearance of characters becomes one of the problems. Characters come and go; appeared suddenly, sang and danced, then disappeared. For some reason, comical characters such as Bustopher James (James Corden) and Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson) seem less integrated into the story.

Visual effects glitch?
For those who don’t know, Cats’ popularity reached decades when it was presented in the form of an on-stage musical . Production in London ran for 21 years with 8,949 appearances. While production on Broadway ran for 18 years and produced 7,485 shows. Cats is also translated into multiple languages ​​and shown worldwide.

On paper, bringing Cats from theatrical performances to the big screen version was the obvious choice. Becoming a global phenomenon and staying on Broadway for many years gave it tremendous financial success. Combined with Tom Hooper’s ability to successfully invite Hugh Jackman to sing in Les Misérables , there is no doubt.

There’s a lot that makes Cats fun to put on stage despite the usual plot; unique costumes, magnificent sets, and songs that are pleasing to the eye. But unfortunately, not all of them can be adapted in the form of films.

The large scale of this film can be seen from the selection of actors and the use of visual effects. Universal Pictures spent almost US $ 100 million to make this film. The sets and properties that are displayed are no joke. Some sets, such as the bedroom and dining room, are adapted to the actors’ bodies to create the illusion of a small cat’s height.

But the properties and sets are arguably inconsistent with the portrayal of the characters in this film. Sometimes it looks big or small when compared to the existing characters/cats. Like in the scene where several cats cross the railroad tracks; the difference between the body and the width of the train tracks doesn’t seem right.

Cats’ biggest mistake was not bringing the power that the film could provide to replace the unusable aspects of the theatrical version. Not to mention the confusing use of visual effects; cat characters with hands and feet like humans to mice and cockroaches that look… scary.

Apart from the new visual effects, reality is not as beautiful as expected. Hooper takes away from the Cats’ greatest strength : music. The film version seems to want to combine a not so strong story with the technology of ‘turning humans into cats’. But instead distract the audience from the music that is displayed.

Cats may serve as a reminder of Hollywood’s tendency to turn novels, animations, or games into movies. Watching Cats makes it clear that not everything can be well-transformed and produce a film that the average viewer accepts. Especially when many film components do not support this transformation; such as CGI and story plots.

Overall, the film Cats loses the magic that its theatrical version has when it is brought to the film medium. Or maybe there are still many who are not ready for this out of the box musical . Fans of the Broadway version may still love this ride. But for the general audience, it takes adaptation to enjoy this film.