Let the critics moan all they like about this: I enjoyed it. OK, it’s rather weird seeing some of the most famous humans on the planet sporting digital fur; but I’m not sure how else it could have been done. Pantomime-style zip-up animal costumes? Lycra and face paint? I’m really not sure why everyone’s getting so worked up over the costumes – although the tails, which seemed to have minds of their own, were a bit disconcerting! The music was great, the night-time shots of cats dancing round London were like a modernised, extended version of the classic “Step In Time” scenes from “Mary Poppins”; and Francesca Hayward stole the show even with so many big names in the cast. I now look forward to someone making a film version of “Starlight Express”, in which Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Idris Elba & co are made to look like humanoid trains: that really *would* traumatise the critics! Speaking of trains, would someone put Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat in charge of Northern Rail, please? He is sorely needed.
The problem with CATS is that there isn’t really a storyline. No-one’s manning the barricades, fleeing from the Nazis, reshaping Argentinian politics or killing their girlfriend’s brother in a gangland feud. There isn’t even a light romance. I’m sure Grizabella’s life history’s very interesting, but we don’t hear about it. I’d love to know how Old Deuteronomy came to be the one making the Jellicle choice, but we aren’t told. It’s very bitty, and that’s why, even though some of the songs are so good, it’s never been one of my favourite musicals. So it was always going to be difficult to make a successful film version of it.
Then there’s the issue of the costumes – but, as I’ve said, I’m not sure what the alternative was. Incidentally, I’ve got great admiration for the people whose characters were just encased in digital fur with no clothes over them: you’d have to be pretty body confident to do that (although I gather that some CGI came into play there too!). Oh, and would someone please tell the shrieking snowflakes, who are calling the film racist because a mixed-race actress is wearing (or whatever the correct term is for being covered in by CGI) white fur, that Victoria is the White Cat. Hence the white fur. The clue’s in the name.
But, if you know the stage version, you’ll know not to expect too much of a storyline. And is the digital fur really so big a deal? It’s all about the music – and the music is great.
Francesca Hayward, as Victoria, is the star of the show, but there are also good turns from Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Laurie Davidson, dancer Robert Fairchild and various others. And seeing the cats dancing round London is quite cool, even if I am getting rather sick of films being set in London. Maybe I’m missing something, because the reviews have been pretty universally awful, but I really did enjoy it.
Don’t expect too much of a story. Accept that humans digitally dressed up as cats look rather odd. Accept that this isn’t Les Miserables or The Sound of Music, but that it was never going to be. Ignore all the silly puns about the film needing spaying, putting down or consigning to the litter tray. And then just sit back, lighten up – hey, it’s Christmas! – and enjoy the music and the dancing. It’s actually rather good fun.