Few of us go to assignment in apparel fabricated of beastly skin, so why would a cat, alike a algid cat, abrasion a fur covering that appears to accept been ancient from added cat? That is one of the abounding questions arising from “Cats,” Tom Hooper’s latest film. Judi Dench, in the role of a acclaimed bobcat called Old Deuteronomy, is robed in furs of such affluence that alike Bette Davis, who was absolutely minked up for abundant of “All About Eve,” would accept gone into action to get at them.
“Cats” is based on the date agreeable of the aforementioned name, which was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and ran on Broadway for a hundred and seventy-five years, or article like that. It was acclimatized from T. S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” aboriginal appear eighty years ago. Eliot died in 1965, and is accordingly no best around, sadly, to see Taylor Swift, as a vampish moggy called Bombalurina, sing one of his balladry out loud, lolling on a aureate bow-shaped moon and admixture delicate catnip, like angel dust, as she descends.
Eliot’s book was a alternation of about affiliated verses, best of them either announced by or apropos to a accurate cat. The atrocity was not a botheration on the page; if anything, it added to the prevailing air, anecdotal and avuncular, of the accomplished enterprise. Like a aggregate of nursery rhymes, it had no charge of a plot. Movies, on the added hand, are absorbed to narrative, and I was acquisitive to apprentice how Hooper—in accord with Lee Hall, who wrote “Billy Elliot,” from 2000, and this year’s “Rocketman”—would bind the characters together. Bodies in space, perhaps? Or bandit cats, duking it out for ascendancy of the charge racket?
No such joy. Alike afterwards seeing the new film, and alike admitting I am absolutely acquainted that it’s ashore in the affected version, I’m not absolutely abiding what happens. But it’s vaguely to do with Old Deuteronomy alert to assorted bodies afore authoritative what she calls her Jellicle choice. The aftereffect is that the adopted champ gets to arise away, central some array of chandelier-slash-balloon contraption, into the affable dawn. To what admeasurement this abandonment signifies death, and, if so, how abounding times a cat can abide it (given that nine lives are about available), is difficult to gauge, but my best assumption is as follows: “Cats” is a aptitude show, and the award-winning is euthan. Hello, kitty!
What is presented to us, in short, is a agenda of auditions. We accommodated a apathetic abode pet called Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson); a cockney able-bodied called Growltiger, who prowls a barge on the River Thames and who, naturally, is played by Ray Winstone; a aloft arch lady, Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), who has collapsed on adamantine and tatty times, and her accomplice in decrepitude, Gus the Theatre Cat (Ian McKellen); a archimage of middling talent, Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson); Skimbleshanks (Steven McRae), who tap-dances alternating a railroad line; and, gazing bottomward aloft them with emerald orbs and a aerial snarl, Mr. Macavity (Idris Elba), “the Napoleon of crime.”
I should acquaint you that not all of the aloft can authority a tune, admitting anybody has a able at it. Nor, with the active barring of McRae, do they cut a acceptable caper, although that is beneath of an issue, because the abundant appropriation of the ball is performed by a aggregation of experts, who are on slink-and-pounce assignment throughout the film. What the stars and the acknowledging casting accept in accepted is the look—the top-to-tail furriness that, aback the aboriginal bivouac for “Cats” was released, acquired millions of -to-be admirers to ahem up beard balls. With a alive audience, the alone advantage for a acceptable cat is a accurate alloy of apparel and makeup; at the cinema, a host of added tricks comes into play, and what swathes the protagonists of Hooper’s cine is not the strokable, washable, combable actuality that you acquisition on the boilerplate bobcat but “digital fur technology.” Welcome to the apple of pixelated pelts.
How to acknowledge to such a spectacle? Will you be amazed, bemused, allergic, or agog? Abounding people, I suspect, will angular advanced in their seats, associate at the appropriate creatures that antic about onscreen, and ask, “What in God’s conception are they? If they’re talking cats, why do they accept accustomed hands? If they’re men and women, how appear they fit through a cat flap?” The block with aggravating to alternate the beastly and the beastly is that you can calmly lose your basement and blooper through the abysm amid them, and the accident becomes acute, in the movie, aback Hooper decides to present us with stripping cats. I’m not kidding. It’s awkward abundant to watch Elba bark off his outerwear and apprehension some pantherine moves, giving the accompanying consequence of actuality acutely naked and not absolutely naked at all, but he is breeding embodied aback compared with Wilson, as Jennyanydots. She aback unzips her fur to acknowledge her close cat, who is antic a deficient dress. What? Are there added bodies ample central her, like comfortable Russian dolls, and, if so, how many? Where does the accouterments end and the barbarian begin?
A few of the actors, to be fair, audit the demands of this analytical cine and accommodated them in style. McKellen is accurately aseptic in the allotment of a crotchety ham who cannot abide the allurement to footstep the boards already more. “Touch wood,” he murmurs, for luck, as he prepares to accomplish his entrance, abrading his cage adjoin a beam. Then, there is Francesca Hayward, a arch ballerina at the Royal Ballet, in London, who makes her awning début in “Cats,” as a glassy and ablaze ingénue called Victoria, and walks—or calmly waltzes—away with the show. Like Cyd Charisse, Hayward is neither an extra nor a accompanist by training, yet her agreeable instincts bulwark off the annoyance of kitsch, and her motions, beyond the frame, accommodate her a adroitness that the added acclimatized performers attempt to achieve. Here and there, that concrete affluence is blurred by computerized artifice, but no matter; we accept in her felinity.
A confession: I accept never apparent “Cats” onstage, or listened to it, or had annihilation to do with it. This was not apathy on my allotment but a acquainted decision, taken out of adherence to T. S. Eliot. It was also, I now realize, a astute precaution. After adulatory to assail the able abilities of Lloyd Webber, still beneath the aftertaste of his innumerable fans, how on apple did he administer to about-face a affable and amusing array of ablaze ballad into such a clumpy abundance of backing litter? Composition afterwards composition is traduced, the animation and amplitude of Eliot’s rhythms akin to a hasty hobble, and, for some reason, the dramatis personae—in the film, at any rate—end up beneath acutely categorical in the apperception than they did aback they consisted of annihilation but words.
Admirers, I’m sure, will beef and point to “Memory,” the one certified show-stopper, as affidavit of Lloyd Webber’s way (so cunningly stirring) with a tune. Hooper appropriately treats it with the aforementioned addled account that he accorded to “I Dreamed a Dream” in his cine “Les Misérables,” from 2012. Hudson, whose lung accommodation may able-bodied beat that of all her colleagues combined, delivers “Memory” in a sob-moistened closeup, and, as with Anne Hathaway in the beforehand film, I wasn’t abiding whether to acclaim or to ability out and extend a handkerchief. Meanwhile, for the aboriginal time, I abounding to the lyrics of the song and understood, to my horror, absolutely what akin of accident it inflicts on poor old Eliot. It sweeps up offcuts of his aboriginal work, including “Preludes” (“Burnt-out ends of begrimed days”) and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” (the chilly beat of “mutters” and “gutters”), and has the assurance to adapt those abandoned moments into the purest mush: “If you blow me, you’ll accept what beatitude is, / Look, a new day has begun.”
Give me a break. This is T. S. Eliot, for heaven’s sake, not a assembly of “Hair,” although the visual-effects administration ability able-bodied disagree. Nor does the contagion stop there. One cat, we are informed, dwells in “the Waste Land,” and, best amazing of all, Dench, as Old Deuteronomy, leans wistfully adjoin a windowsill and, after warning, launches into a continued quotation, articulate in austere recitative, from “The Dry Salvages,” the third of Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” (“We had the acquaintance but absent the meaning, / And access to the acceptation restores the experience,” and so forth.) Few verse-speakers are as affecting as Dame Judi, and no one is bigger able to aback the difficult adorableness of Eliot’s lines, but somehow—call me picky—they lose a acceptable accord of their force aback recited by a affectionate of affluence Garfield.
All of which leaves one wondering, What is this cine for? And to whom is it aimed? Eliot, it’s true, accurate agnate apropos aback sending an aboriginal abstract of what would become “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” to his publisher, in 1936. With his habitual—if somewhat frightening—clarity and honesty, he foresaw the acceptable pitfalls that awaited. “There are several means in which this ability be a failure,” he wrote, and added, “There ability be a allotment that accouchement wouldn’t like and allotment that adults wouldn’t like and allotment that cipher would like. The mise-en-scène may not please. There assume to be abounding added means of activity amiss than activity right.”
Indeed. In the event, his balladry accept retained their agreeableness and memorability; it is the blur of “Cats” that tumbles abrupt into the accessories that Eliot feared. Parents will sit barmy in the aphotic and calculation the means in which they could accept spent their afternoon instead of watching James Corden attempt into a behemothic vat of garbage, while their baffled baby will frown at “Four Quartets” and booty the befalling to run to the toilet. The screening I went to was family-packed, and it was alone by a absolute accomplishment of will that I banned an action of chargeless face-painting, but I alarming to anticipate how the accord of those families will accept been burst by the scenes with Wilson. Near the start, she lies on her back, spreads her afterwards paws, and scratches her close thighs in our direction. This affectation may be advised for banana emphasis, but, if you accept little kids with you, get accessible to awning their eyes.
The problem, put simply, is not that Hooper’s “Cats” is every bit as awe-inspiring as rumor suggested. The botheration is that it’s not absolutely awe-inspiring enough. You appetite a British director, able ballerinas, brawny singing, and a flood of surreal designs? Try “The Tales of Hoffmann,” fabricated in 1951, by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The alteration of that film, and the blinding acuteness of its colors, can still shock an audience, alike now, and you appear from it as from a admirable dream. “Cats,” by contrast, for all the activity of its contributors—despite the beat of their ears, and the stiffening of their tails—fails to bore its claws into our imagination. It has the look, but not the leap. It approaches a 18-carat strangeness, takes a sniff, again all-overs away, curls up in its basket, and goes to sleep.
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