‘Cats’ Reviews: What the Critics Are Saying

After its official trailer debuted in November, many were equal parts horrified and enraged by the litany of humanoid cats preparing for the Jellicle ball and Jellicle sacrifice in “Cats.” Based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical of the same name, said outrage came to no one’s surprise.

Unfortunately for director Tom Hopper and team, the rage has extended into the film’s debut, with critics effortlessly tearing the film to shreds.

The almost 40-year-old tale of the Jellicles has been no stranger to condemnation, annoyance and outright shame. Despite a star-studded cast including James Corden (“The Late Late Show”), Dame Judi Dench (“Skyfall”), Jason Derulo, Idris Elba (“Thor: Ragnarok”), Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”), Ian McKellen (“The Hobbit”), Taylor Swift (“The Lorax”) and Rebel Wilson (“Pitch Perfect”), the film looks to receive no different fate.

However — based on the Broadway musical’s unprecedented commercial success and longevity — we can’t rule out a box office smash fueled by pure hatred.

Cats” debuts in theaters Dec. 20. Here’s what critics have to say about the fantastical spectacle:

Variety’s Peter Debruge:

“The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper’s outlandishly tacky interpretation seems destined to become one of those once-in-a-blue-moon embarrassments that mars the résumés of great actors (poor Idris Elba, already scarred enough as the villainous Macavity) and trips up the careers of promising newcomers (like ballerina Francesca Hayward, whose wide-eyed, mouth-agape Victoria displays one expression for the entire movie). From the first shot — of just such a blue moon, distressingly fake, flanked by poufy cat-shaped clouds — to the last, ‘Cats’ hurts the eyes and, yes, the ears, as nearly all the musical numbers, including ‘Memory,’ have been twisted into campy, awards-grubbing cameos for big-name stars in bad-CG cat drag.

From the moment a teaser trailer hit the web last summer, the studio has been reeling from the ridicule, seemingly blindsided by harsh attacks on the character designs, the visual effects and the very notion of adapting the hit show. Truth be told, it should have anticipated the backlash. None of it would have mattered if the movie were halfway decent. Sadly, this uneven eyesore turns out to be every bit the Jellicle catastrophe the haters anticipated, a half-digested hairball of a movie in which Hooper spends too much energy worrying about whether the technology is ready to accommodate his vision and not enough focusing on what millions love about the musical in the first place.”

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw:

“As they gaze at the greenscreen and sashay and crawl,
It’s weird to behold them all gurning and acting,
And why do so many resemble Darth Maul?
Did director Tom Hooper intend this appearance?
Did it make him feel happy — or cause him some stress?
We have to assume that he gave it his clearance
But THE MAN HIMSELF KNOWS and will never confess.
These are the Jellicle felines of legend,
All elbows and shoulders and undulant arms.
Each male in the cast looks a bit of a bellend,
And those bizarre whiskers don’t add to their charms.”

Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson:

“The real villain here is Hooper, who has conceptualized a movie that claims to honor its performers while smothering them in digital makeup. Why even bother hiring the elastic, fluid dancers if their bodies were going to be rendered so inhuman? Or, rather, so unnatural–they’re not supposed to be humans, after all. In doing so much to make the world of ‘Cats’ something approaching credible, Hooper completely fails imagination, ignoring the disbelief happily suspended for decades by the millions of fans of the stage musical. Nothing is accomplished by turning ‘Cats’ into a garish CGI experiment, and just about everything is lost. The wacky texture of Webber’s surreal creation is made too literal, and is thus forsaken. As is the charm of Eliot’s weird little odes to neighborhood kitties–I much preferred when Mr. Mistoffelees’s magic was a joke to explain missing household items instead of actual magic.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt: 

“The plot, essentially, could be written on a slip of blotter acid: A scampering throng of spandex-y, alley-stalking strays assemble in the late-night streets of London for a sort of tomcat talent show, deciding which among them they will ritually murder — sorry, “send to the Heaviside layer” — by dawn.”

Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson:

“Now I’ve seen it, and my own brain feels turned to glitter, much like the sequined blue cat ears on a headband I was handed at the press screening. It is ludicrous and kind of divine, furry and flabbergasting, absurd and, in some moments, weirdly touching. It is a film that resists ordinary treatment and, especially, ordinary reviews.

I left without any idea of what I thought, only that I was exhilarated and baffled and kind of impressed, all at once. I had no idea what to say, only observations and questions written in my notebook, many of which conflict with one another. I present them now, with a whisker of editing, for your contemplation.”

Slate’s Marissa Martinelli:

“I suspect that Hooper’s version of ‘Cats’ will be met with the same amount of gleeful bafflement as the stage show, if the (overblown) horror over the movie’s ‘digital fur technology’ when the trailer was released in October is any indication. Hooper responded to the criticism by dialing back the fur so the characters look more human, and the movie is better off for it, though still a little unsettling. (Just when you think you’ve reasonably settled into the uncanny valley, Idris Elba’s coat comes off and you’re sucked even deeper into a void of horny confusion.) The hoopla over the trailer put Hooper in an awkward position, because if ‘Cats’ is not completely weird, can it rightfully still be called ‘Cats’? It’s not my favorite musical by a long shot, nor is it even Lloyd Webber’s best. But ‘Cats’’ uncoolness, its willingness to be silly and self-serious and spectacular at the expense of taste, is its greatest strength, and Hooper’s version understands this.”

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis:

“I could go on and must go on — yet how to explain the seemingly unexplainable, beginning with a narrative and language that borders on the gnomic? A doctoral thesis could be written on how this misfire sputtered into existence, though there’s nothing new about the movies’ energetic embrace of bad taste. One problem is that ‘Cats’ was directed by Tom Hooper, a well-behaved journeyman (‘The King’s Speech’), who is nowhere near vulgar enough for the challenge he was hired for, which is to translate Andrew Lloyd Webber’s money-printing musical to the big screen.”

IndieWire’s Eric Kohn:

“Hooper’s ‘Cats’ adaptation delivers on those expectations and then some, which makes it a fascinating mess of exuberant musical numbers and scintillating digitized sets. Those human-cat terrors already looked ridiculous slinking about a giant junkyard set in body-suits; who thought that closeups would actually improve the show?

But there’s the rub: The argument against ‘Cats’ also makes the case for its existence, because everything ludicrous about the show has been cranked up to 11, with a restless artificial camera and actors so keen on upstaging one another with excessive song-and-dance numbers they may as well be competing for a Heaviside Layer of their own. It takes some ambitious swings and works on its own terms in fits and starts, all while not really working at all. Like the T.S. Eliot poems that inspired it, ‘Cats’ is an elaborate lark.”

CNN’s Brian Lowry: 

“Ultimately, ‘Cats’ feels like a conspicuous waste, in what the studio is describing as an ‘epic musical.’ If the goal was to provide a holiday musical event that’s fun for the whole family, it’s a good idea in theory, packaged in the wrong litter box.

Critics and skeptics of the movie, admittedly, have been waiting to pounce, and the catty remarks won’t be charitable. Then again, when you put together a target as ripe as ‘Cats,’ it stands to reason that people would unleash the hounds.”

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