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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Magnificent Musical
by James Colt Harrison

Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment have created a magnificent version of the hit stage musical CATS. The level of talent is superb, with several members of the dance team right out of the Royal Ballet of London. Cream of the crop, with the principal dancers joined by professional dancers that must have been hand chosen by choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler after months of searching to find the very best artists on the dance floor. He also choreographed the 2016 Broadway revival of the Andrew Lloyd Weber hit.

Director Tom Hooper has whipped up a stellar cast of actors and dancers to mount this adaptation of famed author T.S. Eliot’s inspirational 1939 poetry collection “Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats.” It was used, of course, to inspire the long-running Broadway stage musical that came before the film. Andrew Lloyd Weber had a hand in all that as well and spent hours bending over his piano to write the music. Now, with a full studio orchestra blasting through the ultra Dolby Atmos stereo speakers in the movie theater, audiences can enjoy the music while stuffing their ears with cotton and newspapers to prevent their ear drums from shattering. Don’t get me wrong, you feel as though you are in the orchestra yourself playing an oboe or mandolin. The tingling in your bicuspids is derived from the Dolby vibrations of complete surround-sound. Thrilling! You don’t miss a note.

The thin plot is fairly simple. A tribe of cats called Jellicles have a tradition. Yes, even cats have a cultural order. Each year they must decide which among them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and return to a new revitalized Jellicle life. And which cat will qualify for this honor? 

Idris Elba, selected as one of the Sexiest Men Alive, also makes for a very attractive cat, although he’s a bad- news type out of a Cagney film. He has his “gun moll” in the form of a very slinky Taylor Swift as you have never seen her. She does look great on film,  and the director has obviously pampered her with the best lighting designer and what looks like the famous “Doris Day Vaseline Lens” on cinematographer Christopher Ross’s camera. She makes a very theatrical “entrance” by descending from a half moon out of the sky. Hooper also pays a quick tribute to director/choreographer Busby Berkeley’s 1930s musicals with an overhead kaleidoscope effect elsewhere.

Pop star Jason Derulo, an extremely talented and well put together performer, brings some life to the show. He plays Rum Tum Tugger and absolutely slays the number he toplines. He set people laughing recently when he complained that his generous genitals were electronically erased from the film. I guess cats have no masculinity to show off.

Jennifer Hudson gets the honor to showcase the musical’s most famous song, “Memories,” made world famous by stage star Betty Buckley. Hudson plays a down and out old has-been cat dressed more shabbily than silent star Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp. She really looks miserable, but it is perfect for the character she plays. Hudson has the pipes to do justice to the song and tears your heart out with her emotions.

Keep your eyes open for the brilliant dancer Steve McRae. He plays Skimbleshanks, the Railroad Cat. You can’t miss him: he’s the only cat to wear bright red pants and is blessed with a tuft of Lucille Ball red hair (natural). McRae was born in Sydney, Australia, and began dancing at age 7. Moving to London, he is now a Principal Dancer with The Royal Ballet. An expert in both tap and ballet, McRae knocks everybody off the screen with his brilliant number tapping along railroad tracks while mixing in some difficult and beautiful ballet moves. Such beautiful technique and God-given talent!

Some reviewers have been mean and nasty about this movie.  Perhaps they didn’t see the same artistic achievement that I did.  The dancing is superb, the music is still captivating, and all the principal actors have achieved kudos for their various efforts. One must have an open mind when seeing a musical and suspend all reality because it is a fantasy. It’s not real nor intended to be. Be fair and don’t criticize the technical staff’s efforts with CGI nor throw brickbats at the costume designer because the actors don’t look like real cats. Of course, they don’t---it’s a SUGGESTION of a pussycat, not a real one. So, go and enjoy the music, the incredibly talented dancers, and the colorful costumes.  .   

(Released by Universal Pictures/ Amblin Entertainment and rated “PG” for some rude and suggestive behavior.)

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