What do we do when we begin listening to the stories of one another? Do we prefer to hear it or let it go? Do we like judging people based on their poor choices made in the past or are we gracious enough to give them a second chance? It took me years just to get the point of “Cats” and why it’s a more humane story than any other but with zero presence of human beings. Indeed, many will overlook the beauty of Tom Hooper’s version of the iconic “Cats” but do not be misled as it is not what it seemed to be and is not what the vast majority of critics say.
Once in a year, a tribe of cats called the Jellicles must choose a cat that deserves to be reborn to have its life lived in the exact way it wished. A human abandons the cat, Victoria (Francesca Hayward), which is found by the same tribe. First, they look at her as a threat but soon they see in her as someone who brings unity to their little community, especially the evil Macavity (Idris Elba) who wants to interfere in the annual ceremony by putting himself as the main contestant. The group of cats unites to not only defeat him but to find their own voice through music, dance, love, and desire to be the only thing they know – cats.
Based on the poetry collection from T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats” and music from the legendary and incomparable Andrew Lloyd Webber, the 2019 version begins with an unnamed woman walking towards the garbage bin. Judging by the way she walks, we can easily tell she is very angry and unhappy. As she carries something in her hand, we notice the cats anxiously looking into a package, the content of which they can’t wait to see. After a short fight with the bag, Victoria emerges from inside of it scarily looking at the cats, not knowing how to react.
After an introduction through one of the most entertaining songs ever written, “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats”, Victoria comes to know that she just got herself into the midst of a life-defining moment where she might witness how Old Deuteronomy (Judy Dench) will make her annual choice to let one lucky cat ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life to live happily ever after. As we watch Victoria, all that she wants is said by her, “I want to be wanted”, which is the main theme of the film through which we meet Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson).
Grizabella is abandoned by her own tribe and no longer welcomed or loved due to the choices she made in the past. But because of Victoria’s perseverance, Grizabella is allowed to introduce her heart-wrenching story through the performance of “Memory” in which she explains her old sweet happy days, how she was beautiful once and why she dreams to have a new life again. All these are being presented in a spectacular manner through the direction of Tom Hooper who, on purpose, leaves the sight of humans in cats, to have them interconnected through each other to remind us that we all are the same no matter in what shape and form we are.
Being the first film adaptation of “Cats” since the 1998 made-for-television BBC movie, certain aspects of it might look strange to some due to the appearance of human hands in cats. If you pay close attention to the concept of the film and its structure, Hooper does an incredible job by putting himself in the middle of a storm coming from critics and viewers who did not like the human presence in cats. Honestly, I was one of them but by the time I started drafting my review of it, it was my second preview of Hooper’s version which I truly enjoyed. Indeed, it could have been better but it is not as bad as you might think. In fact, it’s a generous and carefully crafted musical that does not need to be a cliché to be accepted by the majority. It simply does not work that way and it would not.
In the end, “Cats” is an extraordinary musical that can’t feel bad about being adapted onto the silver screen. Whether it’s the dances, beautiful songs, charming atmosphere or the adorable settings, this film stands out on so many levels, I am afraid, will be misunderstood. The scene where Victoria grabs Grizabella’s hand asking her to tell her story is incredibly emotional. That scene alone deserves to be watched so many times because through Grizabella’s tears and story we can see ourselves as well. And, my dear reader, for that, we don’t have to be a cat.
To conclude, as for the film itself, there is one specific line delivered by Judy Dench’s Old Deuteronomy (first time this character has been represented as female) which says it all, “I judge a cat by its soul.” This is what we humans must understand. There are so many places in the world, we can live together, be loved and wanted. Do we really need to go through the process of acknowledgment to grant one individual a better life when in reality, we all might deserve to have the same? Do we need to differentiate one from another? Not really. Unity, love, and composition of kindness is what’s necessary to be part of a happy community and “Cats” knows well how to deliver that and Tom Hooper never failed at that, I can assure you a hundred percent.