Cats (2019) – Film Review

Despite ‘Cats’ being well-known as one of the longest-running stage shows in West End/Broadway history, it is also widely acknowledged that the musical is empty spectacle and not much else. This along with many other reasons, may explain why the adaptation of the musical we received in late 2019 has since gone on to be regarded as one of the worst musicals ever put to film, as director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl) utterly-squanders an enormous budget and a talented cast in exchange for a paper-thin plot, a constant bombardment of irritating songs and some truly horrendous CG effects that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their misery.

Plot Summary: A tribe of cats known as the ‘Jellicles’ yearly meet for a ‘Jellicle Ball’ to decide which of their group will ascend to the ‘Heaviside Layer’ and return to a new life. But the mysterious napoleon of crime ‘Macavity,’ has other, more sinister plans…

Ever since it was first announced that Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper would be adapting the iconic feline-focused musical, the film has become such joke-fodder that it’s hard to see past the countless number of memes mocking the film’s dreadful visuals or comedic moments, which is a shame. Not because the film we received is even remotely entertaining of course, but because the adaptation we almost received could’ve been fantastic. As originally, Amblimation planned to adapt the musical into an animated film before the project was shelved following the company’s closure. This idea of translating ‘Cats’ into a traditionally animated film remained all the way to Hooper coming on-board to direct, and in my opinion, also makes considerably more sense considering the original musical is based on the 1939 poetry collection: ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ by T. S. Elliot, a book brimming with whimsical sketches of various cats.

Newcomer Francesca Hayward, stands-out as one of the film’s few redeeming aspects, as her character: ‘Victoria’ serves as an audience surrogate, her empathy occasionally shining through as she is rapidly introduced to character-after-character until we uncover which ‘Jellicle’ cat will be chosen to ascend. The rest of the film’s prominent cast however, including Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, James Cordon, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen and many more, range from subpar to extraordinarily cringy at best, although their performances are further hindered by the story’s lack of characterisation and dramatic moments.

Whilst the film’s cinematography by Christopher Ross does a successful job of upgrading the beige setting of the stage show into a vibrant, neon-lit approximation of old London, allowing for an assortment of visually-pleasing shots, its impossible for: ‘Cats’ to claw itself away from the rest of its distracting visuals. That not only includes the obvious, but also much of the film’s set-design, as several of the large-scale sets the cats enter are supposed to appear overly-large in order to display each cast member as cat-sized, yet there is usually no consistency with this scale between shots.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, creator of the original musical, handles the film’s original score/songs in addition to writing a couple of songs exclusively for the film. And while classic songs like ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,’ ‘The Old Gumbie Cat,’ ‘The Rum Tum Tugger’ and ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’ may be beloved among fanatics of the stage show, in the film these songs come across as infuriating as they are so repetitive, barely slowing-down for anything aside from one or two atrocious cat puns.

Lastly, there is the appearance of the cats themselves, by far the most discussed/mocked element of the entire film, and for good reason. As the uncanny part-human, part-CG appearances of the furred cats appear extremely unnatural and very under-polished, so much so, that a mere two-days after the film’s initial release, Universal Pictures announced that they would be releasing an updated version of: ‘Cats’ with enhanced CGI. Whilst this is partly a result of Tom Hooper’s broad direction, an article published the following year by The Daily Beast featured multiple visual effects artists who worked on the film, each claiming they had little-to-no time to finish the film’s huge array of effects, with some artists even having to sleep under their desks to get the film completed on-time, at least, if said article is truthful.

In short, although I’m personally not a fan of Tom Hooper’s filmography, Hooper is not a wholly-incompetent director, but ‘Cats’ is undeniably, an absolute catastrophe of a fantasy-musical from beginning-to-end. Quickly being placed amongst the one-hundred worst films of all-time on IMDb, and forcing the plans for its sequel (and spinoff TV series) to be immediately scrapped, ‘Cats’ is possibly one of the biggest cinematic failures of the past decade, as its copious amount of flaws massively overshadow what few, if any, redeeming factors the film had left, resulting in an insufferable and often embarrassing experience. Final Rating: high 1/10.

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Rio (2011) – Film Review

From Blue Sky Studios, the production company behind many light-hearted family animations like ‘Robots,’ ‘Epic,’ ‘Ferdinand,’ ‘Spies in Disguise’ and most notably, the ‘Ice Age’ series. ‘Rio’ released in 2011, is a vibrant animated adventure which despite its occasionally childish humour and relatively straight-forward story is sure to keep adults and children alike joyfully content without reinventing the wheel, compensating for its lack of originality though its charming voice cast and exuberant chase sequences.

Plot Summary: After being captured by smugglers and taken from Brazil when he was just a hatchling, a blue macaw named: ‘Blu’ never learned to fly and now lives a happily domesticated life in Minnesota with his owner: ‘Linda.’ But when ornithologist: ‘Tulio’ arrives at their door and informs the pair that ‘Blu’ is the last male of his kind, the two decide to travel to Rio de Janeiro to meet ‘Jewel,’ the last female…

Taking inspiration from the true story of a Spix’s macaw named Elvis, whose owner agreed to let him join the captive breeding program to help preserve his species. ‘Rio’ may follow a very familiar formula for a family flick, yet what makes ‘Rio’ stand-out is exactly that, Rio de Janeiro itself. As director Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age, Robots, Ferdinand) is himself a resident of Rio, and first came-up with the concept in 1995, only at that point in time the story focused on a penguin washing-up on the beaches of the Brazilian city. However, when Saldanha learned two other penguin-related animated features were in production, these being: ‘Happy Feet’ and ‘Surf’s Up,’ he was forced to radically rewrite the film’s screenplay. Interestingly, this film is also cited as the reason as to why Pixar cancelled their film: ‘Newt,’ as it was said to have had a very similar plot.

Recording many of his lines while filming for: ‘The Social Network’ was still underway, Jesse Eisenberg agreed to provide his voice for: ‘Blu’ on weekends to compensate for lost time, admitting that it diverted him away from the mindset of his nearly-joyless ‘Social Network’ character. And while Eisenberg doesn’t give a groundbreaking performance here, Eisenberg is in my opinion, the perfect casting choice for this kind of character. As ‘Blu’s awkward and nervous personality shines perfectly through Eisenberg’s whiny vocal performance, which is only amplified after he encounters the feisty female: ‘Jewel’ portrayed by Anne Hathaway, as their shy romance gradually blossoms over the course of the runtime. Furthermore, the supporting cast of George Lopez, Jemaine Clement, Will.i.am, Jamie Foxx and Tracey Morgan all do a wonderful job, with nearly every member of the cast also stretching their vocal chords for many of the film’s lively songs.

When it comes to the film’s visuals, director Carlos Saldanha uses the exquisitely-rendered backdrop of his home-city to great advantage, as the film’s animated cinematography is constantly swooping, soaring and spinning high above the sunny beaches and multicoloured parasols of Rio de Janeiro as ‘Blu’ and ‘Jewel’ scamper through the city on trolleys, cable cars and in one of the film’s most uplifting scenes, atop the wings of a paraglider. In spite of its characters always being on the move, ‘Rio’ also manages to avoid the usual problem animated films tend to run-into, as the film’s plot moves along at just the right pace to keep younger viewers entertained.

With ‘Rio’ being Blue Sky Studios’ first attempt at a musical, one or two of the film’s songs are catchy, but inevitably are nowhere near as memorable as many songs from Disney’s vast catalogue of animated classics. Yet I feel this may be due to Will.i.am’s potential influence, as many of the film’s songs such as: ‘Hot Wings’ and ‘Funky Monkey’ sound like nothing more than modern pop-songs forced into the film’s soundtrack. Contrarily, the original score by John Powell slightly elevates itself above your standard family film score through tracks like ‘Morning Routine,’ ‘Paradise Concern’ and ‘Birdnapped.’

Whilst the actual animation throughout ‘Rio’ is usually just as energetic and colourful as any other modern animation, its undoubtedly at its best when replicating Rio’s many iconic landmarks, with a large majority of them being almost-picturesque. This accuracy is more than likely due to the crew’s research, as many of the film’s animators not only visited Rio de Janeiro in order to precisely-replicate the city, but also consulted with a macaw expert at the Bronx Zoo for the design/movements of their avian characters.

Overall, although most audience members have always seen Blue Sky Studios as secondary to more well-known production companies like Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks and even Sony Pictures Animation in recent years, I’ve always enjoyed Blue Sky’s animated endeavours even if many of their stories feel fairly unoriginal from time-to-time. Still, just as ‘Rio’ proves, this issue of unoriginality can be overshadowed with the right methods, as ‘Rio’s titular setting and dazzling colour palette will ensure the film’s place as a love letter to Brazil if nothing else. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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Corpse Bride (2005) – Film Review

Tim Burton’s twisted story of a man accidentally marrying a deceased bride could certainly be seen as too dark for an animated family adventure by some, but the film actually blends many of its dark scenes with plenty of heart and humour throughout. Making this stop-motion flick not quite one of the director’s best, but definitely a must-watch for fans of the unique director.

Plot Summary: When a shy groom (Victor Van Dort) practices his wedding vows in the inadvertent presence of a deceased young woman, she rises from her grave assuming he has married her. Before he knows it, ‘Victor’ soon finds himself in the land of the dead, and now must find a way to return to the land of the living before he loses his still-living wife forever.

Alongside the entertaining narrative, throughout the film there are various different musical sequences, which were surprisingly entertaining considering I’m usually not a huge fan of musical numbers in film. But I actually found many of the songs throughout the film actually added to the plot and gave the film another creative element which worked really well when combined with the brilliant original score by Danny Elfman.

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter portray: ‘Victor’ and his accidental ‘Corpse Bride,’ alongside the supporting cast of Emily Watson and Paul Whitehouse. Who are all pretty great, with the two leads in particular having pretty some great chemistry with each other, which really added to some of the romantic scenes throughout runtime (especially when it comes to an animated film). The cast also features Richard E. Grant, who portrays the villous: ‘Barkis Bittern’ perfectly, coming off as very sly, rude and intelligent from start-to-finish.

The cinematography by Pete Kozachik is pretty effective considering his previous work is usually far from the realm of stop-motion animation, as although there is definitely room for improvement, the cinematography is interesting enough to keep the viewer engaged throughout the film’s story.

Without a doubt, the original score by Danny Elfman is definitely one of the best elements of the film, as well as being one of my favourites for a Tim Burton flick. As while not quite on the level of the original: ‘Batman’ or ‘Edward Scissorhands’ for example, the entire soundtrack still perfectly captures the creepy tone of the film, as well as many of it’s more emotional moments, all adding to both an extremely memorable and beautiful score. Especially the tracks: ‘Main Titles’ and ‘End Credits Pt. 1,’ which are my two personal favourites.

The stop-motion animation throughout the film is simply outstanding, as each character’s unique design influences their movements, with many of the characters having very interesting and over-the-top designs which perfectly fit within the world of a Tim Burton story. The film also has an unexpectedly ranged colour palette, as in addition to the usual dark Burton-esque colours. The film surprisingly also uses a large range of bright greens, purples and reds in a few scenes, which all really help the film stand-out, and give a little more light to many of the miniature sets and various characters.

To conclude, while I didn’t expect to enjoy ‘Corpse Bride’ as much as I did, the film’s fantastic stop-motion animation, great humour and emotional scenes all topped with the unique Tim Burton style, I’d say the film is a pretty solid watch aside from the occasional cheesy joke or scene. Final Rating: 8/10.

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