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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cats is based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running musical of the same name (which, in turn, was based on T.S. Eliot's poetry). The story takes place all in one night as a tribe of cats called the Jellicles gather together for a ball and celebration. While there's no overt violence, sexual content, or strong language, a conniving cat does tie up other cats and threatens them, characters speak suggestively at times, and the "digital fur" technology used for the film results in the actors' human bodies appearing sensuously feline-like -- especially those of the female cats/characters. Plus, some of the cats wear clothes while others don't, so some are technically naked. But themes include compassion, empathy, and courage, and the all-star cast -- including Taylor Swift, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Jason Derulo, Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, and Judi Dench -- are committed to their performances. Tween and teen musical theater fans will likely be quite entertained.
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What's the story?
Director Tom Hooper's adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running musical CATS (which, in turn, was based on T.S. Eliot's 1939 poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats) stays true to the original production, which first debuted on May 11, 1981. The story follows a tribe of cats called the Jellicles over the course of one night as they prepare to present themselves to Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) in hopes of being chosen as the one cat who will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. Abandoned as a small kitten but full of love and empathy, Victoria (Francesca Hayward) longs to belong. Rejected and full of pain over a life passed, Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson) must muster the courage to embrace new beginnings. And an entire tribe of cats comes to learn that life has a way of figuring itself out, whether in this one or the next.
Is it any good?
Though it teeters on the verge of being strange, there's still something quite magical and elegant about Hooper's adaptation of Webber's classic show. Bringing a musical from stage to screen is no easy feat, but he pulls it off. That said, for those who aren't familiar with musical theater, acting for the stage, or the performing arts in general, the movie may at times be tough to follow. The pace is frequently slow, and the backstory and character development could be more detailed. But theater lovers new and old will appreciate this take on the popular musical -- and considering that it's been many years since Cats closed on Broadway, the movie is a great way to introduce a new generation to Eliot and Webber's work. The old-world feel, dimly lit set design, and rustic vibe are refreshing. Some of the CGI affects can feel unrealistic, but the beautiful vocals, the synchronized dance sequences, and the story's touching messages help make up for that. The soundtrack is very appropriate, soft and beautiful.
But how's the cast? Well, Hudson, Hayward, and Jason Derulo are definite standouts in their roles. As Rum Tum Tugger, Derulo is lively and entertaining, a scene stealer. As Grizabella, Hudson demonstrates great emotional range and gets to show off her stellar vocals. Hayward has a meek innocence as Victoria that lends itself to great vulnerability and transparency on-screen; she's lovely to watch. As Macavity, Idris Elba is a stretch, but his ability to take on his character's cynicism and dark nature shows his range. James Corden as Bustopher Jones is entertaining to say the least, and Taylor Swift as Bombularina is fun, seductive, and naughty -- her take on the character just works. Watching Rebel Wilson commit to playing Jennyanydots is lots of fun, and veteran actress Dench is quite fitting as the wise sage Old Deuteronomy. The dance choreography, paired with the songs, helps the entire ensemble shine. Seeing all these classically trained dancers and singers perform offers a positive example for kids and young adults, proving that hard work and discipline have benefits. And the movie's positive themes -- finding the courage to let go of pain, embracing new beginnings, and understanding that you belong -- are worth noting. It can be strange and over the top, but Cats is also unique, and there's something to be said for that.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about some of Cats' major themes, including the idea of an underdog getting a new beginning. In what ways are Victoria and Grizabella given a new beginning in this movie? What are some of the obstacles that they overcome?
Though a kitten, Victoria has a compassionate heart. In what ways does Victoria show empathy and compassion for Grizabella? In what way does Victoria inspire Grizabella to try to live again? In what ways does Grizabella eventually show courage?
Old Deuteronomy is a very wise cat who's had the opportunity to live many lives. In her old age and wisdom, what character strengths does she display? In the movie, she rejects the request of the always conniving Macavity. What does her decision to deny his request say about her integrity?
The performing arts are heavily featured in the film. How do dancing, singing, and poetry contribute to the production?
- In theaters: December 20, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: April 7, 2020
- Cast: Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, James Corden, Taylor Swift
- Director: Tom Hooper
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Misfits and Underdogs, Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Empathy
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some rude and suggestive humor
- Last updated: April 10, 2020
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