Movie Review: 'Cats'
Since last week I reviewed the most recent winner of the Oscar for Best Picture in “Parasite,” I thought it would be fun to this week take a look at the most recent winner of the Razzie for Worst Picture in “Cats.” Like many people, I knew this movie had the award in the bag from the moment I saw the first trailer last July. The trailer played on an IMAX screen, in a theater sold out for “The Lion King,” and I swear I could feel a chill from all the joy being immediately sucked out of the room. There on the screen were some of the most hideously-constructed CGI characters ever to vex the human eye. The relatively stoic cats played by Judi Dench and Ian McKellen were bad enough, but the physically-active ones played by James Corden and Rebel Wilson were disturbing on many more levels thanks to their nauseatingly-rendered movements. The film was released in December, and its special effects were criticized so heavily that the existing prints had to be replaced with an “improved” version of the film two days later. The film bombed, of course, taking in only $27 million at the domestic box office, with much of the take attributed to people watching the film ironically, daring themselves to experience the trainwreck and live to tell the tale. So what do I think of this movie that is by all conceivable standards high in the running for Worst Picture of All Time? I say it’s bad, but it could be worse.
The story follows the newly-abandoned Victoria (Razzie nominee Francesca Hayward) as she is taken in by the “Jellical” cats of London, particularly wannabe magician Mister Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), and interacts with their various eccentric personalities. The movie never makes it clear what a Jellical Cat is, exactly, but my guess is that it means cats that sing and dance and are basically humans with whiskers instead of anything resembling an actual cat. The Jellicals are all striving to be named Jellical Choice by leader Old Deuteronomy (Razzie nominee Dench), which means they’re allowed to die and be born again. Contenders include taskmaster of weaker species Jennyanydots (Razzie winner Wilson), peacocking Rum Tug Tugger (Jason Derulo), food scavenger Bustopher Jones (Razzie winner Corden), disgraced outcast Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), stage veteran Asparagus (McKellen), and the villainous Macavity (Idris Elba), who is trying to cheat to win with help from henchwoman Bombalurina (Taylor Swift).
Everything about the story is a big silly mess, but I can’t fault the movie too much for it since I know the whole thing is cribbed from the stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I cannot extend the same forgiveness to the way this movie looks. Human faces are pasted unconvincingly onto slinky, fluffy bodies that I would never identify as cats save for the tails that are being shoved in my face by the gyrating cast at every opportunity. The limitations of stage costumes are one thing (though they do make emotional musical numbers like the standout “Memories” hard to take seriously), but this film’s special effects team had the opportunity to create smooth, intricate character designs, and what we get is one abomination after another.
And yet, if you can get past the hideous character designs (which is impossible), the unfunny “comedy” (which is equally impossible), all the obnoxious Jellical stuff in the dialogue (which is also impossible), and the creepy pseudosexual dancing (which I haven’t mentioned much, but is really impossible), “Cats” isn’t too bad of a movie. No matter what went wrong in post-production, the musical numbers clearly took talent and dedication, and the cast is admirably giving this project their all. Give me a high-flying disaster like this over a lazy effort like “A Madea Family Funeral” (which should have been named Worst Picture of 2019) any day. I recommend this movie as highly as I can recommend any undeniably bad movie.
“Cats” is available On Demand through streaming services and likely through your local cable company. The film is rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor. Its running time is 110 minutes.
Movie Review: 'Scoob!'
It has been over a month since “Trolls World Tour” took the On Demand world by storm, offering families the chance to catch a shiny new movie while stuck in quarantine. That film took in an estimated $100 million in revenue in its first two weeks, success that “Scoob!” is hoping to repeat with its own On Demand release. There’s really no reason why it shouldn’t. Like “Trolls World Tour,” the film is a colorful animated adventure based on a well-known property playing to an audience that doesn’t have a lot of first-run options. The only obstacle I can see to the film achieving wild success is that it isn’t very good.
The film actually opens quite promisingly, with young pup Scooby-Doo (voice acting extraordinaire Frank Welker) meeting lonely child Shaggy (Iain Armitage), who adopts him and takes him home to his collection of Blue Falcon superhero action figures. Shaggy’s first friend is soon followed by his second, third, and fourth, in the form of jock Fred (Pierce Gagnon), sweet Daphne (Mckenna Grace), and smart Velma (Ariana Greenblatt). The quintet discover that they have a knack for exposing criminals posing as monsters, and they pursue this hobby together into adulthood, where they want to make financially-secure careers of their operation. The problem is that while Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) are all perfectly competent detectives, Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby are now boneheaded slackers who are useless at best and liabilities at worst. Gone is the charming, relatable Shaggy from the beginning, and in his place is the undriven stereotype that fans supposedly love.
There’s then a mess of a plot where Shaggy and Scooby get attacked by robots working for Hanna-Barbera mainstay villain Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), who needs Scooby-Doo to open the portal to a treasure left behind by Alexander the Great. They get abducted by new Blue Falcon Brian (Mark Wahlberg), who is taking over the role from his retired father and doing a lousy job of it, making his assistants, human Dee Dee (Kiersey Clemons) and robotic dog Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) do all the work while he hogs the credit. Meanwhile the rest of the team goes on a road trip to rescue Shaggy and Scoob, who they think have been kidnapped by evildoers, even though they’re fine on Blue Falcon’s ship. Also, the movie teases a falling out between Shaggy and Scooby-Doo because Blue Falcon wants Scoob to become a superhero and Shaggy wants him to remain a shiftless layabout like him.
The big problem with the movie, aside from adult Shaggy being unlikeable and the jokes being generally unfunny (for example, Shaggy drags out a “the call is from adventure!” bit way too long), is that nobody asked for a Blue Falcon movie. The five core characters and a villain du jour are plenty, we don’t need the tired storyline about the blowhard having to learn humility. Though I will say that Dastardly is welcome as the villain, with an army of cute robots (one particularly adorable one is stuck with a dustbuster for a head) filling in nicely as henchmen while the adults in the audience patiently await the inevitable return of Muttley. Another Hanna-Barbera cameo voiced by Tracy Morgan I’ll say is a draw.
It’s frustrating how much early potential “Scoob!” wastes. I was really enjoying Welker’s more conversational take on the character’s cadences, as opposed to the usual one-or-two-word contributions. But no, the movie has to have its characters fall into their usual tropes, and be so cluttered in action and easily-predictable “plot twists” that by the end it’s barely recognizable as “Scooby-Doo” anymore (Speaking of which, did we really need the funky abbreviated title when “Scooby-Doo” sells just fine?). There’s no reason to see this movie other than that it’s the only new game in town.
“Scoob!” is available On Demand through streaming services and likely through your local cable provider. The film is rated PG for some action, language and rude/suggestive humor. Its running time is 94 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.